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I was exceptionally lucky. My dad worked for the Airforce and made a livable wage but most of it went to the household and the yearly vacation. I never got a new Lionel train set at Christmas but in many ways got something much better for my 3rd Birthday in 1964. Some friends of the family a huge apple orchard in Oneida country NY and had Been able to afford to buy their sons a lot of Lionel trains. They outgrew them and they offered to sell the lot of it to my dad for $50. He took them up. The trains had been “well loved” and not everything was in great condition. It included a 736, 2035, 2020 a x-4-x loco and a 621 switcher with a mix mash of cars including the Milk and Cattle Cars, 2 log Cars, one side dump car, crane and tender cars and a few Cabeese. It also included both log loaders and the coal ramp with coal loader. Some auto crossing gates, light towers, station and Auto gateman rounded out the list as did a fair amount of O gauge track. We set it up on the dining room table but before a more permanent solution was found we were transferred to Utah in 1965. On settled there I got a 4x8 with a 2x4 extension for a layout space and we set everything up. Not everything worked, and this being about the time Lionel went into decline, finding new items, and even getting the old ones repaired was pretty hard. So I spent the next 10 years of my life tinkering with that lot to get it to work. In the process I learned basic electronics, assembly  and troubleshooting skills that have made me the “Chief Geek” in my Health System Laboratory computer analyst job. The one thing I never got was the shiny Santa Fe Warbonnet F3’s and aluminum passenger cars I drooled after in the scraps of old catalogs that came with box of trains. I still have some of those trains and with the skills they thought me, was able, some 40+ years later to be able to afford to buy that passenger set at last.

@Craftech posted:

So do you think in 50 years people will be collecting today's Lionel Trains as heirlooms and collector's items or will they still be collecting the same ones from the 40's and 50's that we had as kids?  If the answer is the latter then you must know the reason.

That's an interesting question. I think from a rolling stock perspective, the modern era has given us equal or better quality, especially for those (not me) in the 1:48 scale segment of 3RO.  I don't see future scale operators pining for ubiquitous PW gondolas, milk cars, or 6464 box cars.

Assume, though, you meant motive power. I'm sure my PW heirloom engines will be running for future generations, and I'm also pretty sure the electronics in my modern engines will fail. With all the modern engines out on the market, as long as there are replacements (like ERR's) that can bring a dead engine back to life for, say, 1/2 the cost of a new one, I think modern engines will be running in the future, as well.

@OKHIKER posted:

  Think the new stuff will be around 100 years from now?    The old cliche, "They don't make them liked they used to" still hold true.

Ohh boy here we go with that one again.  Will your car still be around 100 years from now? How about your refrigerator or washer and dryer? Maybe your TV?

I'm still waiting for my 20+ year old TMCC locos to quit like folks keep saying. They run just as good as the day they came out of the box and I haven't had to change a single brush,e unit or clean a single commutator.

Will anyone on this forum give the slightest care where our trains are in 100 years??? Will this forum even exist in 100 years????

Heck, the WORLD COULD END in 100 years.

I am simply going to enjoy my trains while I'm alive. Someone else can worry about their reputation when I'm dead.

Last edited by RickO

My father kept a list of everything he purchased when he started my layout when I was two.  While the list along with the trains are long gone there's two prices that stick out from 1968 that I remember well.  A 773 Hudson was purchased for 70 dollars and a 736 berkshire for 40 bucks. For perspective when I got back into the hobby 1997 or 98 the Hudson with vandy tender I purchased was 1000 bucks I think.

Since someone else has already mentioned the cost difference of HO, I'll just mention that I started out with Tri-Ang OO. Tri-Ang developed plastic moulding and really cut the cost of model railways, undercutting the older die-cast body, tinplate track marquee like Hornby Dublo by 50% or more. Basset-LowkeO gauge was completely out of reach.

@Craftech posted:

So do you think in 50 years people will be collecting today's Lionel Trains as heirlooms and collector's items or will they still be collecting the same ones from the 40's and 50's that we had as kids?  If the answer is the latter then you must know the reason.

Interesting question. In 50 years there will likely be a huge mkt for the original post war. The Americana is just over the top. I doubt there will be a cult following for today’s stuff, but that’s debatable. With bto, there won’t be a huge surplus, and as long as there are components to fix boards, there should be a mkt. Trains and baseball cards follow a similar trajectory. The pw trains and 20s-60s cards are classic and they seem to have a huge following. Then came the over produced (and to my knowledge) lower qualty Mpc era and the 80s-90s junk wax baseball cards. Newer cards and trains seemed to have had a COVID renaissence with newer products. So, my best guess is that yes there will be a mkt, but not a cult following. However my logic is making  a ton of assumptions.

