MY MOST MEMORABLE AMERICAN FLYER TRAIN PURCHASES OVER THE YEARS: Part 1
by Mike Marmer, TCA# 92-35192
SOMETIME IN THE YEAR OF 1958. This is something that I did not actually make a purchase on, since I was only 3 years old in 1958.
My father bought a American Flyer train set. I remember running the set at night in a short hallway from the living room, to another hallway near the three bedrooms, with the roomlights off and the headlight beaming on the engine. My father was not into trains at all in my later life.
As a kid, I had great times in our unfinished basement, playing with it and the cars that came with it, even when the engine was no longer working on its own on the track. I used my Fort Apache set and the little green army men to go with it. I would learn later in life, that this set is one of the rarest made sets by American Flyer. That does not matter to me today, it could be worth two dollars to me, as it was a very important part of my childhood.
GAITHERSBURG, MARYLAND FALL OF 1987: I was not into model trains at the time, although I still had my American Flyer trains and HO trains in boxes in the basement of our townhome.
In the Washington Post was an ad for a train show at the Rio Business/Retail complex in Gaithersburg. I think it was my wife Linda, who said we should go, and we did. I had no intention of buying anything.
The train show was set up in the lobby and 2nd floor of the 14-story office building at Rio. There were tables and tables of model trains, as you walked up the steps to the 2nd floor open area to see more tables and more tables of model trains.
So far, trains were neat to see on the table, as it was all HO and O gauge trains. It brought back the memories of running model trains as a kid. And then there it was… many tables of American Flyer trains! What a site it was, this man and woman, behind the tables with American Flyer trains, all in mint condition and very expensive, some were hundreds of dollars. This got our attention.
I only had 100 in cash with me, and the vendor did not take any credit cards. The man was very nice to us, as we talked a bit. I knew nothing about train values for a product that went out of business in the mid 1960’s.
I did see some mint cars with the box for 50 dollars each, perfect. I bought a Gulf silver tank car and a Northern Pacific Orange refrigerator car (Reefer Car) for 50 each, no tax, thankfully, as I think 100 was all I had. The cars were carefully put into the boxes and they went home with me going into a draw for the TV stand we have, which is a really nice Teak wood microwave stand.
As we left, a man was arguing with the seller of the American Flyer trains, to sell him one piece from a mint box set, as there were many box sets for sale, 1000s of dollars. The man would not, as he should not break up a set.
Later, in the 1990s and beyond, I got to know this couple very well. Gary Clark and Laura Zase, one of the gurus in collectable American Flyer Trains of Hartford, CT.
OCTOBER 1991 KENNEBUNK, MAINE, WALKERS POINT: In 1991 I really got back into model trains, for good, on our annual trip to Maine and stopping to see Walker’s Point in Kennebunk, Maine, home of the President at the time, George H. Bush.
We found the President’s home, got pictures of it and then it was time to get back to U.S. Route 1.
However, we got lost and, in our driving, we saw this house with a sign for a model train shop.
So, we decided to stop in and look around, since I had trains as a kid and still have them in boxes in the basement of our home.
The shop was in the basement, professionally fixed up like a train shop. The owner came down, in a white bathrobe, smoking some type of European cigarette, holding a white poodle. Mr. Parson was the owner of the shop name and he just had triple bypass surgery.
We said hello to him and started to look around, going up and down all the aisles. There was some used American Flyer.
I knew nothing about American Flyer trains, overall, other that they downgraded the quality of their product to the Pikemaster brand of cheaply made trains and finally closed in 1966.
I ended up writing a check to the store for about 2,000 dollars for most of the used American Flyer he had on hand. He told me that a man who was a lobster fisherman, had to sell these trains, as he needed the money, due to the economy in 1991. I felt bad about this, but those trains will be respected and taken care of by me.
Again, I had no clue if I over, under, or paid the right price, but I bought these items. I would learn later, I did very well.
I purchased a Checkerboard water tower, a tool shed, a 12B 250 dual transformer, a three-digit State of Maine reefer, as he had a five-digit State of Maine reefer too. I took the 3-digit reefer, since the red strip on one side of the car, was more of an orange, many a factory error? Not done by sun, as the blue and white were very sharp and clean. A 343-switcher engine which I would learn was the rarer version of a 343 engine. A 21813 MstL switcher engine for 450 as a rear plastic step was repaired, as it broke off sometime in its use. I would get to know the repair person too, in a very short time, Doug Peck of Newburyport, MA. Some switches, some track.
Three Chrome Passenger cars. A 632 Lehigh NE Diecast Hopper. Some other items too. We had a great time at this man’s hobby shop after getting lost somewhere in Maine. So, for the next four years, we stop at this shop, as it was right off I-95/U.S. One, easy to get to.
Mr. Parsons never had any more used American Flyer, but it was a nice stop for us, each year, to catch up on things trains we were doing now, thanks to that stop we did in 1991.
In 1995, we came by the house, and the train shop was now a beauty salon for women. We knew Mr. Parsons must have passed away. So, we did not stop, we just left. I did learn later due to the internet that he lived here all his life and was born in 1915. He looked like Earl Flynn. He will not be forgotten by us.
FALL 1991 JOINING THE TRAIN COLLECTORS ASSOCIATION (TCA); SOMETIME IN THE FALL OF 1991 COLLEGE PARK, MARYLAND: After we got back from Maine in October 1991, the train bug had infected me and maybe Linda too, as in the end, that was a good thing to happen to us with all the interests in life we have.
