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How to Buy Used Toy Trains

At a Breakout Session of the North Atlanta O-Gauge Railroad Club led by Barry Kurian and attended by nine Club members, the discussion was lively and very informative. Members were excited to share their knowledge and experience—both negative and positive. The following is a review of the discussion; it’s hoped it will help those members who were unable to attend.

  • Buy used trains carefully…Very Carefully. Inspect all 6 sides of the item, whether live or in a photo. Test live motive power before you buy. Be patient. It may take a while, but you’ll find the item you’ve always wanted.
  • Knowledge is power. Buy quality reference works, such as Doyle’s or Greenberg’s. Keep them up-to-date. A good library will pay you back many times over, and give you plenty of good reading.
  • Join a national toy train organization. They can be fun and a tremendous help, and can be wonderful sources of information for buying and selling.
  • The buyer should always BEWARE! Know the seller. Some trusted ones:
    • National organizations advertising in Classic Toy Trains or O-Gauge Railroading magazines. See Page 2 for a list with their web sites. Visit them all; they can provide a lot of information.
    • The Train-Station.
    • Stout Auctions
    • Ambrose Bauer Auctions
  • Be alert for common problems that plague used trains, such as:
    • Rust
    • Missing external parts (bells, brake wheels, etc.)
    • Broken roof walks and/or couplers
    • Damaged graphics on either side
    • Missing or non-working motor or E-unit
    • Shoddy or wrong repairs and repainting
    • Wrong replacement parts
  • Know and understand the grading/condition systems used by sellers—both the “Word” (such as “Excellent’) and the “C” (such as “C-8”).
  • Don’t plan on it looking any better when you get it home. It won’t!
  • Buy toy trains for fun—not profit. A look at prices for the last two years will show that it can be very difficult to make even a small profit. Follow the market…price guides are just that—not gospel. You can get some very good items at very good prices from sellers in the national toy train organizations. And, you can sell your duplicates too.  The price of a membership in one can be repaid many times over.
  • Ask the right questions. If you get anything but a “yes” or a “no” to any of the 10 most-commonly asked ones below, BEWARE!
    • Does it work properly?
    • Has it ever been repaired? What was repaired? By whom?
    • What parts are not original? Has it been repainted or restored?
    • Are any parts missing? Which one(s)?
    • Can I take it to the test track?
    • Why are you selling the item?
    • What guarantee do you offer? What’s your return policy?
    • What condition/grade do you think it is?
    • Do you take credit cards? Money orders? Checks?
    • How much is shipping and insurance?



Lionel Collectors Club of America (LCCA):

Train Collectors Association (TCA):

Lionel Operators Train Society (LOTS):

Toy Train Operators Society (TTOS):
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