New Lionel trains always were expensive even in the 1950's considering an average person wages.

But other hobbies, more for do it yourselves ones, like building plastic models kits, stick and paper air plane kits, U fly model airplanes kits or scratch building with balsa wood and Testor's glue and air plane dope were more affordable.  McCoy came out with $10 air plane motors:  .19 or .35 ,the same $10.  I had only two model air plane kits, both gifts from my grandmas.  I still have them and the Fox and McCoy .35 motors, never crashed.  All my buddies and brother built planes, mostly flying wings, from plans in a Model Builder magazine.  What fun flying combat and trying to cut the other guys flying wings crape paper tail off.

Have you been in a hobby shop lately?  I check them out when I pickup the latest Lionel train catalog once or twice a year.  Little plastic model kits of air planes are $20 and up.  The cost of balsa wood and dope and glue are way up too.  Even considering inflation the prices are high and out of reach for kids.

I have to remember I did not pay the high prices in the 1950s-60s, as I bought balsa wood via mail from Sig company at much cheaper prices and postage was low.  I also lived 27 miles from the closest hobby shop and in south Texas all cow driving towns were 27 miles apart, the distance of a one day cattle drive.  We even made our own air plane fuel with one guys dad being a pharmacist so castor oil was had and others dads or adults we flew with, worked at DuPont and Union Carbide, so methanol and nitro benzene were available cheap too.

Charlie

Last edited by Choo Choo Charlie

My parents worked to get me  a train set from Santa for my 3rd Christmas in 1960. They put it together and to this day I still  haven't been able to confirm  if it was a true set, or put together by a salesman by the name of Sam at the old Lechmere Sales on 1st St in Cammbridge Ma.

The set was powered by the 1055 Alco A Texas Special with the 6012blue gondola with canister load, 6014 blue Airex  box car, the 3370 Sheriff  and Outlaw car and a red 6017 caboose brought up the rear. It had an oval of track and was powered by my uncle's  old American Flyer transformer.

I still have the set and much later when I was in my late 20's, I asked  my Mom about the set. She told me they saved for several months to afford it, she didn't remember the  price  they paid. But they were  thrilled that every Christmas the set was placed around their  tree till I got my own place.

@CNJ 3676 posted:

Good quality HO equipment was expensive as well. As a high school student without a steady job, I had to save for a very long time for the Athearn SDP40 I purchased for 17.99 in 1975.

Bob

I remember scraping up $12.00 for a Mantua/Tyco Pacific kit in the mid 1960's.  (Assembled they were around $28.00)  On top of that was about $6.00 for a Cal Scale Elesco feedwater set of brass castings for it.

Rusty

As others have said, they were expensive back in the day. When my parents were first married (c1952), my mom found out my dad never had trains and thought that was a shame. Her brother was buying trains for her nephew (who was all of 9 months old!) for Christmas of that year, so she decided that her gift to my dad was going to be trains, told her brother that whatever he bought, double it. Her comment was there weren't discounters back then, but there was a place in Brooklyn at the time that would give discounts if you bought a lot. I still have some of those trains, the 671 engine, freight cars, dump car and other pieces. She said it was a couple of weeks salary for her (as an office manager), but worth it.

Back then a kid would get a train set, if lucky, then would get pieces on birthdays and such. Even when I was growing up, mostly in the MPC era, new trains were expensive (on the other hand, you could often, for 30,40 or 50 bucks, get a huge lot of trains someone was getting rid of, my father got something like that in the late 60's, included several engines, accessories, 027 track and switches, kw transformer, bunch of stuff) for like 35 bucks. ).

One of the problems with all of us is we have gotten used to an economy where things become cheaper. In the 1950's tv's were ridiculously expensive and obviously were crude and primitive. In the 1955 tv sets ranged from 130 bucks to 1300 bucks in 1955 dollars (easily 1000 bucks for the low end one in todays dollars). A thousand bucks today will get you an oled tv with a 60" screen, 4k display, etc etc).  Appliances were expensive, too (though they likely lasted forever, one plus on them), you name it. Cars today dollar wise are expensive, but if you look at the cost but then look at how long they last and the relative lack of maintenance required, they are a lot cheaper than cars back then. Your smart phone has more computing power in it than the entire computing power NASA had in 1969, for 500 bucks (and can do a lot more). The problem is trains didn't follow this trend, in large part because they are not a mass consumer item. If they sold as many trains as let's say Samsung does tvs, that 1500 buck engine would probably be 500 (and if there was real competition, prob less).

