On Train Collecting

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I collect trains. There, I’ve said it. It should be pointed out that there is a fine line between collecting and accumulating, between fascination and obsession. I figure that I could spend 20 years and thousands of dollars on psychotherapy, and in the end find out that I really hated my dog when I was 8. Or I could spend the money on the trains and get it over with. Besides, my insurance doesn’t cover psychotherapy. Nor does it cover trains, so I’m private pay all the way.

Like any good garden variety psychological problem, train collecting has a large number of subsets, variations on the theme of buying trains.  One major indicator of a shift in collecting habits is when you not only buy trains, but also start selling trains.  I’m way past that, too.  I’m to the point where I have worked for model train manufacturers or dealers for over three decades.  Why not attempt to make money with your issues?

Given what passes for normal behavior these days, train collecting is an innocent pastime.  And, given the wide variety of trains available, both modern and historical, train collecting takes a wide range of expression.  In short, there’s something out there for everybody.

The presence of train collectors is a silent asset for those who operate model trains.  The fact is that a large number of the new model trains sold today will never operate, much less escape from their boxes.  Worldwide, cartons of model trains sit silently in closets or on display shelves.  And without that silent majority, there would be fewer reasons for a manufacturer to go to the financial effort of making new models.  Say what you will, the model train manufacturers are in it for the money, which is as it should be.  The end result of the presence of collectors is that a lot of trains are manufactured that might not have otherwise, and the beneficiaries are the train operators.  Of course, I operate trains also, so much the better.

One of the realities of this situation is that the manufacturers are producing models of locomotives that might not have otherwise been produced.  In earlier times, if you were buying a model train, it would be decorated in Santa Fe or Pennsylvania railroad liveries, since those were the most popular railroads.  If you wanted to have a locomotive decorated for the Seaboard Air Line Railroad (one of my personal favorites), you had to paint and letter the locomotive yourself.  Now, of course, this has all changed.

With the combination of improved manufacturing techniques and inexpensive Chinese labor, there is a startling variety of model trains in a wide variety of liveries.  For example, Atlas has recently issued models of the EMD MP15 switching locomotive in both N-Scale and in HO-Scale.  The locomotive was available in both sound versions and non-sound versions.  And these locomotives were available in the livery of the Texas City Terminal Railway; with versions of all three locomotives of this company.  Likewise, single locomotives such as the GP38 of the Tennessee, Alabama & Georgia.  At the same time, models of rarer locomtoives are now in the market also; consider the Atlas model of the ALCo HH660, of which there were 43 locomotives ever built.

One consequence to this plethora of stuff is that those who model Santa Fe or Pennsylvania now sometimes find themselves on the sidelines.  Fewer people paint and letter locomotives these days; why do so when you have so many nice Factory-painted units to choose from?  From a manufacturing perspective, it takes as much time to make a model of the TA&G GP38 as it does to make a model of the Santa Fe GP38, so something has to give.  There’s just so much production time and capital available.  Another consequence is that the companies who manufacture lettering decals are also seeing a decline in activity.  Why paint and letter when you can buy it off the shelf? So, we live in interesting times.

As we go along, I will be going to my collection and dragging out stuff for your amusement.  I do have stuff stashed away in boxes somewhere, but I have a lot of interesting things that are not.  My orientation is not so much with their value as much as it is finding what always fascinated me in the first place.  So, my tastes will emerge, obscure tastes to be sure, but I hope that you will find them interesting.

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