Model Train Show Finds & Tips


Written by Nathan Wertheimer

There are many small to medium size model train shows around the Southeast of the United States, which provide a great way to purchase some discounted used train pieces and supplies. One never knows what they will find at these shows. It is hit or miss with any show. Why pay retail prices when you can save money on train parts and supplies. Admission to these shows vary between $6-$10 per person. Sometime one can even find a coupon for savings on admission. Check promoters website before attending any train show.

At many of the train shows, prices on trains and accessories will vary depend on the product and market value. Think of a train show as a flea market. One is able to buy-sell-trade. I enjoy going to train shows to see the great buys for my own collection. Expect to spend a couple of hours at any train show. Some vendors and collectors are repeat attendees who will be at most of the trains show. Some train vendors will even take special orders on rare and unusual items. It is recommended buying name brands rather than unknown brands in the train market. Some unknown brands are starting to pop up.

A buyer should beware when purchasing used train locomotives, train cars, and supplies. All sales are final. Look for honest dealers who are experts in model trains. Ask to the dealer many questions as you can before making a purchase. Some dealers may let you test run a locomotive on a test track they have on location. Also, I would ask to see the locomotive top taken off to see the condition of the engine. If you find a lot of rust and corrosion than you probably don’t want to buy it. Then check the condition of the wiring too. Frayed wiring is not good either. One dealer told me to oil certain parts of the engine. I listened to his advice and went through what he said. The train engine now has a burning smell when running it on the tracks. Not all advise to good. Repair at your own risk. Do your research before repairing it yourself and creating a bigger problem than it is worth.

I have previously purchased some $10 HO locomotive and found that some don’t work and were on its last leg before the engine dead. Some dealers did not know the quality of the condition of the locomotives engine they are selling. If interested in buying any $10-$15 locomotives be aware that they are not in the best shape. These are great buys to convert them into dummy locomotives. Sometimes these locomotives can be used for spare parts. I have found better-used working locomotives for $20-$40 per locomotive. They still have some life left in them. If you’re expecting a good used condition by hauling tons of train cars, then I hate to disappoint you and suggest buying a brand new locomotive.


Other deals I have found at train shows are used HO boxcars and other assorted train cars for around $1-$12. These are great buys compared to other retail prices, which are much higher. These train cars come without the original product box. Most of these train cars have horn shaped couplers, which are being phased out. However, attendees can buy some knuckle couplers to replace the old horn couplers. I prefer the old horn couplers compared new knuckle couplers because they hold up better. The knuckle couplers have too many pieces and the springs that can go bad. Also, it is recommended to inspect each train car before buying them. Some train cars have bad wheels, broken parts and or pieces. Some train cars can repairs if you know what you’re doing.

If your looking for a new or used buildings for your train layout than this the place to purchase them from. Some prices on the buildings will vary from $1-$60. Many of these buildings are plastic. However, these are some dealers sell hand-made wooden buildings too. If you find some old plastic buildings falling apart ask the dealer for the best price. Then when you get home fix them up to your liking. Some of these building can be repaired and modified to your train layout. Think outside the box. These are no rules for the model train hobby.

Anyone new to the model train hobby should learn the different types of train tracks material to buy and don’t buy. Don’t get stuck with the old metal tracks that rust away in the humidity in Florida. Most tracks today are made from either copper or nickel plate. Stay away from the metal tracks if all-possible. It is hard to sell the old metal tracks because no one wants them. One might even find a dealer selling a milk crate of assorted metal tracks for $20-$25 per crate. It is not recommended buying any of these at all. For HO scale there are two different codes of tracks. HO model train enthusiast use either Code-100 and Code-83 track. These can be bought used and or new depending on what you want.

If you have the tracks already you’ll need a transformer controller to run your train. These are used rare finds because some are vintage and may not work. The price ranges on these controllers are from $8 – $100. Some of them even have dust on them. I am not recommending buying a used controller without fully inspecting it to see if it works. Ask the dealer for a guarantee to see that the unit works.

One might think this is the place to buy a new train set at the best price. The answer is no. There is not a large amount of new train set in the box at a train show. The prices on these new train sets in a box go for fair market prices. Sorry, no big deals. However, one can make their own train set for less money on used train set without the track and controller. Most new train sets typically come with a limit number of tracks, one transformer controller, one locomotive, 3-4 train cars, and one caboose packed in one box. These train sets are great for someone who is getting into this hobby buy not for the seasoned model train enthusiast.

Many train shows have some of train layout accessories available to purchase. Most attendees are looking for plastic human figures, street signs, vehicles, trees, and much more. Do you homework on the correct scale before making a purchase. For the HO standard scale is 1:87. Other train scale sizes will vary. Some items from China are sometimes not in the correct scale.

If you want to get rid of your old train set this is the place to bring it too. Before attending a show get your train set appraised. Plus, do some research on the value it is worth. Don’t expect to get rich at one of these train shows. It is recommended to have your train set in fair to great condition in some sort of box and or plastic container so dealers can inspect it. If you have kept the original train set product box it is even worth more. Some dealers do not have a lot of cash on them to pay out. If you don’t have any luck selling your train set at a trainshow, then sell it on or other consumer websites.

While breezing the many table of vendors, some train club set-up their large train set layouts. Attendees are encouraged to ask questions and get ideas for your own train set layout. Don’t forget to bring your camera with a good flash to take some photos.

Another interest thing I found at the train show are bags of assorted parts and pieces in bargain bins marked $1-$3 per bag. There will be different parts and pieces in each bag. If you know what you’re looking for these are great deals. The dealer wants to get rid of their unwanted parts and pieces. It is worth a look to see if there is any good in these bargain bags. One never knows what they will find.

When attending any train show please bring some large zip lock plastic bags to separate each train cars or locomotives. This helps prevent the paint being scraped and scratched off of them. This tip came from a model train dealer I know well. Also, bring a backpack and or reusable cloth bag to carry your purchases. Some store cheap plastic bags tend to rip and could possibly damage your purchases when transporting them home.

After reading this article one will have a better understanding about the overall model train shows experience. A great model train show I recommend are the Florida Rail Fair Shows in Deland, Tampa, & Jacksonville. Plus, many more show locations too. Please visit their website at Happy train hunting and make it a good one! If you like this article, then like it on our Otownfun WordPress account. For more great events and places please check us out at .

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