Tinplate FAQ Part 4

Archive-name: model-railroad-faq/tinplate/part4
Posting-Frequency: monthly
Last-modified: 01-05-02
URL: http://www.spikesys.com/Modelrr/faq4.html


Part 4 of 4, The Hobby

This is a listing of frequently asked questions and general information concerning the collection, operation and repair of collectable model railroad equipment. For more info on this FAQ see part 1. Additions and corrections are always welcome. E-mail to:

(Christopher D. Coleman)
TCA #88-26999
LRRC #0032070

This FAQ contains the following topics:

Part 1, Information

Part 2, Equipment

Part 3, Maintenance

Part 4, The Hobby


How should I build my layout?
A person's layout is very much an expression of his collecting interests. Layout styles vary from the traditional "flatland" green painted board to weathered near exact scale empires. What will be presented here are general tips for layout design and construction. Scale detailing can be found in the scale FAQ.

Some builders plan exact layout designs using templates or computer software before proceeding with any layout construction. A listing of such programs can be found at http://www.spikesys.com/soft.html I've found most more adapted toward scale layouts than sectional tinplate. Moondog Express (see Mikes Trains and Hobbies in Parts) sells real-size cardboard track templates, so you can layout a track pattern without using track. Three rail track templates can be had from:

CTT, Inc
109 Medallion Center
Dallas, TX 75214
Phone: 214-373-9469

Other programs and templates can be found using the OTHER SOURCES section. Others, including myself, feel this removes some of the originality and just go at a pile of lumber and track with a general idea in mind. By laying the track unconnected in location, one gets a better feel for how the layout will turn out.


Benchwork is any superstructure that supports trains or accessories. 1/2" to 3/4" plywood is recommended for surfaces. Particle board will sag out of place over time and waferboard/strandboard is weaker and difficult to work with. To support the plywood, a framework must be constructed. The size of the beams used varies with the length they must support and the strength needed. Remember on larger layouts climbing onto the board may be necessary from time to time, so it must support your weight. For a layout 4'X8' or larger, 2"X4" beams are recommended, though 1"X4"s can also be used. They should be arranged similarly to floor joists, with the long dimension vertical. Connect beams of appropriate lengths in rectangles the size of your plywood, then run support across the intervening space parallel to the shorter side of the rectangle, spaced about 16" to 24" apart. Remember it is more important for the top faces of the beams to be aligned so assembly is best done upside down on a flat surface, and be sure to get straight beams from your lumber supplier. You may now attach legs, which should be bolted, NOT screwed or nailed. The number depends again on strength need and layout size. Braces are recommended, running diagonally from the leg to the benchwork. The frame can now be flipped and plywood attached.

This is a generic beginners layout and infinite variations can be made to its design. As for height, commonly used figures are 2', 2'6", 3' and 4'. I use 3' since it is low enough for medium size children to see and high enough to make their grabbing trains difficult. I also use multiple level trains at 4'6" and 6'. REMEMBER the plywood will add a fraction of an inch to the height, so account for this in leg length.


All too many tinplate operators think it is necessary to run two wires from the transformer to each item on a layout. A better idea is to run feeders the length of the layout and connect leads from them to each accessory. Color coding helps immensely in tracing faulty wires and shorts. The system I've developed is shown below:

     insulated    +-----------------------------------+-------------+
        rail______|________________                   | #45 gateman |
            _______________________ TRACK             |             |
            _________|_____________      +------------|             |
                 |   |                   |            +-------------+
                 |   |LEADS              |
                 |   |                   |
      COLOR      |   |       FEEDERS     |      SUPPLY    LOAD
      black------*---|--*----------------|------ground or common
      black------*---|--|----------------|------ground or common
                 |   |  |                |
                 |   |  |                |
      red--------|---*--|----------------|------ZW A -- loop 1 upgrades
      orange-----|------|----------------*------ZW B -- signals
      yellow-----|------|-----------------------ZW C -- accessories
      green------|------|-----------------------ZW D -- loop 1 downgrades
      blue-----*-|------|-----------------------B    -- lights
      violet---|-|------|-----------------------KW A -- loop 2
      red------|-|------|-----------------------KW B -- loop 3
      orange---|-|------|-----------------------T    -- loop 4
               | |      |
      +---------------+ |  +-------------+
      |   #394 Beacon | +--| Lumber mill |-+
      +---------------+    +-------------+ |
                                      thru controller
                                      to accessory lug

I run these feeders the length of the layout, in sections connected by buss bars (screw terminal strips), and supply leads can be spiced in at the buss connections about every 4'. In this arrangement it is important to separate the ground feeder from the others by a foot or so, to avoid shorts. I strongly recommend the use of copper over aluminum wires, as where powerful postwar transformers can fry aluminum without tripping the circuit breaker. I also recommend 14 to 16 gauge wire for the feeders and 18 to 20 for leads. Two ground feeders are recommended since they are the return path for all current.


