Monday, January 01, 2007

Joining the Lionel Club

Okay so last year at this time, what with all the hoopla surrounding the movie The Polar Express, my husband and I decided that this Christmas we would buy our son his very own model train set. He's only three years old, so this would be something that we would supervise, with the idea that we would buy him a new car for the train every Christmas.

So I started researching train sets. My father actually owns the Lionel Polar Express train set so I thought, why not check out Lionel? I had no idea what I was in for. What an array of styles, it was all so confusing to me. And I had no idea that a starter set would run me in excess of two hundred dollars. Maybe a high-quality train set wasn't such a good idea after all.

But after researching it a bit, I came to the conclusion that it would indeed be a good investment. What little boy doesn't love trains, after all? And a maintained Lionel set can last a lifetime. I checked around and even took my son to a local museum that features a huge 0-gauge train display every Christmas. That display runs just about every Lionel make you can think of. I decided, because me kids are so young, to go with something festive and fun. I checked our local Allied Hobbies shop at the mall and came out with a reduced price North Pole Central set. It came with Christmas-themed cars and a box car that plays 12 Christmas carols. The front light works, a whistle blows and smoke comes out of the top (if you add the smoke fluid, which we did). My son (and daughter) were thrilled when my husband and I presented the train set to them tow days before Christmas (we figured why let Santa get all the credit).

I started checking out the Lionel website and became engrossed in all of the cool accessories that you can buy. I have my eye on a Christmas tree farm, but it's 60 bucks. Obviously, this train thing can get pretty expensive.

A quick check on eBay will show you that Lionel trains are very collectible-- and big business. A part of me wants to buy The Polar Express set, as I know it will be highly sought after once it's sold out. It's a pricey one though, at nearly 300 dollars. But if you're looking for hard to find pieces or an old piece from back when you were a kid, eBay is a great place to check, as are antique stores. But authorized Lionel train dealers are really the best place to look, as the salespeople are knowledgeable and can really help to guide you.

So how will we expand our family's train set? Well for starters, I may invest in the North Pole Central expansion pack. It comes with the maintenance supplies, which we'll need to buy anyway, plus several more Christmas-themed cars and a train station accessory. It costs a little over a hundred dollars but it seems to be a good deal.

After that, I may buy some other types of cars or maybe another complete set that isn't holiday-themed. A few contenders are the Santa Fe Railroad and the Pennsylvania Flyer. At the very least we'll buy a new car and some additional pieces of track. My husband also thinks we should join the Lionel train club. The membership is inexpensive, I think it's around 20 dollars a year, and you get newsletters and catalogs and it generally keeps you in the loop as to what's going on in Lionel world. The Lionel train website is also very informative, with pages on how to buy a train, the different types, etc.

I think trains sets look best when they're fully accessorized. I plan to buy some houses, lampposts and other things to make a little village for our train set. And although we just packed up our dear train set yesterday, boxed it up like it was nice and new, we'll probably dust it off again before next Christmas rolls around. The look on my son's face when that train goes round and round the track is something that is priceless to me-- and I just can't wait 365 days to see it again.

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