Skip to content
Home » old trains

old trains

How to sell Lionel trains

Since I’ve covered other makes of trains, someone asked me how to sell Lionel trains. So I thought I would give similar advice on selling Lionel trains. Lionel is an iconic, legendary part of Americana, so there will always be some market for its products.

That said, don’t expect to get rich selling off your Lionel trains. But if you keep your expectations realistic, you’ll find an eager buyer, or ideally, at least two interested buyers so you’ll realize a good price at auction.

Read More »How to sell Lionel trains

Types of Lionel knuckle couplers

There have been three major types of Lionel knuckle couplers produced since resuming train production in 1946. Lionel knew it would have to make a splash when it brought its trains back after the end of the War, and the knuckle coupler was one of the keys.

Two of these coupler types are compatible with one another, but one has a gotcha.

Read More »Types of Lionel knuckle couplers

Selling Marx trains

Since my advice on selling other makes of trains was popular, I thought I would give similar advice on selling Marx trains. Marx never got the respect that its competitors got, but its trains have built up a following over the years, and in the last decade as I’ve watched prices on competing trains slide, Marx has held its value.

Don’t expect to get rich selling off your Marx trains, but if you keep your expectations realistic, you’ll find an eager buyer, or ideally, at least two interested buyers so you’ll realize a good price at auction.

Read More »Selling Marx trains

Marx vs. Lionel

In the 1950s, Marx and Lionel took turns being the biggest toy company in the world, largely riding on the popularity of O gauge trains. Neither company particularly liked the other, but both owed some degree of their success to being compatible with one another. Because of their interoperability, the two makes of trains are frequently compared and contrasted even today. Let’s take a look at Marx vs Lionel.

Read More »Marx vs. Lionel

Lionel 2034 locomotive repair

I have a Lionel 2034 that had a bent cab I fixed, but it ran poorly too. It would run, but only in super slow-mo, and that was when it would run at all. If I was really patient, sometimes I could get it to run a little after a few minutes, but it had minimal pulling power even then. So I took a shot at Lionel 2034 locomotive repair. It was successful.

The motor needed some maintenance, but it didn’t need any parts. Here’s how I fixed it in less than an hour.

Read More »Lionel 2034 locomotive repair

Marx Allstate train sets for Sears

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. For a number of years, Marx made train sets for Sears and put the Allstate brand on them.

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

Read More »Marx Allstate train sets for Sears

Cars (as in vehicles) for train layouts

I was at Kmart today, and as I usually do, I wandered down the toy aisle on the off chance I might find some cars that might work on my train layout.

I did a lot better than I usually do–Jada and Maisto came through for me.I won’t talk about HO and N scale trains because for those scales, you can walk in to any hobby shop in the country and find pretty much anything you want. Us Lionel and American Flyer fans have it a lot tougher.

Lionel O scale is roughly 1:48. You won’t find 1:48 vehicles anywhere these days, but you can find 1:43 and 1:50. Some people fret that 1:43 is way too big, but sometimes you can hold up one maker’s 1:43 vehicle next to a similar 1:50 vehicle from another make and find they’re just about the same size. Maisto and New Ray are two makes of cars that size.

Lionel and Marx O27 is 1:64, more or less. Maisto, Jada, and Ertl make lots of 1:64 cars. Some Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars are close, but most are closer to 1:72, which is a bit small.

American Flyer O gauge trains made after 1937 are 1:64 scale, and all American Flyer S gauge trains are 1:64.

Since I run O27, I have lots of vehicles to choose from, but the problem is finding something era-appropriate. Contemporary vehicles are no problem to find, but if you want something old, it’s hard to find much other than a ’57 Chevy. Well, you can find a handful of late ’50s cars of various makes, but it tends to lean towards the late ’50s, and from looking at the stuff in the diecast aisle, you would think Ford and GM were the only two companies making cars in the ’50s. Want a Studebaker or a Hudson or (gasp) a Dodge? Good luck.

Of course I had to make things more difficult. I like really old trains, so a ’57 Chevy isn’t exactly going to cut it. I need 1930s and 1940s cars.

Maisto just happens to be offering a 1:64 ’36 Ford Coupe as part of its G Ridez series. It has homey-ized rims and thin tires, but other than that, it looks pretty stock. Hot Wheels has offered a ’36 Ford since I was a little kid, but it was always a hotrod.