Always screw your track down! Many locomotives have gone from mint to good condition with a few too many derailments on loose track sections. I recommend slotted, pan head, sheet metal screws (yes, even if you're going into wood). #4 size for O-27 and #6 size for O. Tinplate track is designed with flexibility of layout design in mind. A pair of lineman's pliers, or better yet track pliers (get these from parts suppliers), are indispensable when assembling track. Also keep a supply of spare steel and fiber pins on hand. Cutting custom length track sections is often necessary in more complex layouts. To do this clamp the rails, not ties, between two blocks of wood. This will prevent bending the rails during cutting. Cut along the wood, from the top of the rails to the bottom for a straight clean cut. Reaming out the inside of tubular rails is often necessary before inserting a pin. Use dull wire cutters or needle nose piers to squeeze the track around the pin at the base of the railhead. Many track pins also have a rut in either end so that the railhead sides can be pressed in and prevent slippage.
Is cork roadbed any good for Tinplate?
I used it on a small Super-O layout and there was no noticeable reduction in noise. This is because well secured tinplate track transfers vibrations right through the mounting screws into the benchwork. It does, however, give that prototypically high mainline look. If the track was attached to the cork rather than the plywood beneath it, the desired sound dampening would occur. This would be easier on a vinyl or Homasite roadbed into which track screws will hold better than in cork. The use of roadbed is largely a personal decision.
How steep can I make a grade?
Grade is rise over run. For example if a real railroad climbs two feet in 100 feet of track it is on a 2/100 or 2% grade. Lionel graduated trestle sets rise about 0.5" each track section, 8.75" for O-27, making it 5.7% grade. This would be a torturous grade for a real railroad, whose normal heavy grade is 2.5 to 3%. For most beginner train sets this is steep, but manageable. No steeper is recommended. Also remember a curve in an ascending trestle makes the grade about twice as hard for the engine, depending on the tightness of the curve. Curves also introduce the problem of cars being pulled off the track to the inside due to the tension between the engine and the rest of the train. To alleviate this somewhat, cars should be ordered by descending weight. Furthermore if your track is in less than ideal condition, a curve on a grade will be the prime spot for a derailment on your layout, due to the unusual stresses placed on the track joining pins by car wheels.

If you want to run trains longer than about 10 cars you're going to have to make your own trestle with an easier grade. You can make your trestle out of whatever you like so long as you firmly attach it to the track and preferably also to the benchwork. The smoothest operation will be attained if you make the grade taper up from zero at the bottom and back to zero at the top with the normal grade in the middle. This eliminates the wack of the wheels at stressed joints at the top and bottom as well as pilot (cowcatchers) catching the center rail at the bottom and longer locomotives rocking over the peak at the top. At minimum there should be support at each rail joint. For curves there should be support in the middle of the section also, to prevent your prize locomotive from bending it over enough to topple. The best support is 1/4" to 1/2" plywood strips under all the track. I use 4" wide strips supported about every 9" by a short section of 2X4. This can be hidden with paper mache', plaster, simulated stone, or whatever scenicing process you prefer. I also grade 1/4" rise on each track section or 2.9%, steep but not too bad.

If you're really ambitious you can build a prototypical one from balsa wood. Use 1/4" square stock laying one under each rail parallel to the rail. Use shorter sections perpendicular under the first about every 2" to 4". Cut 1/4" dowel rods to length and run four of them from the support to the ground as pilings. This is of course a basic design.

My loco stalls at the far end of my loop of track.
Dirty track is the first culprit. To remove light dust, oil and grease, most track cleaning solutions are adequate with a clean cloth, either those provided by train makers or other products like "Rail Zip". Wet the cloth and rub the track as if you were polishing it. As the cloth becomes soiled, refold it and proceed. When you no longer soil the cloth the track is clean. For more serious dirt use an eraser. Ordinary erasers work, but a slightly abrasive one is best. A commercially available one is called "Bright Boy" which seems to work well, like those included in track cleaning kits. If surface rust has set in use fine or very fine sandpaper. NEVER EVER use steel wool or ANYTHING else that will leave metal bits on the track. Locomotive motors will suck them in and destroy themselves! If rust has reached the state of pitting don't bother. It is not worth your time to fix severely rusted track. Remember when using any abrasive to clean your track, new track is nickel plated and is often smooth enough to remove dirt without abrasives. Once you remove that coating with an abrasive, your track is exposed to oxidation and will need cleaned much more often and will be more likely to collect dirt.

