model train set on track

My Greatest Find

e*Train Issue: Nov 2008   |   Posted in: ,

By Mike Stella

A number of years ago, there was an ongoing series of articles in a popular toy train magazine entitled “My Greatest Find”.

Each month, a story was told by some collector about finding the rarest of the rare.  Those one-of-a-kind pieces that nobody had ever seen before.

Items worth thousands of dollars.  Money, money, money.

Sometimes I wonder if that is all many toy train people care about?   I for one think the “story” of finding some unusual item can be much more entertaining than the item itself.

I wish more TCA members would contribute their favorite toy train story.  Even as the “World’s Greatest Lionel Collector” and builder of “Lionel Lines” (The Largest Lionel Railroad on my Block), I cannot continue to do everything by myself.  A little help from all of you would be greatly appreciated.

On with the story…

I was walking down an aisle at the largest toy train meet held in the Bay Area, when a seller who recognized me as the “World’s Greatest Lionel Collector” approached and asked if I had ever seen a locomotive like he was selling.

I picked up what appeared to be a common #1654 and inquired why he thought this was something special.  He told me to look at the roof.  He had never seen one quite like this.

I had to admit that I wasn’t sure this was anything to get excited about and his asking price was very high so I left it on his table and continued down the aisle but made a mental note to check my vast collection when I returned home.

After looking at about 60 Lionel 2-4-2 locomotives I started wishing I had purchased that #1654.  I wondered if it was too late.

I didn’t know that seller’s name.  I didn’t know where he was from.  I only knew that his table was across the aisle from a friend of mine.

Not much to go on but the registration chairman of the meet was a close friend and I telephoned her up to ask if she could help me.

She said all tables were in the charge of another collector I knew so I telephoned him up.

(This was a few years before Al Gore invented the Internet!)

He said it would take a few days and sure enough he called back with the name of the collector I sought.  Another telephone call confirmed that the #1654 was still available.

This was a time in our toy train hobby when friendship and trust meant a lot more than it does today and this collector simply mailed that loco to me and said send payment if you decide to keep it!

I sent the payment.

If you study the picture showing the cab roofs of the two #1654 locomotives you can see that the one we’ve been discussing has had all the details removed from the roof by the same machine that was used to grind off the flash from the rest of the body.

I concluded that this was done at the Lionel factory possibly by a “new hire” that was told to clean up the die-cast bodies and failed to realize that some things were supposed to be left on.  I don’t think he did too many like this before his mistake was discovered.

I told this story before when I submitted “My Greatest Find” to that before mentioned toy train magazine but I guess they didn’t think it was a story worth telling.

I canceled my subscription.

My “Greatest Find” is a not so common #1654.
Two #1654s clearly show the difference.