Maisto also offers a ’37 Ford, but it has a prominently chopped roof

And Jada is offering a 1:64 ’39 Chevy Master Deluxe as part of its Dub City Old Skool line. Like the Maisto, it has thin tires and weird rims, but aside from that, it looks stock, and it’s black. This is a very nice car to have because it’s a late 1930s station wagon–a family car. It looks just like the cars you see families using in the movies set in the ’30s and ’40s. I hope I can find a few more of these because it’s the kind of ordinary car that will look natural even if I had several on the layout.

So if your toy train preferences lean towards American Flyer S gauge or Lionel or Marx O27, a trip down the toy aisle at your local Kmart or Target would probably be a good idea.

One thing I’ve learned is that I have to be patient. Usable cars are out there, but there may only be a handful of them issued every year–including anything Mattel releases under the Hot Wheels or Matchbox brands, undersize or not. I take what I can get. But improving the layout a little bit at a time over the course of years is part of the hobby’s appeal. At least it’s supposed to be.

Dealing with being laid off

Well, it’s been just over a year since I was laid off from the only job I was ever willing to relocate for. Layoffs are never fun. Dealing with being laid off is hard. Looking back, with the perspective of a year and two days now, it was the best thing that could have happened to me.

But I’ll be honest: That doesn’t make it hurt much less. But I know the shoes I was in a year ago try on someone new every day, and every year around this time, one or more of my former coworkers finds themselves in those shoes. I don’t know if I can help, but I’m going to try.

It’s harder for guys. For men, work is a big part of their identity. In most parts of the world, when you’re introduced, the second question people ask after your name is what you do for a living. (In St. Louis, that’s the question they ask after where you went to high school). But seriously, losing your job involuntarily is a really big deal, so feeling bad about feeling bad about it is counterproductive. Of course you feel bad about it. Grieve. Don’t hold it in–you’ll just get depressed, and everyone around you will sense you’re depressed, and it’ll make it that much harder to get another job.

Be a miser. You just lost your job. You don’t need it to cause you to lose everything else. I haven’t talked to a lot of homeless people, but more than one of them was once a highly skilled, productive worker with a lot of education. Homelessness is a complex thing, but loss of job plus depression plus running out of money can equal that.

You can’t know when you’ll have another paycheck, but you can figure out how long the money you have will last. You have a pretty good idea what your mortgage or rent and utilities cost. Throw in a couple hundred for expenses like groceries and gasoline, then divide that total by what you have left, and you have a pretty good idea how quickly you need to find a job.

Cut all the non-essentials. Quit eating out, buy generic products instead of name-brand, and do what you have to do to stretch what you have left.

Occasionally, my lunch was a package of Ramen noodles, half a can of fruit and half a can of mixed vegetables. Extreme? You bet. Fun? No way. But it helped keep me out of debt while I looked for work.

Search. Go to the library and get your hands on a copy of What Color is Your Parachute? The current year’s edition is always checked out. Don’t worry about it. Things change year to year, but that doesn’t mean the 2003 edition is worthless. The world doesn’t change that quickly. This book helps you find a job, but the more important thing it does is help you figure out what you should be doing. If your job isn’t worth having, trust me, Bill Lumbergh will notice it, and you’ll be on his list of jobs to cut. Lumbergh may not know anything about running a business, but he knows enough to keep the people who are happy to be there.

Interview. I called up everyone I knew who might know about a job opening somewhere that I would be qualified to do. I got my first job interview less than a week after I lost my old job. I lost the job on a Thursday, and I think I had an interview on Tuesday. I didn’t get the job, and I didn’t get one from the second place I interviewed with either, but they got me in the mode.

I will say one thing: If you get a second interview somewhere, don’t turn down an interview somewhere else. I quit looking for a couple of days because I thought I had a job in the bag. That didn’t pan out, and I lost valuable time and momentum. Interview at multiple jobs–you know they’re all interviewing multiple candidates, after all.

There are books that coach you on interviewing. Reading about interviewing is helpful, but frankly, a magazine article’s worth of advice on interviewing is all you need. Dress like you’re interviewing for the position of CEO, make sure you give a firm, warm handshake (visit the bathroom and wash your hands with hot water and dry vigorously just before the interview if you’re like me and you’re known for having cold hands), and be confident and personable. You don’t really need a 200-page book to tell you how to do that. Practice is what you need the most.