If this fails, the easiest solution is to add more power connections to your track. This is only a band-aid solution, though, since more than bad connections may be present. Nine of ten times a corroded track pin is the cause. You should clean all your track pins before assembling your layout. Pull them and clean the end in the track section too if necessary. Clean them the same way you clean the track. If your track section is corroded on the inside of the tube, throw it in the recycling bin, it's not worth the trouble.

If you need track down a faulty track section, first disconnect all power leads and remove all trains from the track. Here a light or continuity tester is helpful, but a multimeter is best. Disconnect one track connection and test the continuity of the center rail around the loop. The outer rails are almost never a problem since they have a double conductor, but if you rule out everything else, you might check them too. A resistance less than 5 Ohms is pretty good, more and you should trace the problem. Also check the continuity between the center and outer rails. It should be infinite resistance (no current). If current flows you have a bad center rail insulator.

To track down a bad connection, test the continuity between each track connection. Any reading over around 10 Ohms means trouble. One or the other sections around the joint will need replaced. The easiest way to find a center rail insulator short is to connect a transformer WITH A CIRCUIT BREAKER and crank it up to around 3/4 power. Listen to the track and you can usually hear the sparks in the bad insulator and it will get hot too, so be careful. Alternatively you may be able to track it down with the meter. Track Cleaner #1415
Track Brite #1440
Life-Like Industries
Phone: 1-800-638-1470
URL: http://www.lifelikeproducts.com/

How can I operate my signals without those pesky pressure plates?
There are a variety of electronic gadgets for this purpose. For these see the companies in MODIFICATIONS. The most popular method is to use an insulated track section. These are made by carefully prying out one outer rail and inserting insulators in each crosstie like those in the center rail. These are easily made from a piece of index card covered by a layer of electrical tape. Firmly press the rail back in place with the insulators underneath. Be careful not to puncture them. Insert an insulating fiber pin in either end of the rail, and connect a lockon to that side of the track. Use the connection to the outside "common" rail as a lead for the common on the accessory. Connect the center rail to your variable transformer supply and the other accessory lead to your transformer accessory supply. This method will obviously not be able to trigger the green and red lights of a block signal properly, but it will work on gatemen, crossing gate, semaphores and other on/off signals.

The more technological approach to the problem is the use of electronic sensors to monitor train position. These may use infrared or signal based detection method. Some are meant for DC use only.

Trigger Max
Genco Industries
PO Box 350
2920 Avenue R
Brooklyn, NY 11229
Phone: 718-769-7430

I'd like some basic scenery. What can I do?
There are two basic methods for scenery support and two for the scenery itself. Support is itself usually supported by 2X2"s or 1X2"s. The support is a gridwork that will support the scenery while it dries and also after it is dried. The first method is to cut scrap cardboard into long strips and glue or staple them into a gridwork over the support supports. The second is to use chicken wire or window screen stapled to the support supports. I use screen because I was able to secure a large amount from a hardware store that does screen repair, because it is easier to shape than cardboard, does not allow the scenery to sag between grid segments and it is non-flammable. When you're shaping your support keep some nature photos handy to help you choose prototypical contours.

On the support you need to add an actual surface. Be sure to wear work clothes, for this is always a messy job. You will need material and a bonder to do this. I use newspaper as a material, but paper towels are also commonly used. There are many choices for bonders. The most common is plaster, which is quite strong and easily contoured with dental type tools when dry, but it is also heavy and brittle. I use cheap wallpaper paste. When dry it is stiff, but not as strong as plaster, though it is easily cut with scissors or a razor blade for changes, and will be more forgiving to your trains should they crash into it. There are also a number of commercial bonders on the market which combine the strength of plaster with the lightness of paste. You may wish to experiment with a number of combinations before you begin on your layout.

Once you have your supplies, mix a modest amount of bonder in a tray wide enough to drag the entire width of your material through it. A consistency halfway between water and pudding is good. Choose the width of your material by what is most convenient for you. The rougher the terrain, the more difficult it will be to get large pieces to conform to it. Drag the material through the bonder so to cover the entire side, then run your hand down it, removing the excess. If you wish a rough terrain you may gently crumple then uncrumple the material, but this will make seams much more difficult to hide. Lay the material over the support. It is best to work toward the viewers point so to make seams less apparent, but it is usually necessary to work from top to bottom of any significant slopes, to keep your work from sliding down the sides. As you proceed, get some bonder on your fingers and rub it over the seams so they will be de-emphasized when dry. I recommend covering everything with at least one layer, including plywood, to give a uniform surface over the layout. Once the first layer is dry, apply at least one more on the supported areas. You can add additional layers, depending on the strength you desire.

