model train set on track

“My name is Ron and I collect trains.”

e*Train Issue: Jul 2012   |   Posted in:

By Ron Fauset
(Summer 2012)

This is not the kind of revelation many of my co-workers would expect.  I don’t make a habit of mentioning that I love my 2-6-2s.  As far as first impressions go, one would quickly assume that I’m just a normal guy and not a train collector.

I’m sure if I did reveal this to them, my statement would be met with uncomfortable silence.  One would almost hear a pin drop.  You would understand my collecting, but others would not understand.

My introduction to train collecting is probably not much different than yours.  I started young and I can’t stop it.

My long-drawn struggle over train collecting started innocently when my older brother got a train from my parents.  There’s no harm for a young boy to have one train.  It was an American Flyer.

As I got older, my parents also got me a train.  There’s no harm for a young boy to have one train.  It was a Marx.  But I was intrigued with the American Flyer.  I wanted one.  One would be enough.

As I grew older, my friends told me where I could find trains.  First it was garage sales and swap meets.  This was fine for the light stuff for the beginners.  I soon found myself needing more and more of the stuff.  Next thing I knew, I was dreaming about trains.  In bed at night all I could hear were train whistles.  Unknown to me at that time, I was already exhibiting the classic symptom of euphoria one gets from train collecting.

But trains are an expensive habit and soon you start to develop a need for money.  You try to rationalize it with your parents.  “Would you rather have me down on the street corner doing who knows what?”  Once, my parents came home from an overnight trip to find the empty living room filled with train track and an engine puffing smoke as it made its way under the coffee table.  If I was in my normal senses, I would not have done that at all.  But because I was heavily into trains, I needed to run them too.  All I could focus on was when could I find another box car.

As I began to sink deeper into my train collecting, the garage sales and swap meets weren’t enough anymore.  I had made contacts at the swap meets.  They told me where I could go to find someone who would sell me that 4-8-4.  They told me I could get what I wanted as long as I had the money.

My parents did not know anything about these dealers at first.  It was all very innocent at first.  First the dealer would agree to sell me some of his trains and then this led to the introduction of train clubs.  Nothing big at first.  Just a few local collectors who would get together once a month.  I now learned where I could get my hands on tank cars, flat cars, and dare I say… reefers.  Soon, I had all the contacts I needed to buy trains from.  Or so I thought.

Quietly, I continued my train collection.  Soon, one of the club members agreed to sell me his entire American Flyer collection.  He was an older collector and he wanted to make room for some new stuff.  Besides, he had an HO layout and he wanted to make room for more HO trains.

I realized that I needed help.  I finally asked for help from my father and the next day he drove me to the man’s house.  He went by the name Doc.  I swear I drooled at the sight of his collection.  It was the first time I had seen American Flyer diesels and passenger cars.   I had only been collecting steam engines and freight cars.  I couldn’t purchase it all.  It wasn’t a big collection: $600.  I was still young.  Still in school.  I didn’t have that kind of money.  But Doc knew I was a train collector.  He knew I had to buy his collection.  He was going to be my supplier.  He made me a deal I couldn’t refuse.  He agreed to sell me his collection on the installment plan.

At that point, I thought I had the largest collection ever.  I never dreamed that there could be more to be found.  And with Doc’s own train collecting history, he continued to fuel my desires.  He would call me and tell me where I could meet someone who was willing to sell me a train.

Doc told me how American Flyers weren’t made anymore.  You have to sway others to sell you theirs.  You have to convince them that you need the American Flyer more than they did.  This would prove to be anything but easy.  My cousin had a circus set that he would not part with.

I went away to college and I managed to remain train-free.  I quit cold turkey.  But as all victims of train collecting are painfully aware of, each day poses a risk of sliding back to old habits.  After a few train-free years, I had what is called a relapse.  A new supplier had come.  A cartel of sorts.  This was a nationwide distributor.  It was called the Lionel cartel.  Lionel had taken over the American Flyer brand and was now releasing “new” American Flyer trains.  Sure, they were using the old Gilbert molds but these would be new in their own box.

I still didn’t have the money, but I convinced myself that it would be okay to buy a couple of the new sets.  I’m not going to want to buy all the new trains Lionel was offering.  Once I have them, I won’t need any more trains.  How wrong I was.

Once a train collector, always a train collector.  It wasn’t easy because there wasn’t a Lionel dealer close by.  I had to travel a great distance to see for myself these new trains.  They were beautiful. I  had to have them.

But now I was back to my train collecting habit.  I found new contacts.  Doc was now gone but he had given me some old train magazines.  I dug those out and found ads for more contacts.  Dealers willing to sell their old Gilbert American Flyers.  I had to contact them.

I wrote to these new contacts and discovered that they had lists of trains to sell.  And they shipped!  I was hooked again.  I couldn’t believe how easy it was to be back train collecting.

These new contacts also told me about train meets and they let me know when and where I could find these meets.  I could finally meet my dealers face to face.  Surely they wouldn’t sell me anything that they didn’t think I could handle.  They were willing to work out deals for me.  Just for me because they knew I would be back.  They knew that once they sold to me and I sampled the merchandise that I would want more.  They even had Gilbert accessories; in the original boxes!

I knew I had fallen hard again into train collecting.  I knew I needed help.  My garage was full of trains.  My house was full of trains.  I have trains in every room.  I even have software to keep track of my trains.  I have to because I can’t even remember what trains I have and what trains I have to have.

My family has told me that I have to stop collecting.  My friends have told me that I have to stop collecting.  But I still find myself going to train meets where my train friends understand me.  They want to help me by showing me the Gilbert American Flyer sets in the original boxes.  Once I have them, I won’t need any more trains.

But did you see the new 2-8-8-2s that Lionel is now distributing?  They’re only $1,000 each.  And Lionel even put out a new 24 page catalog of just American Flyer.  Once I have them, I won’t need any more trains.

But, I admit it.  I am a train collector.  I collect American Flyer.  I collect Gilbert American Flyer and I collect Lionel American Flyer.  I am addicted to S.  I know I don’t have room for all the trains.  I keep telling myself it’s an investment.  I won’t need any more trains.

I thought I could just limit myself to S.  I could get by with S.  But you just start with S.  Collecting S just leads to the hard stuff.  Did you know Gilbert made HO too!  And then there’s pre-war.  There’s O American Flyer.  What a high you feel when you try pre-war for the first time.  Once I have them, I won’t need any more trains.

I keep telling myself that I won’t get into the hard stuff.  But then one of my suppliers showed me American Flyer Wide Gauge.  I haven’t tried it yet.  For now I’m telling myself I won’t try it.  That’s really for the hard core collector.  I’m just a casual collector.  I have all the trains I need.  I can stop at any time.  I’ve done it before.  Many times.

Will anyone help me?  Where can I turn to for help?  I joined TCA.  Imagine my surprise when I learned that TCA didn’t stand for Train Collectors Anonymous.

Ron Fauset
TCA 08-62113