model train set on track

It’s Fun to“Collect” Trains  – Part 1: Old Trains

e*Train Issue: Nov 2003   |   Posted in: ,

By Mike Stella

By now you know I was “stuck” in England for two months this summer as my wife ended up very sick and hospitalized for 8 weeks while I had to worry, wait, and find things to do.

The day before we finally got to check out, there was a train-meet just a few train stations up the line, so I took the opportunity to explore. I knew there was never anything of real interest at these little meets so didn’t take along a lot of money. Two minutes into the meet and I was both glad and upset at my failure to plan ahead. Glad because I would have purchased too much to carry back to the hospital and certainly too much to get back home. Upset, because I finally ran into the kind of “O” gauge dealer I had hoped to. Lots of trains, varied condition, and priced very fairly from what I had seen in the past.

While I always try to get some English Hornby or Bassett-Lowke, it was the LIONEL set on the table that caught my eye and my interest. A very nice #257 with an 8 wheel tender and 3 cars, all in excellent shape, all boxed, and all marked with “Made in the U.S. of America” along with the Lionel paper stickers affixed to the bottoms. Owner said it was an import for the English market and it is different then any set I’ve seen before. I had to leave the Hornby and the Bassetts this time in order to get the Lionel back to the country where it was made and belongs.

I did purchase a little JEP French steam loco that was featured last month in E-train.

There was a big “O” gauge display layout at this show and I took the Lionel over to test it and it ran like the day it was made. A really beautiful set and a great find on my last day in England. I carried my train back to the hospital to show my wife and she seemed excited (for me) too. We began to talk about our trip back home and packing the trains when another visitor sitting in the visitor’s lounge asked if I liked trains!!! He had an OLD one up in his attic just a few miles from the hospital and was I interested? We left the wives to visit while and headed out; but that is another story for another day. The Lionel made it back to the USA and is now a treasured part of my vast collection, possibly the largest collection in my entire town.


I am one of those unique Lionel collectors that started collecting in 1970, the very same year that Lionel trains started to be manufactured by a new group, a part of General Mills located in Michigan, and referred to as MPC. While only under the Model Products Corporation flag of General Mills for the first few years, the MPC name stuck in collectors minds for the next 15 years, up until the Richard Kughn era began.

Just as original Lionel is divided into prewar and postwar, so is the Modern Era divided into MPC (including Fundimensions and Kenner) from 1970 to 1986, the Richard Kughn (LTI) era from 1986 to 1995, and finally the current Wellspring (LLC) era from 1995 to date. Many still lump this entire period into the same “Modern Era” category. I think that is a big mistake and shows both a lack of interest in newer Lionel trains and ignorance of the art of collecting these items.

Much has been written about the fall in prices of MPC and even LTI. Seems a lot of “collectors” aren’t really collectors at all. I’ve never sold an MPC locomotive equipped with “Sound-of-Steam” in order to replace it with a similar locomotive that had “Railsounds I” and then traded that off in order to get the same type locomotive with “Railsounds II.” A true collector, in my opinion, just keeps adding to the collection and ends up with all three!

I cannot understand why trains from just a few years ago are being “dumped” on the market at prices that are half of what they cost?


I have been adding a few duplicates to my collection of early MPC at giveaway (sometimes throwaway) prices and plan to continue to do so. The three locomotives featured in this part of the article are all early MPC era Hudsons that are beautiful reproductions of the classic Lionel #2055/2065.

All come with the long #2046 style tender. All were purchased LN or better in the box and all were less then $100. I think they are outstanding Lionel pieces and even though I bought my first ones in the early 1970s, I was just as happy to find these 30 years later.

My modern era locomotive roster numbers close to 1000 and I only anticipate it growing larger. I do think the time will come when more and more toy train folks discover the fun of “collecting” and the affordability and quality of the early MPC era products.

Until then I am snapping up as much of it as I can. Someday I hope to share my 5000+ boxcars with all of you.