When your last layer is dry, seal everything with a base layer of paint, usually a brown or grey whichever will comprise most of your layouts surface. From here many steps become optional depending on the level of realism you desire. You will next want to paint level areas with a soil brown (or slopes with a stone grey, depending on your base coat). Where brown meets grey, wet your brush then remove most of it using the paint can lip. Now gently dab (or drybrush) around that border giving a smooth transition between the two. Furthermore you may wish to drybrush some varying shades of brown and grey to give the effect of striations and erosion. If you don't want to mess with artificial grass you can also drybrush on green instead. Water is easily simulated with a coat of deep blue covered with a coat of satin polyurathane.

This is the point where you will want to lay track. Next you will need to gather supplies for the detailing, and what follows are only suggestions. For rock, crushed driveway stone for boulders, crushed clay kitty litter for rocks, sifted (through window screen) kitty litter for ballast and white sand for crushed stone. Ballast, coal, grass (ground foam) and a variety of other detailing materials are available from commercial sources. Lichen is a type of moss which looks remarkably like miniature bushes. Commercially prepared lichen is available, or you can prepare your own using the following steps:

  1. Gather large amounts of lichen and pick out all sticks, rocks, grass, rabbit pellets and etc.
  2. You need to do the work outside, you will need a camp stove and a five gallon pot.
  3. The basic preserving solution is 3 gallons of water and 1 gallon of commercial grade glycerin (check yellow pages for the cheapest you can find).
  4. Buy several packets of rit dye to match different shades of foliage.
  5. Dissolve 1 1/2 packets in the solution and heat to just below boiling.
  6. Stuff as much lichen in the solution as possible and when solution begins to simmer let simmer for an additional 5 min.
  7. When cool enough use rubber gloves to reach in and pull the lichen out. Squeeze the solution out back in the pot.
  8. Let the lichen cool then repeat for a fresh batch.

Trees are also commercially available from many sources. You can also make your own by cutting bottle brushes to a conical shape, unraveling one end of twisted wire and inserting lichen, or by drying and painting weeds that have a good "tree" shape. You will need to drill holes in plywood sections to install trees. A tiny dab of white glue is sufficient to keep it in place. Commercial trees with bases are best attached using rubber cement, so they can be moved later without destroying the landscape underneath. In areas without plywood underneath, I usually punch a small hole in the surface, hold a block of styrafoam (cut from a piece of packing material) behind it and pressing the tree trunk into the foam. It might be necessary to put a bit of white glue on the foam to hold it in position.

Other landscape material, like ground foam or sand, is best secured by spraying the area with 'wet water' (water with a dab of detergent) from a spray bottle. Apply the material then spray it with a roughly 4:1 mix of water/white glue to fix it in place. All this sort of material should be secured to prevent it getting into train moving parts.

What if I don't have the time to build a layout?
No problem, there are a number of firms which specialize in custom building tinplate layouts and others who produce "production line" layouts. I will not list them here, but they advertize heavily in the tinplate train press. Be aware, though, you will be paying for someone else's labor in addition to parts.


Can I doublehead tinplate locomotives?
Yes, as long as you use similar locomotives. What I mean by this is some locos use can motors, some use "universal" motors in addition to various gearing ratios. To test two locos for compatibility set them on the track, uncoupled and unloaded and run them in the same direction. If the separation between them rapidly increases or decreases their natural speeds are too far apart and they will fight each other if coupled together. You MUST lock out your sequencers when you doublehead since a momentary power loss may sequence one loco and not another (unless you have electronic ones which suppress this problem). Mid-train helpers are also possible but placing requires skill and practice. Rear helpers are not recommended.
How many cars can my locomotive pull?
This depends greatly on what type of trucks your stock has. Newer (1971 and up) cars usually have needle point bearings in low friction plastic which allows them to roll very easily. Older cars have no bearings at all and take 2-5 times more force to roll and are heavier. These are estimates of pulling capacity based on drive train:

Magnetraction and rubber traction tires can, of course, increase the pulling capability of an engine. Magnetraction is superior in gripping and also grips with all powered wheels without insulating them from the track as tires do. Magnetraction is, however, far more difficult to replace if it fails.