Trust me. From ages 16 to 25, I interviewed for exactly five jobs, and I got all five of them. At 25, I interviewed for another one and didn’t get it, but the guy interviewing me had his mind made up that he wanted a C++ programmer, something I’ve never pretended to be, so I didn’t get that. I’m 2 for 6 since age 30–but given what was going on at those four companies that didn’t hire me, nobody would feel bad about being turned down by them.

Think twice about taking the first offer. I got my first job offer about five weeks after my layoff. The main interviewer told me during the interview that the company was in trouble. One of the guys with him didn’t like me from the start and I could tell. They offered me the job. I took it, for a variety of reasons. I was going stir crazy. I’d just gotten married and my wife wasn’t working either. It paid $6,000 a year more than I had been making, with less responsibility.

I had a bad feeling about it, but I was desperate. I took it. It might or might not have been the best decision. Five months later I was looking for a job again. It wasn’t anything personal, they were just out of work for me to do. Had I clicked better, they may or may not have tried harder to find work for me to do. I’ll never know.

My point is, if you have a bad feeling about it, talk it over before you say yes.

Find someone to talk to. When it’s been a couple of days since the phone last rang and you’re feeling down about the situation, find someone to talk to. Talk to a trusted friend in the same job field. Talk it over with your SO. Talk it over with family members.

If you can’t do that, or you need more, there are other places to turn. The State of Missouri happens to have a career center within walking distance of my house. Had I not gotten my current job when I did, I probably would have gone there the next week. I would imagine every state has that type of resource–employed workers are good for the state, and unemployed workers are bad for it, after all.

Barring that, find a church. Seriously–even if that’s the last place you’d ever go for any reason. Walk in and tell whoever’s there that you just lost your job and you don’t know what to do next. Tell ’em you’re not asking for money, you just need some idea what to do next. A large percentage of pastors today weren’t always pastors, so they’ve dealt with being in the workforce and the issues that go along with it. And pastors in some denominations can be dismissed from their church with little or no notice, so some pastors live with less job security than everyone else is used to having.

Take a chance. While I was trying to find work, I also prowled the library, looking for books about business, trying to come up with a business to start.

I didn’t find a lot of viable ideas. There are better books out today than there were a year ago, but even those aren’t perfect. I probably had a dozen ideas. I actually tried three. The third one–the one that seemed like the longest shot–was the one that worked.

What that business was doesn’t matter. What matters is finding something with low overhead that you can do better than anyone else–something that matches your skills and interests.

My wife was the key on this. For the most part her strengths are where I’m weak, and vice-versa, so we cover each other’s weaknesses. I’ve always suspected I’d be good at selling a product I believed in, and it seems I was right. And as it turns out, my wife is good at it too.

She kept the business going after I went back to work. I help out on Saturdays and on the occasional evening. Some months she makes more money doing this than I made at the job I lost in the first place.

Stay away from “network marketing” (a fancy word for pyramid schemes). You want to actually be in business for yourself. Look for some business books, and if you find places where the author is wrong, you’re on the right track. Think about things you like. If you like music, think about reselling vinyl records. If you like sports, think about reselling baseball cards. If you’re really good with computers and not an extreme introvert like me, go into business doing computer service.

If you happen to be outgoing, you really have it made. The secret of the most successful sellers of vintage Lionel and similar trains is that they talk to everyone about it–they literally hand out their business card to the other people standing in line at the grocery store and say, “If you’ve got old trains or if any of your neighbors do, I’ll buy them. If you refer anyone to me, I’ll give you a commission.” I would imagine the same trick would work a whole lot better for computer service. These days, everyone has a computer, and nobody’s happy with how well it works. And people don’t look at you funny if you talk to them out of the blue about computers.

If I had enough nerve to talk to five strangers a day, I’d probably be a millionaire.

So starting a business might be a good way to go. You’ll probably need to find a regular job for a while, since many businesses are actually a drain on your resources for the first 18 months or so, but if you can find a job to keep you on your feet in the meantime, being in business for yourself could be the ultimate solution to dealing with a layoff.