My 21129 Hudson was already on a shelf in the living room, one of the few things I have from childhood. That engine was gone from me, from January of 1974, when I took it to Model Railroad Center of Rockville, MD, for repairs. It was one of the largest and most respected model train shops in the DC area, almost like an Advance Auto store, but instead of auto parts behind the counter was aisles and aisles of model train parts. I did not see that engine again, until 1985. January 1974 was my second semester at the University of Maryland as I dropped it off on the way to MD for Drop Add of classes for the upcoming semester. A few months go by, and I never heard anything back about the engine. The store was vacated, emptied out! My heart sunk.
Thankfully, I told my story to a model train store owner in Wheaton, MD, Red’s Hobbies, and he gave me the owners home phone number. I was grateful. I called that number, and someone did answer. They said they were going to still fix it and call me when it was ready. You can read the full story in the e*Train article from Summer, 2022 at eTrain Article – Train Collectors Association (tcatrains.org)
So now its late fall 1991 and my real job, food sales, had my territory that had a account in a shopping center with a hobby shop. I went down to the hobby shop on a Saturday, with the engine, to have a tune up done on it. The lady working at the shop, was the wife of the owner. The store was called Burrett Hobbies, after their last name. I was told that Mr. Burrett was at a train show. I was a bit leary in leaving this engine again, without the true owner of the store, despite that Mrs. Burrett is a owner too. I did tell her my story about the engine, and she assured me all would be okay and she put their home phone number on the back of their business card, so I did leave it with her.
The tune up for the engine went well and it was to come to me this time around in a timely manner.
When I was doing my sales calls in the College Park, MD, area, I stopped by the store to pick it up, probably around noon. The person who did the repair was in the store and I remember talking to Ralph Loveless who was 2 years old than me. He told me about the TCA and that he and another guru in the world of American Flyer trains, Robert (Bob) Tuffs would sign my application to join the TCA, as not only did they have two types of mailings, several times a year, but each division would have its own train meets, as the Eastern Division, that I would join, had shows in York, PA., as the county fair grounds in April and October. It is one of the largest bi-annual train shows in America, as 14,000 would come each time. Ralph also told me about all the local sponsored train shows, mainly in the fall, due to Christmas that do take place, Frederick, MD, Baltimore, the Greenburg shows, that would run nationally, etc.
My application was accepted and I became a member in time for the April 1992 Eastern York train show and now I was a member of a same organization that Neil Young was in for some time. Neil would come to York a lot with his custom tour bus with two Buick car tops on the roof of the bus, so it would be like a railroad passenger observation car.
LANCASTER PENNSYVANIA DECMEMBER 1991: This trip to Lancaster PA during Christmas would be done many times, over the years, as this is a neat time to visit the area, as things are decorated for Christmas and a lot of American Flyer train activity is going on. It was not really a buying trip, but more for the fun of the trip with places to see associated with model trains and neat restaurants. Us, being in the food industry, we do not get fooled, by the bad service and the bad food that is served. We will try a place once, but these places we partake in for meals, pass my test. And cleanliness.
Strasburg, PA is the home of the worldwide headquarters of the Train Collectors Association with a very large toy train museum. This is where my collection will be going to one day, since the museum is mostly O and Standard gauge. I help with the insurance grading and valuation for the TCA. They have just common American Flyer trains. I felt this is the best place for my collection, as collecting is not about the money spent on things.
In Strasburg was the Iron Horse Inn, a small quaint restaurant with the owner as the chef. It also had rooms for lodging on the second floor. Very cozy on a winter’s night at about 8 P.M. for some appetizers and dinner. A great Friday night dinner, after the drive up to Lancaster. Sadly, the place is no more, as the owner passed away. It used to be an old general store in Strasburg. Now it’s a small office complex, which is great as they were able to sav the building.
Saturday morning, we head over to the TCA toy train museum, which is always a great time, despite the very little of American Flyer. However, they do have a very nice S train layout with S Helper Service made track.
Then we head over to the Strasburg Railroad ride area, as we did the train ride once and once was enough for us. A well-done tourist train ride, however. A lot of people and activity at the Railroad area.
There is a small strip of stores, where the Choo Choo Barn train shop is. Mostly HO trains as that are the main market for model trains. We look around, as upstairs was a shop with Choo Choo Barn with railroad books and O and S gauge. I would purchase a 953 Red Passenger car.
We have lunch in that row of buildings, at the Issac’s Restaurant, as the sandwiches are good.
That location closed this year, due to the lack of finding workers to run the location.
There is an independent grocery store in Gap, PA, that has a American Flyer layout set up in the lobby area of the store. In time, management would not let them set up anymore at Christmas.
We hit some craft type store too. Then we head over to Bob Board’s All-American Railroad, which was started by his father of a very large American Flyer train layout. The picture below is just a small part of it. He runs it at Christmas right after Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day. The back wall seen is part of the hobby shop and it mostly new production of Lionel made American Flyer trains and S Helper Product at the time before S Helper had to close it manufacturing production in China.
I knew before I got back into model trains, in 1991, that Lionel, which owned the rights to the A.C. Gilbert company after they closed in 1966, as in 1988 at a sales meeting in the evening in a office park in Columbia, MD and I saw this model train shop there. I had some time before the meeting stop, so I stopped in. The place was called Mike’s Train Shop, a good name too.
Someone did greet me as I came into the store and I told him, I had American Flyer trains as a kid. He showed me this catalog for 1989 and in it was the products to be made by Lionel in the AF name for that year. There was a C&O Passenger set, as the C&O road name is very strong in the world of railroading in the DC area, next to the B&O and Western Maryland railroads.
I thanked him for showing me the catalog as he gave me a copy to take with me.
I believe that was Mike Wolf, before he started his own brand of model trains under the MTH label or Mike’s Train House, which gave Lionel some fierce competition. Mike did close the operation down a few years ago, despite his success, selling pieces of the company to other train makers. I still have that catalog.
NEXT ISSUE: Mike will continue reminiscing about joining TCA and beyond! (Editor’s Note)