How can I make my locomotive smoke?
The first smoke mechanism Lionel used in 1945 simply allowed a smoke pellet to rest in the headlight bulb with a special dimple in it. This didn't work very well and was quickly replaced with a resistance coil. Either heat source caused the pill to slowly melt and vaporize. Unfortunately Lionel pellets are no longer made, as where they were patented by the engineer who created them for Lionel. Production of the pellets likely ended in 1969 and many bottles can still be purchased, but they are becoming less common and are going for high prices. K-line made their K-151 pellets in the 1980's which, though it did not smell like the Lionel pellet, it worked resonably well. K-line has not made pills since the early 1990's. To alleviate the patent fees, Lionel converted to a petroleum based liquid smoke in the 1960's. Since smoke units designed for liquid have an absorbent material built into it, the pellet and liquid should only be used in their respective style units. Flyer and Marx used only liquid smoke units. Smoke liquids currently available can be used interchangeably in liquid smoke units. Additionally some new liquids are designed to give off specific scents such as the smell of original Lionel smoke pellets.

Original Lionel smoke pellets have become collectable in their own right, so if you have them, use them sparingly and fill in the gaps with other brands. You might also use a few drops of liquid smoke in your bottle of pellets occasionally to keep them from disintegrating. This will also extend their life inside the smoke unit. Using a pipe cleaner to brush the white residue inside your smokestack back into your generator will extend the effectiveness of the pellets you use.

It has also been suggested that scented lamp or Seethe oil may be used. Other home-remedy smoke includes asprin and candle wax. I have not tried any of these.

Absorbent material can be added to old pellet smoke units in the form of a small tuft of fiberglass insulation. Again, I have not tried this and cannot attest to the reliability, efficiency or safety. Also once material is added, it will no longer function properly with pellets.

Personally, I have a small stash of both Lionel and K-line pellets which I enhance with some fluid. Fluid will work in an unmodified pellet unit, but could fowl it. I only used fluid in a pellet unit in addition to the pellet (not in place of it) or when the unit is at operating temperature.

Liquid smoke is available from:

Smoke #1417
Life-Like Industries
Phone: 1-800-638-1470
URL: http://www.lifelikeproducts.com/

"Roscoe Smoke Fluid"
address unknown

Bart's Pneumatics Corp.
1952 Landis Valley Rd.
Lancaster, PA 17601
Phone: 717-392-1568

"Live Steam"
Available from Mikes Trains and Hobbies
Address in PARTS section

"Lehigh Valley Train Service"
address unknown
Emmaus, PA


How can I display my trains?
The most obvious method is to screw track to shelving. Trains can also be placed right on the shelving but this provides less protection against earthquakes, pets, children, etc. One ingenious solution is called Rail Rax. They are solid aluminum shelves with mounting holes and molded extrusions the width of your track gauge. They are available in HO/S, O, and O/I/Standard from:

Rail Rax
786 Seely Avenue
Aromas, CA 95004-9510
Phone: 800-830-2843
Phone: 408-726-3706
URL: http://www.railrax.net/

Glenn Snyder Display Systems
260 Buffalo St
Buffalo, NY 14203
Phone: 877-852-4676
Fax: 716-852-4677
URL: http://www.gsds.com/

Chocolatetown Trains
PO Box 137
Hershey, PA 17033
URL: http://www.trainshelf.com/

Another clever solution is to use beadboard, a common material in the walls of older buildings that can still be purchased. The grooves between beads are about right for O and S gauge stock. There are special brackets available for rack shelving which has staggered tiers for holding three rows of train display boards all visibly. Available from:

For Toys Company
Warren Knauer
18050 Judicial Way N
Lakeville, MN 55044
Phone: 612-898-2843

Yet another alternative is to use wood shelving with routed or sawed slots to accommodate wheel flanges. A pre-made shelving of this kind is available from:

Trackside Marketing
PO Box 137
Fairview, PA 16415
Phone: 814-833-8562
URL: http://www.tracksidetrains.com/

Remember when choosing a location for your trains that moisture is the enemy of trains. This is especially important if your trains are in a basement. A good dehumidifier will save your trains in even a slightly damp basement. Similarly if you choose an attic you must be cautious about heat. Many of the earlier plastics used in train manufacture are especially susceptible to warpage and melting in heat. A/C or ventilation is a must.


