Estimating the value of a Marx train

One of the most frequent questions I see or receive directly about Marx trains is what a Marx train is worth, or the value of a Marx train. Of course without seeing the train, it’s nearly impossible to give a good estimate, but there are some general rules that you can follow, either to protect yourself as a buyer, or to keep your expectations realistic as a seller.

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Department 56 scale: The definitive guide

Department 56 scale: The definitive guide

The breadth of Department 56 product lines, such as Department 56 Snow Village, is rather extensive, but there are items they don’t produce and likely never will. If you want to complete your village with other items, or use Department 56 in other settings, such as a train layout, then scale might matter to you—and Department 56 scale is undefined. Here’s how to make sure the things you want to use together will go together, size-wise.

The answer, by Department 56’s own admission, is that it varies. But since I see the question come up again and again, I’m going to tackle it. It varies, but there’s a method to it the madness.

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You might need a new router

Do you need a new router? If your Internet is slow after upgrading to a faster service, and if your wifi range and reception is poor, or your Internet connection just generally misbehaves a lot, you might need a new router.

Even the New York Times, of all places, has published articles extolling the virtues of new routers. If your wi-fi at home is bad, they say, think about picking up a TP-Link Archer C7 router. I like the Asus RT-AC66U myself,  but in my experience, and the experience of my colleagues, a new router makes a huge difference.

When one longtime friend upgraded to a TP-Link Archer, he told me his wi-fi improved so much his wired network was suddenly struggling to keep up with it. That’s fixable. He’s a candidate for Gigabit Ethernet.

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My 11th ’35 Goudey: Four Dodgers

Like my 10th card, my 11th card was also an Ebay win. It featured four Dodgers players. It’s a common card, with no Hall of Famers, but all of the players were starters for the Dodgers–no filling up space with utility infielders or middle relievers on this card, at least. A Dodgers fan unwrapping this card in 1935 wouldn’t have been too disappointed.

And even though there are no Hall of Famers on the card, there are some interesting stories here. Two of the players were once traded for each other before becoming teammates, and one of the players was the oldest surviving player to play for all three New York teams when he died at the age of 99.

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My sixth 1935 Goudey: Bill Terry

My sixth ’35 featured four Giants players. I didn’t realize at first what a good card it was, that it featured four All-Stars and not one but two Hall of Famers. Bill Terry was the obvious one, but it’s easy to forget how good the Giants were then given that Terry and Mel Ott and Carl Hubbell towered over the rest of the team.

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This one hurts.

I tried to write the day it happened. I couldn’t write anything that made any sense. Mostly I sat and stared. I told myself when the Royals made the Wild Card, I’d be happy with whatever happened, because it was postseason baseball for the first time in 29 years.

But as they kept hanging on and steamrolling opponents, I got greedy. And it’s hard to feel guilty for getting greedy. Because I don’t know when this will happen again. Read more

The desperation economy

The sharing economy is more of a desperation economy, argues New York magazine.

Someone was ranting to me about this last month, blaming the president. The problem is, this problem’s roots have existed since the 1970s, if not the 1960s, which means nobody’s solved it. Two presidents from two different political parties applied quick fixes that worked for a while–I’m thinking of Reagan and Clinton–but nobody has ever successfully addressed the root cause of the income gap. While top earners–the 90th percentile and higher–generally do better year over year, as you move lower on the earnings scale, you see people doing well to hold steady. At the bottom of the scale, you see people earning less and less year over year.

I think the problem is with society. And one thing I learned almost minoring in history in college–I was one class short of a minor–is that when society looks to a leader to solve problems a leader can’t solve, history suggests you run a great danger of it leading to dictatorship.

I think the underlying and overlying problem is materialism–we want too much and aren’t willing to wait long enough to be able to afford it. We’ve spent my lifetime figuring out how to make things cheaper, but then society just tells us we need more things. When I was growing up in the 1980s, two televisions in a home was fairly normal, and one of them was probably a 13-inch model. A 13-inch TV cost $200, so three TVs was extravagance. When I was growing up, I lived across the street from a millionaire who had three TVs. He owned half the town, and literally owned the whole side of the street he lived on, and at one point he had four cars, but he had three TVs.

We figured out how to make TVs a lot cheaper, so now some middle-class people have them in every room. Elvis had a room with eight TVs in it for watching football, and somehow we’ve gotten it in our heads that someone who makes $40,000 a year needs a room with eight TVs too.

In the process of fixing up an old house, I found some old light switches with the price tags still on them: $2.19. Today light switches cost 70 cents. The old switches were made close to here. Now they’re made overseas. The people who used to make things like light switches compete for a smaller number of jobs of that type. There aren’t a lot of those, so some of those people get by doing whatever they can. It helps overseas economies get on their feet and that will be great in the long term, but what do we do about the short term here?

Probably we’ll do what we always do–we’ll put the other political party in power and tell them to solve it. They’ll try a quick fix. As long as the quick fix shows improvement in some part of the economy, they’ll keep getting another four years. If it doesn’t, the other party will get four years. Some of us will climb the ladder enough that it’s no longer a problem for us. I’m not sure what we’ll do about those who don’t.

And as long as everyone has food and entertainment, everything will be just fine for those at the top, and close enough to OK for all but the very worst off that I don’t expect we as a society will address the issue voluntarily.

Greenberg Marx errors: The Union Pacific 3824 caboose

Let’s pick up again with another error in the Greenberg Marx Trains Pocket Price Guide: The UP 3824 6-inch caboose. The guide lists the 3824 as a brown and yellow caboose, available on both a black or brown frame, valued at $20 in good condition and $30 in excellent.

The description is correct, but the price is only half right. Read more

The Marx connection to Hafner

The Marx connection to Hafner

Hafner was a Chicago-based maker of clockwork-powered O gauge trains during most of the first half of the 20th century. The trains were inexpensive but durable. William Hafner developed the clockwork motor as a hobby around the turn of the previous century and put the motor in toys. Eventually he decided to make a train–perhaps he thought his two sons would like one–and he did. He even sold a set or two, but didn’t have the facilities to mass produce them, or the money to buy such a facility. So he approached William Coleman, who had an interest in a struggling farm tool company, and after Hafner secured an order for $15,000 worth of trains, Coleman agreed to use the company’s excess capacity to produce the trains.

And so began American Flyer, the company that battled Lionel for the hearts and minds of train enthusiasts for about sixty years, until 1967.

But for reasons that Coleman and Hafner took to their graves, the partnership dissolved in 1914. The sons didn’t know exactly what happened. John Hafner said Coleman had promised his father a larger share of the company if the trains proved successful, then broke his promise. John Hafner said the two families had animosity afterward. But Robert Hafner recalled receiving wedding gifts from the Colemans in 1917, and said the dissolution was purely for business reasons. Going it alone, William Hafner formed his own company, rented factory space for $50 a month, and started a product line that would last into the 1950s.

Unlike his erstwhile partner, Hafner didn’t have to deal much with Lionel. Hafner’s greater concern was with this upstart named Louis Marx. Read more

What’s an Allstate electric train?

In the 1950s and 1960s, it was possible to walk into Sears and see an Allstate electric train on the same shelf as Lionel and American Flyer. These trains are still somewhat common today. That leads to some further questions.

Yes, it’s Allstate, as in the insurance company. What did they have to do with electric trains?

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