Where to buy vintage computers

Collecting vintage computers can be fun. I also personally think it’s great that people are interested in preserving that history. Where to buy vintage computers hasn’t changed much over the years. It just may take a bit more work than it used to.

Some people think old computers are priceless. Others think they’re worthless. I don’t recommend wasting your time with people who think a Dell Pentium III laptop is worth $300. Think of the times you found a jewel for five bucks and keep moving.

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“Super utility” tinplate train cars

Tin train cars had a variety of methods to couple them together, but by far the most common method was a coupler commonly called tab-in-slot. The tab from one car mated with a slot in the next. All of the train manufacturers used a variant of this method at one point or another, and all of them would be able to couple together, if not for one nagging detail: height.

For most of the 1930s and 1940s, Lionel used a latch coupler that was incompatible with the others–Lionel liked doing things like that–but they made a combination coupler for a while that had a slot in it to accommodate tab-in-slot couplers. Reproductions are available on Ebay. Get one of those for this car, and something that couples with the other cars you like to run, whether that’s an Ives snakehead coupler if you’re lucky enough to have a spare one, a generic tab-in-slot coupler, or another Lionel combination coupler.

But even when you change the couplers on the car, you’re still likely to have height issues. Here are some approaches to solving the height problem so you can run various brands of vintage trains together almost as effortlessly as people pick and choose between all brands of modern trains today.

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Are video games a good investment?

An article on Slashdot asked this weekend whether video games were a good investment. So are video games a good investment? Will they appreciate over time?

The answer is generally no. Collectibles in general are not–they follow a boom and bust cycle. I’ve seen it happen in my own lifetime.

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I don’t think this basement layout abandoned since 1967 is necessarily a tragedy

A query appeared on one of the train forums and has slowly spread through several discussion groups I’m aware of, regarding a 2-rail O scale train layout, built by a hobbyist in the 1950s and 1960s, who died in 1967. The layout sat for 45 years, and now someone has approached a couple of hobbyists about possibly liquidating it.

Of course, lots of armchair pundits have their own ideas about what should have happened to that layout in 1967, when the builder died.

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2011 retail tinplate finds, at Big Lots and Shack

If you’re a tinplate fan like me, it would behoove you to make a trip to Big Lots sometime this week. Big Lots has a selection of building-shaped cookie tins priced at $5 each. The buildings include a town hall, post office, bakery, and general store. Additionally, my old friend Radio Shack is selling a building tin full of AA and AAA batteries for $10 until December 10 (it’ll be $20 after that).

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Thank you and farewell, Dr. Grams

About 8 years ago, I set my mind to repair two Lionel trains that had belonged to my dad. I took to the Internet, and about the only repair advice I could find was to track down The Beginner’s Guide to Repairing Lionel Trains by Ray L. Plummer.

Ray L. Plummer was a pen name for Dr. John A. Grams, a journalism professor at Marquette University and a prolific author. Using either name, he wrote a total of 9 books and 129 magazine articles about Lionel and similar vintage trains.

Dr. Grams died this week, aged 77.

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Transformers for vintage trains

Lionel CW-80 vs vintage transformers

A common question is whether transformers for vintage American Flyer, Lionel, and Marx are interchangeable, and what to do if a transformer won’t work.

The simple answer is, yes, a train from one of those makes will run on a transformer from any of the others. They all ran on 0-24 volts AC.

There are two caveats.

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How eBay is ruining itself

A thread on one of the train forums I frequent mentioned today that the number of listings for Marx trains on eBay is down about 50% over what it was a year or so ago. Not only that, the listings are by and large the common, less interesting stuff.

Meanwhile, a debate rages on another forum I read sometimes, frequented by eBay sellers. On one side are the eBay apologists, saying they’ll just change as eBay changes. On the other side, people struggling to make a profit in the ever-changing environment are finding other venues to sell their wares and finding themselves a lot happier.

What to do if you can’t find a Lionel Polar Express set

The Polar Express is turning out (so far) to be a bigger hit for Lionel than it is for Tom Hanks. Dealers are sold out and the sets are turning up on Ebay, usually with asking prices $100-$200 higher than the suggested retail price. It’s not as hot as Tickle Me Elmo, but since the words "hot selling" and "train set" haven’t appeared together since the late 1950s, well…

So what should you do if you (or someone in your household) wants The Polar Express and can’t get one? Hint: Ebay shouldn’t be your first resort.