How do I know what to buy?
Buy what you like! If you don't like it don't buy it. What not to do is buy every train you see. Give it a bit of thought first. Why do you want to collect trains in the first place? Is it to operate or display? Are you fond of a particular scale, manufacturer, time period or style?
How much is it worth?
You can follow the grading standards in GRADING STANDARDS AND OTHER JARGON and look up a price in a guide, but that is only an approximation. In order to find a price you will also need to know catalog numbers from the items, presence or absence of boxes and set boxes, date of manufacture (if known) and color and truck variations. Look at the MEETS section for details on this.
When was it made?
Determining when a given piece was manufactured is a field of study in its own right. The easiest way for the amature is to buy a guide to your brand and era of trains. Looking up the number on the piece will usually give you a value and a range of production dates. The more in-depth guides will give information on variations in the products design, such as color, construction, and errors, which will allow you to pin down your item's date. Pick up a Greenberg or TM price guide. They cost about $10-20.
Is is in original condition?
This matters to some more than others, but is accepted as wrong to repaint or replace with reproductions major sections of an item and try to pass it off as original. Groups like the TCA take this very seriously and have expelled members for it.

Reproduction parts are quite a controversy. They are needed where original parts can no longer be found, but can be misrepresented. Volumes have been written on what parts have been cloned and how to tell, but I will give some general guidelines.

  1. Lionel molded parts usually say "Lionel Corporation, New York, NY" or similar. Watch for parts with this missing.
  2. Reproductions usually have more apparent "parting lines" where the two pieces of the die meet.
  3. The parts most often broken or lost are those most often cloned. Automobiles, helicopters, submarines, missiles, and other plastic loads are good examples.
  4. Bad copies are often warped or show color variation.
  5. If you are at all suspicious, don't accuse. Ask someone more experienced for their opinion, especially train group officers.


How can I inventory my collection?
The simplest way other than just writing it down is to use a price guide/checklist from the places listed in OTHER SOURCES. On the computer many use a database program such as Access or Paradox that can be set up in any way you wish. This has the advantage of being very flexible and you can make other files for your catalogues or slide collections with the same program. The disadvantage is if you want current values you will have to enter them by hand. There are several pre-made inventory programs. Check with the suppliers in OTHER SOURCES. Also there is:

Frank K. Kistner
11062 Delta Circle
Boca Raton, FL 33428
Phone: 561-482-2857

3200 Washington Street
Boston, MA 02130

If you have FileMaker Pro, try dropping a note to SofTrack [SofTrack@aol.com]. They have a Model RR inventory template for FM Pro on the Mac or Windows, $60

Train Tracker
REEF Development Co., Inc.
144 Iler Drive
Middleton, NJ 07748
Phone: 908-706-1500
Toll Free: 800-589-REEF URL: http://www.bangzoom.com/trainProductFeatures.asp

Scottsville Business Systems
PO Box 3
Scottsville NY, 14546

Additional price disks: $19.95. (PreWar, PostWar, Modern Era)
TM Books & Video
New Buffalo, MI 49117
Toll Free: 800-892-2822

The Train Collector's Workbook
The Ashland Group
16 Kings Row
Ashland, MA 01721
Phone: 508-881-6315

Model Railroad Assets
Northstar Software
620-19th Street
Suite 123
Niagra Falls, NY 14301-2226

Railbase Professional
Albion Software
URL: http://www.albionsoftware.com/html/railbase.html

Is there a good method for identifying trains to be recorded in a catalog?
This depends on the make. Usually the best way to catalog them is first by "make", then by "catalog number". This usually appears on the item, but not always, and sometimes even the wrong one appears. The best way to make sure you have the correct number is to buy a "checklist and price guide" from either Greenberg Books or TM for each make. They list all the numbers produced with a brief description of each. For the larger makers like Marx, Lionel, and Flyer the lists are separated into major periods of manufacture, such as Pre WWII, post WWII, Post 1970, etc. The hierarchy of my train database is:

     Catalog Number
     Date Purchased

In some cases it can be a bit of an art but is usually straight forward. Early trains (1910's and before) and "economy" trains are the hardest to classify as where they often have no markings.

MEETS (or shows)

How should I approach attending a collectors train meet?
There are two types of meets, Open and Closed. Open meets are open to the public such as Greenberg's Train and Doll Shows and Great American Train Shows. Closed meets are open only to group members and guests, such as the TCA York PA Meet. It is often recommended that you attend at least one meet with no money and just get the feel of the meet. I walk through a meet once before buying to get a feel for that meets prices and selection, and then make successive rounds getting the emerging deals each time. Another tip is always hang around until closing time when many sellers would rather make a deal than haul stuff home. In any case you should try to have an experienced collector with you for your first few meets. There are sharks at every meet who just want your hard earned dollars in their pockets. It is also a good idea to carry a price guide with you. Don't use it as a bible, but as a guide, and don't hover over an item with the price guide open, you might tip off the seller as to how interested you are in the item.