Lionel is interesting, in the golden age of the 1950's I wonder what their margins were like vs how many trains they really sold. My guess is their margins were high and that their sales, while obviously more than today, were not as large as you might think (in terms of units), it sounds like Lionel, while they had low end stuff, was kind of aiming at the high margin/relatively low volume business even back then (and again, this is relative. Were Lionel trains popular back then? Yes. Did they sell as many of them as video games today? I really doubt it). While a lot of kids might have had trains, because of the pricing model, few would have a lot. Not to mention the other factor, how many of these were bought by parents with their eye on them, too?

As far as the value of post war trains goes, yes their simplicity made them easy to repair (same with older appliances), and because of that and the sheer number available between originals and reproductions, and the parts out there, so they can keep going. As far as their value as collectors items, I am dubious about that. I doubt modern engines and such will become collectors items, with some exceptions, but I think the post war/pre war won't be a big deal either. As with pre war, post war trains will likely be valued for being a rarity, a 700e will probably be a collectors item, the post war versions of it won't likely, because it was an original. Over time what will happen is the common postwar stuff, the runners and even stuff that has been collected, won't be worth much, whereas specific, rare items might fetch a lot, like the "remote control' sets or the ones that allowed using two engines on the same track.

My take? The prices what they are. You can get discounts today, and also there is a used market, so there are always way to be able to get trains on a reasonable budget.

That's an interesting question. I think from a rolling stock perspective, the modern era has given us equal or better quality, especially for those (not me) in the 1:48 scale segment of 3RO.  I don't see future scale operators pining for ubiquitous PW gondolas, milk cars, or 6464 box cars.

Assume, though, you meant motive power. I'm sure my PW heirloom engines will be running for future generations, and I'm also pretty sure the electronics in my modern engines will fail. With all the modern engines out on the market, as long as there are replacements (like ERR's) that can bring a dead engine back to life for, say, 1/2 the cost of a new one, I think modern engines will be running in the future, as well.

It's all relative. Case in point:

I got into Lionel in the 1980s when my Dad gave my  son a starter set. Compared to those, the postwar trains were worlds better. The Fundimensions starter set had an all plastic loco- no smoke or whistle- and ran on DC so couldn't be used with postwar trains. The cars had plastic journals and wheels and fixed plastic couplers. You couldn't even uncouple them! Imagine my reaction when I went to a hobby store to get something to add. While there I saw an early postwar operating dump car with it's all metal construction and coil couplers. I was enchanted. I think I paid $15 for it and took it home and my days as a postwar collector had begun.

Lionel of course raised its game as the 80s progressed and Richard Kughn took over (and later with a significant nudge from MTH) and arguably the trains made from 1995-2005 surpass anything made postwar in quality.

Another thought: Like others who have posted, I also got HO trains in the late 50s even though my Dad had Lionels in the 1920s and 30s. HO was the up and coming thing. But I think I must have had an unscratched itch for Lionel since it was ubiquitous in advertising and pop culture. I wonder how many Lionel collectors NEVER had them as a child. I pretty good percentage I would say.

@bigkid posted:

Over time what will happen is the common postwar stuff, the runners and even stuff that has been collected, won't be worth much, whereas specific, rare items might fetch a lot, like the "remote control' sets or the ones that allowed using two engines on the same track

This is already happening—the Postwar market has changed dramatically over the last 30 years.  I remember when I worked hobby retail in the 1990s the gap between Very Good and Like New prices were much narrower.  For example, back then a 6464-1 Western Pacific boxcar would fetch about $75 in VG and $150 or so LN.  Looking on eBay, today the gap is about $35 to $300.  Auctions had something to do with that but much of it is a slow motion sorting of the market, due to the emergence of reproductions and demographics.  

Same goes for MPC.  Adjusted for inflation, today top of the line MPC is cheap.   The FMs and GG-1s, which are almost exact replicas of Postwar models less sound, go for around $150 each.   What has instead grown in value over the ensuing decades?  Mint condition starter sets.  I recently saw a sealed 1980 4-4-2 set go for $450.   If you want a real collecting challenge, try to get all of the early ‘70s starter sets in LN condition.   It’s about impossible.

