The three-day train meet held semi-annually in York, Pennsylvania is the biggest train meet in the country. Every April when the blossoms are blooming and every October when the leaves are doing their thing spectacular, the train guys gather at the Pennsylvania State Fairgrounds. Eight huge buildings named after colors – the Blue Hall, the White Hall, the Orange Hall, etc. – all filled with tables covered with trains – new trains, old trains, big trains, small trains.
They come from all over – from states close by like New Jersey and Maryland to far away like California and Oregon – lured by a common affection for a toy – and the possibility of finding a rare gem for cheap or turning trains into cash. Boxes are unpacked. Trains put on tables. Eyes watch.
A big guy in a T-shirt and jeans is talking to another guy who is standing behind a table filled with trains. They nod. The big guy pulls out a thick roll of hundreds and counts out 75. Hands it over. He puts a six-piece train set wrapped in old newspapers in a box and walks away to another hall. He puts the set on his table, takes out a Sharpie and writes “13,500” on a 3X5 card. Within minutes he accepts $12,000 from a well-dressed man from Maine. That’s York.
Attendance at the April 09 meet was average – 14,000 registered member plus 1000 or so guests – about the same as last October. What recession? Nothing stops train guys. “The trend for the last 3 years has been down,” said one seller from New Jersey. “On a scale of 1-10, three shows ago was a 6, last October was a 4 and this show is a 2.”
They call it a buyer’s market. Items over $50 were tough to move. If you marked items 10% below book (prices listed in price guides) and were willing to accept another 10%-off, you sold out. If you stuck to book or above, you went home with a full van. A 7-car E8 Texas Special set sold for $1350. Excellent buy as dealers were selling for $1500. Three green 2400-series cars sold for $950 (book $1200) and a 701 from 1916 went for $550 (book $700). A rare Lionel O gauge un-cataloged, boxed set from 1912, stamped Quaker Oats, sold for $2000 less than the asking price of $10,000.
Collecting trains is down and layout building is up. Newbies want to build layouts, not stare at trains on shelves. Lots of trees and ground cover being sold at the Scenics Express space. The guy selling miniature neon signs was also busy. Lionel’s new display drew big crowds and every one of their tent shows, demonstrating the new Vision Line of locomotives, was packed. Who buys a $2500 toy train in this economy? The husband of a lady who buys a Hermes Birkin handbag for $37,500. I bet if they had a Birkin at York, it would go for $22,500.
Can’t wait ‘till October.