Another tip is that some sellers are very testy about people handling their items until sold, so restrain that urge to examine every piece at a meet and watch for dealer's "NO TOUCH" signs. Also keep a close eye on guests and children, as they are the most frquent violators. They may 'buy' you a piece you can not afford.

Prices are usually higher at open meets since the clientele is less experienced. Prices are mostly a factor of how badly the seller wants to dump the item and how badly he wants to turn a profit. Prices are usually higher than book value and can be negotiated down to around book value. NEVER buy a piece at a meet without trying to bargain it down and don't be afraid to walk away and try later, the dealer might become more desperate to sell. It is also a good idea to carry a pocket price guide with you, but don't swear by its accuracy.

For more information see:

Greenberg Shows
7566 Main Street
Sykesville, MD 21784
URL: http://www.greenbergshows.com/

Great American Train Show Limited
PO Box 1745
Lombard, IL 60148
Phone: 708-834-0652
URL: http://www.gats.com

Meets versus Shops? Meets have better selection (by a long shot) and prices (by about 20%) but shops have a friendly face and service after the sale which is best for new items, plus there is less difference in the price of new items (about 5%). I do not recommend mail on used items orders since you get the worst of the two above, plus you don't really know what your getting until it arrives (postage charges too). If you are buying from a reputable seller, buying used items mail order can be more attractive. For new items mail order can be a good alternative. Know your mail order house, though. Ask for recommendations. Some sell old stock at deeply discounted prices.

Online auction houses, most notably ebay, are an increasingly popular means of buying and selling trains. Use caution here just as you would buying mail order. Be sure to check the sellers feedback rating for any negatives and find out what the problem is. Pictures don't lie, so auctions with them are a definite plus. Also be sure to specify good packing. Many good items have been destroyed by UPS due to insufficient packaging.

Lionel in 1992 instituted a new policy that no current production year items may be sold at meets or advertized mail-order. This is an attempt to prevent undercutting of their dealers and to ensure service after the sale. As a result, dealers, many of whom do both shops and meets, will just sell their year-old stock at the meet.


What groups related to the collecting aspect are there?
The following is an incomplete list of major tinplate groups:

TCA Train Collectors Association
PO Box 248
Strasburg, PA
Phone: 717-687-8623
Fax: 717-687-0742
URL: http://www.traincollectors.org/
-Largest and oldest (1954) collector's group which establishes many accepted standards. $25.00 per year national fees. Several divisions and many chapters which may have their own fees. Includes Train Collectors Quarterly magazine, one of which being the National membership directory, and National Headquarters News quarterly newsletter. Chapter, Division and a National member meets with admission from 5$ to 15$.

TTOS Toy Train Operating Society
25 W Walnut Street
Suite 308
Pasadena, CA 91103
Phone: 818-578-0673
Fax: 818-578-0750
URL: http://www.ttos.org/
$22.00 per year, no enrollment fee
7,000 members, sponsor meets including two large CA meets shared with the TCA, Cal-Stewart and San Jose.

LOTS Lionel Operating Train Society
6376 West Fork Road
Cincinnati, OH 45247-5704
Phone: (513) 598-8240
URL: http://www.lots-trains.org/
For operators of Lionel trains of all vintages.
Annual Dues: $26.00; Initiation Fee: $6.00
Bi-Monthly Publication (2,4,6,8,10,12): SWITCHER national and local public meets.

LCCA Lionel Collectors Club of America
P.O. Box 479
LaSalle, IL 61301
URL: http://www.lionelcollectors.org/
For collectors of Lionel trains of all vintages.
Annual Dues: $30.00; Initiation Fee: $10.00
founded 1970
Bi-Monthly Publication (1,3,5,7,9,11): "The Interchange Track" contains buy-sell-trade advertisements.
Bi-Monthly Publication (2,4,6,8,10,12): "The Lion Roars" contains technical and product articles.

LRRC Lionel Railroader Club
PO Box 748
New Baltimore, MI 48047-0748
URL: http://www.lionel.com/Clubs/findex.cfm
-Current membership is $20.00 per year, includes a slick paper quarterly newsletter, membership button, and current year catalogs. It is part of Lionel and is directed more toward kids, but it gives a great deal of insight into Lionel productions and offers special cars, locos, and premiums for sale.

