Treasure Hunting at the Train Show

Posted on October 26th, 2010, by Mike

The NMRA Division 7 train show was held this past weekend, and I found a number of good purchases!  I found decent quality cars for cheap, averaging $5 for a mix of Atlas and Micro-Trains cars, and I even got a great deal on a mix of passenger cars that were my primary mission for the weekend.

Of course, I had my module set up as part of the Tri-State N-Trak display, and I spent some time running freight on Sunday. But Saturday was all about the shopping.  Yes, I admit, I must have inherited at least SOME of my mom’s shopping genes! My goal was to hunt for at least a pair of front-end passenger cars, so that I would have the raw materials to make another attempt at a Seaboard RPO kitbash. Why a second attempt? Well my first version mixed a Micro Trains 60′ RPO with some old Model Power baggage car doors and side panels, but the rivet patterns and sills and such do not align between the different manufacturers, and even when painted dark green, you can still tell the difference.

So what I needed was an RPO car as well as a baggage car by the same manufacturer, and I asked Rob over at DCC Train if he knew whether Micro Trains made a two-door baggage car, since he had one of the 60′ RPO’s that might work with it. He thought they might, saying that he could order it in if they did, but I decided to check the rest of the dealers out first. In so doing, naturally I found several other good buys, just things I couldn’t pass up.

My first impulse buy was this beauty, a decently weathered Virginian hopper, Micro Trains so it should have been around $12 at least. Instead, I got it for under $6! I was so thrilled with that price, I added in a regular-priced ACL gondola, which caught my eye primarily for its interesting load but also fills in an under-representation of ACL on my roster.

2-bay hopper VGN 2230

Gondola ACL 98588

Another car I couldn’t pass up was this commemorative hopper, decorated for the 2005 National Train Show and Convention which was held in my native Cincinnati.  It is Cincinnati Limited #2005, and as a 2-bay hopper you can bet that it will see revenue service at my coal mines!  I got it for a mere $5, even though it is Micro Trains and brand new.

2-bay hopper Cinti Ltd 2005

At another table, what caught my eye were all the cars that were not in jewel boxes.  Loose or plastic-wrapped cars are a sign of someone selling off a used collection, which generally means low prices and the potential to negotiate. In this case, I felt no need to negotiate at all, as there was a bundle of 3 cars priced at $12, and I knew them to be Atlas and Micro-Trains. A quick inspection confirmed that the Atlas cars had knuckle couplers, and my feeling is that any car with knuckle couplers is worth at least $4, no matter what it condition. This set happened to be comprised of covered hoppers and one open hopper, and I’ve been on a covered hopper kick lately. They are all region-appropriate, lettered for Central of Georgia (I was born in GA!), Southern, and Norfolk & Western.  Yeah, so the N&W hopper is what truly sold me!  I already own a copy of that hopper as well as the Southern 3-bay, which means I’ll have to do some renumbering, but I had never even seen the CG car before.

3-bay covered hopper CG 919

3-bay covered hopper SRR 6079

2-bay hopper NW 38354


All of these purchases were well and good, but back to my primary mission! On my recon pass through the show, I had seen a table where a guy was unloading a large number of custom-painted passenger cars, apparently selling off a friend’s collection for him after a bad turn of events forced him to sell of his home and get rid of the layout. I explained what I was looking for, an RPO and a baggage car by the same maker, and I spotted a two door baggage car in the bunch and had him set it aside.

I came back to just buy that baggage car, figuring that the $5 price he was asking was little enough that I could just take my chances, and perhaps go back to DCC Train and hold it up to the RPO they had. If they were a good enough match, then I’d just go that route. Instead, as I rummaged through the cars he still had available, I found an even better option!

Of course, my taking time to examine the cars in detail prompted him to offer an even better deal; he could see my sincere interest and just wanted to move the merchandise. I got three cars for $10, and it seems I won’t need all three for a successful kitbash, but I picked out the three that seemed most promising for the project. I realized on second inspection that one of the non-heavyweight cars was actually an RPO car, it just lacked the mail hook on the door, which I could form from wire. Moreover, it was an RPO that also had two baggage doors on the side!  In fact, the only thing really wrong with it was that the roof was not the clerestory style of an older heavyweight car.

These are older Atlas cars, from perhaps the 1970’s, so I hadn’t seen the specific car types before. But I had an inkling that what I was going to need to find was something out-of-production, because current production doesn’t seem to include the right car sides. In other words, this batch of 3 cars was exactly the gem I was looking for… and they came with a mere $10 price tag!

Baggage, combine, and RPO cars

Trading roofs may be easy

In this last photo, you can see that I’ve traded out the roof for the clerestory style roof of one of the other cars. This roof is a little shorter, and the car ends aren’t the same profile, so what I’ll probably do is slice off the car sides from this car in front and splice them in between the bookends of car ends and floor from the car in the middle. The door on the extreme right side is extraneous, so this is where I will reduce the car length. Otherwise, the door arrangement seems to be a pretty good match for the RPO car that shows in the video Pops made for me, which of course would be one of the Seaboard RPO’s he worked on back in the 50’s.  This car will be the centerpiece of my Seaboard train, which was a happy find back in May from a train show in Columbus.

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