Gardner Village Blog Top 10 Train Collecting Tips from the Pros at The Train Shoppe
Wednesday Feb 22 2023

What turns a person interested in toy trains into a “model railroad enthusiast/collector?” If you ask Jim Hoeppner, it’s 60+ years of knowledge, time, and collecting. As a regular customer and friend at The Train Shoppe, he kindly welcomed us into his train paradise. 

"When I was around five years old, I remember my dad taking me down to the watch the trains go by at the town crossing," Jim said when asked what first sparked his interest in model railroads. 


Of course, an exciting trip down Toy Train Lane doesn’t have to be decades in the making. Now's as good a time as any to explore this meaningful hobby, and pros at The Train Shoppe at Gardner Village are here to conduct this informative journey. Here are their 10+ tips for every collector or would-be collector, whether you simply want to know what the best train is to give a child or you’re ready to take the full-fledged journey into Collection Country. Let’s go!



If you simply want to purchase a memorable gift, the O scale trains are a great option. They're larger and sturdier while still providing the train experience. 


See one in action for yourself at The Train Shoppe with this intricate token-operated display, and take home your own set. The Train Shoppe carries the coolest assortment, including a Harry Potter option! 


You can even conduct the train at the control panel, which has speed options and even a horn to HOOONK!


If you want to take your train ride up a size, the G (or Garden) scale is the biggest model railroad choice. You’ll find a token-operated display of this style at The Train Shoppe as well.



If you're ready to take your train interests to the next track, you'll want to save this post. We have 10 tips to know, whether you're just embarking on this journey or are a seasoned traveler.  

1. Save the Boxes

Hold onto the packaging for the locomotives, rolling stock, and train sets if at all possible. As your purchases age and become harder to find, the packaging is often worth more than the trains themselves.

For example, post war Lionel items can be quite valuable, but having these items in the original orange cardboard boxes doubles or even triples their value in many cases!


2. TLC is Key

If you are collecting locomotives or train sets that have a locomotive in them (most do), it's best to get them out, lubricate, clean, and then run them a few times a year. This helps keep them in working order. Nothing is harder on electric parts and motors than sitting for years on end without running, cleaning, and maintaining. A little simple upkeep makes a big difference in the value held.

You can find a wide variety of cleaning supplies, tools, and other care items at The Train Shoppe.


3. Have Realistic Expectations

As a collector, it’s about more than just trains. It’s often about the layout as well. Unfortunately,  the layouts are often worth very little when it comes to market value. Of course, the personal value and time spent offers a tremendous return to the builder. Hard to put a price on that. Just keep in mind that layout value is rare without a specific space to put it (very rare), and then, only if the layout was built in a way that can easily disassembled (virtually never happens).


Since train layouts are usually made out of wood and other heavy materials, it can be difficult to transport even the smaller options, while large basement-style layouts are nearly impossible to move. Because of this, 99% of the time the pros recommend just saving the trains and unattached items when moving or trying to preserve things.

NOTE: A lighter weight option many are turning to right now for smaller layouts is 2” foamboard. This is sturdy enough to support a single track but also relatively easy to relocate.


4. Find Value in Singles

Generally speaking, train sets and the items within those sets are not as collectible as separately purchased items. This typically comes down to supply and demand. The fact that train sets are produced in greater numbers than single pieces simply means they aren't as rare or collectible.

5. Know Your Support Structures

Again, generally speaking, track, basic accessories, structures, and figures aren't worth as much as locomotives and rolling stock and do not increase in value over time in the same way. There are exceptions to this of course, and many operating accessories and transformers used to power the trains will increase in value over time, but this is case by case and not a hard and fast rule. Feel free to chat with the team at The Train Shoppe if you have questions about your unique items.

6. Age Isn’t Everything

Another great rule to follow is, just because something old, doesn't mean it's worth a lot of money. Just because a train is 50+ years old doesn’t mean it’s worth money. Again, it comes down to supply and demand. 

7. E-Educate Yourself

Currently, eBay is the only accurate way to determine the value of older toy trains. There are various books and guides that attempt to do this, but they are usually years behind the market, whereas ebay IS the market. As much as 80% of older trains and parts are sold on eBay, making this a great resource for those wanting to determine the value of their collection. Of course, the only pricing that matters are items that have been sold. Just because something has a crazy-high price on eBay does not mean it’s worth that amount. Make sure you check the "sold items" checkbox when searching to gather actual selling prices.

8. Understand Wholesale Vs. Retail

While on this topic, eBay is the retail value for your train, not the wholesale value. If you want to sell your train collection to a hobby or pawn shop, be prepared to take much less money than the assumed retail value of the collection. The stores purchasing the items need to make a profit and often have to invest time and money into refurbishment something is ready to re-sell. With this in mind, a good rule of thumb (depending on the train) is for a retail store to pay 10% to 40% of the assumed retail value. Many shops also offer consignment for older trains, but this varies from store to store, and most will want in the neighborhood of 50% of the transaction price for their commission.

9. Rally Around the Rails

Interested in model railroading? You aren’t alone. There are many out there who love this hobby as much as you do and want to share their enthusiasm. Ask The Train Shoppe about local groups or search on sites like Facebook for meet-up options in your area. There’s a wonderful community behind this hobby! Of course, a word of caution is never a bad idea. Keep your stranger danger know-how top of mind when making plans.

10. Keep the Focus On Fun

Collecting trains is often thought of as an investment, but it’s about more than value gained. Model railroading is a chance to connect with a pastime and enjoy creativity. It’s easy to get lost in the world you’re creating, and planning the next piece or must-have item is a wonderful way to spend time. Now more than ever, this is an excellent opportunity to get young people off of screens an onto tracks as you enjoy this imaginative hobby together!  


There you have it – a ticket to becoming a collector. We hope you’ve enjoyed this ride and learned a few things along the way. For more on becoming a model (RR) citizen, stop by The Train Shoppe. You’ll find a team of lifelong collectors and enthusiasts ready to help you and chat all things trains, whether you’re looking for your first set or want ideas on where to go next with your current layout. All aboard!

Labels: the train shoppe, train collecting tips, best trains for kids, things to know about model railroading