AFCC American Flyer Collectors Club
P.O. Box 13269
Pittsburgh, PA 15243
Frank C Hare, Editor
-Annual Dues $12.50 Payable in Jan, four issues a year, a member list and updates are provided. Topics covered are ALL of AF items O-Gauge, S-Gauge, Standard Gauge. The Whistling Billboard is a FREE advertising section for members, 75 words or less. The Baggage Room section is for discussion.

K-Line Collectors Club
PO Box 2831
Chappel Hill, NC 27515
URL: http://www.k-linetrains.com/products/browse.cfm?secID=643AF16C-73A9-11D4-ADAB0060B0576B82
-Annual Dues $30 plus $5 startup fee, exclusive production items offered.

Marx Trains Collector's Club
PO Box 111
Bakerstown, PA 15007
-Annual Dues $39, Quarterly newsletter, membership includes club car.


Where can I get more information?
A good well stocked hobby shop can answer many questions, if they really want your business. For reference material check the following:


Classic Toy Trains
-8 Issues per year, collectable trains and Hi-Rail Tinplate , $36.95 per year, $4.95 cover price, best for tinplate.
Kalmbach Publishing Co
21027 Crossroads Circle
PO Box 1612
Waukesha, WI 53187-1612
Toll Free: 800-533-6644
Fax: 414-796-0126
URL: http://www.classtrain.com

Model Railroader
-Monthly, mostly smaller scale with some tinplate, $39.95 per year, $4.95 cover price.

Kalmbach Publishing Co
21027 Crossroads Circle
PO Box 1612
Waukesha, WI 53187-1612
Toll Free: 800-533-6644
Fax: 414-796-0126
URL: http://www.modelrailroader.com/

O Gauge Railroading
-Bimonthly, half and half scale and tinplate O, $22.00 per year.

65 South Broad Street
P.O. Box 239
Nazareth, PA 18064-0239
Phone: 610-759-0406 (8:30 - 4:30 EST M-F)
Fax: 610-759-0223
URL: http://www.ogaugerr.com/

Garden Railways
-G, bimonthly, $24.95 per year, $4.95 cover price.

Kalmbach Publishing Co
21027 Crossroads Circle
PO Box 1612
Waukesha, WI 53187-1612
Toll Free: 800-533-6644
Fax: 414-796-0126
URL: http://www.gardenrailways.com/

Outdoor Railroader
-G, bimonthly, $22.00 per year

Westlake Publishing
1574 Kerryglen Street
Westlake Village, CA 91361

The Train Yard
-G, bimonthly, $22.00 per year

23015 Del Largo Hills Drive
Laguna, CA 92653

S Gaugian
-Bi-Monthly, $32.00 Yearly ($39.00 outside US)

Heimburger House Publishing Company
7236 West Madison Street
Forest Park, IL 60130
Phone: 708-366-1973
URL: http://www.heimburgerhouse.com/s.htm


Books are available on most every imaginable subject in tinplate trains. Videos are also available. Some chronicle famous layouts and manufacturers while others are how-to such as train repair.


Bruce Greenberg founded Greenberg's Publishing in the 1970s and for several years acted in a consulting capacity after he sold the company to Kalmbach Publishing. From its beginning Greenberg's has had the best selection of tinplate books. Especially recommended are their "Guide to _______ "(fill in the blank) comprehensive Product listing in Volume I and other information in successive volumes, if available. Good stuff. Call and ask for a catalog.

Greenberg Books
Kalmbach Publishing Company
PO Box 1612
Waukesha, WI 53187-1612
Toll Free: 800-533-6644
Fax: 414-796-0126
URL: http://db.kalmbach.com/catalog/catalogJump.lasso?Menu=Books


TM Books was also founded in the 1970s, by James Tuohy and Tom McComas, and started with documenting prewar Lionel. Their books are usually more expensive and focus more on history than product descriptions. They also focus more on videos.

TM Books and Videos
PO Box 279
New Buffalo, MI 49711
Toll Free: 800-892-2822
Fax: 219-879-7909
URL: http://www.tmbooks-video.com/


TCA (see address above)
"Standard of the World, Lionel Trains" Second Edition Excellent listing of Prewar Lionel trains, contains color chips for original paint colors.

"All Aboard; the history of Joshua Lionel Cowen and his Toy Train Company"
Good and enlightening chronology of Lionel during Cowen's lifetime.

Workman Publishing Company
708 Broadway
New York, NY 10003

End of the Tinplate Train FAQ, Part 4 of 4
On to The Irvington, Hillside and Mount Clemens Railroad. where other documents are kept.