I think we’ll see this continue.   Postwar and low-quantity MPC in LN/MT will continue to escalate while the prices for runner-condition pieces will stay stagnant or decline, with attrition slowly wearing down the total available.  It’s fascinating stuff.  

Last edited by Tommy_F
@richs09 posted:

Just for the sake of some hard numbers re: inflation -- inflation multiplier from date to March 2021:

1950 11.2

1955 9.9

1960 9.0

Arguably inflation is only one means of comparing - and not a perfect one at that, since for things like Lionel trains, technologies etc. have changed so what you get now for, say, $400 is different than what you got for $40 in the mid-fifties.  I think simple inflation measures are probably better for things like a loaf of bread or quart of milk... (though for some things like milk, there is the issue of non-market pricing).

I think several issues come into play when making these comparisons.

If I remember correctly, I saw gasoline for 14.9 cents, loaf of bread 5 cents, and a bottle of coke was 5 cents back in the day.

Also, your coin money was made of 90% silver and the paper money was backed by 1 Oz silver bullion on demand.

I think the value of your money, the value of like kind and quality goods, as well as inflation and selling price should be considered.

@aussteve posted:

I think several issues come into play when making these comparisons.

If I remember correctly, I saw gasoline for 14.9 cents, loaf of bread 5 cents, and a bottle of coke was 5 cents back in the day.

Also, your coin money was made of 90% silver and the paper money was backed by 1 Oz silver bullion on demand.

I think the value of your money, the value of like kind and quality goods, as well as inflation and selling price should be considered.

These conversions are always complicated, the market basket index of inflation (CPI) doesn't account for everything. If you look at median income (3300 in 1950, versus like 44k today), it would seem the inflation index covers that, but then if you look at things like cost of housing, insurance and the like, it is much higher than it was back in the day. Some things are dirty cheap comparitively, like a TV set or many appliances, others are more expensive (in general, anything involving human services in it is much more expensive. ). a typical car was around 3.5k in 1970, today it is likely 35k.

In the 1950's salaries kept pace with inflation, since the 1970's, many salaries have lost ground vs inflation. I suspect if you made a 'real world cost vs salary' kind of comparison, you would find out that the real cost is higher than CPI would show.  It is funny, often when I see these comparisons between X year and Y, it often seems to come up with "10", I think that just makes it easier.

In the end it doesn't matter, using 11 or 15 or even 20 for inflation, the trains were expensive back in the day and they are expensive today, no matter how you look at it. I think back then and today it is because they are relatively low volume, high margin products, they made a lot of post war, but it was dwarfed by the amount of other toys produced in other areas. TV sets in the 1950's were a luxury, an expensive one, by the 60's and beyond because of competition and scale of production they became steadily cheaper, these days they are ridiculously cheap, you look at that and say why does a Legacy diesel cost 800 bucks.  On the other hand, since I get Model Railroader, and look at their reviews, it isn't much cheaper there, I just saw an N scale hudson (I think it was Rivarossi), with dcc in it, and its msrp was like 599, same with HO scale DCC equipped, those are pushing the 500, 600 dollar range and up.

It seams most agree Lionel O gauge trains were expensive in the 1950s and today.  People can only do something about expensive Lionel 0 gauge trains now and they have several choices, examples below.

1 chose to not buy Lionel O gauge trains

2 chose to buy used late model Lionel O gauge trains with the latest features

3 chose to buy used MPC Lionel O gauge trains without all the modern features

4 chose to buy used post war Lionel O gauge trains without the latest modern features

A desire or need for "scale"  Lionel O gauge trains will also affect ones choices.

Charlie

It seams most agree Lionel O gauge trains were expensive in the 1950s and today.  People can only do something about expensive Lionel 0 gauge trains now and they have several choices, examples below.

1 chose to not buy Lionel O gauge trains

2 chose to buy used late model Lionel O gauge trains with the latest features

3 chose to buy used MPC Lionel O gauge trains without all the modern features

4 chose to buy used post war Lionel O gauge trains without the latest modern features

A desire or need for "scale"  Lionel O gauge trains will also affect ones choices.

Charlie

Choo Choo Charlie,

I agree but would amend # 4 to read: Chose to buy post war Lionel O gauge trains and enjoy the sound and ozone smell from the open frame motors, the e-unit buzz, the sound of the bicycle horn or air whistle and the grip of Magne-traction

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