by Joseph Stachler

It wasn't the most advertised event in the hobby. But Lionel did get the word out through their website that on July 12 and 13, they would be holding an auction unlike anything recently seen in their history. Earlier this summer, an auction was held at Lionel for industrial equipment. The last time Lionel held such an auction was in the 1960s.

July 11 was reserved for inspection of the thousands of items available. People could examine the product to a point. Most of it was in boxes stacked up on skids lined up throughout the plant. Brochures were for sale listing the items up for auction. This list was available for downloading a week before the auction. Lionel stipulated that all items were to be sold "as-is" and would not be under warranty.

No one could predict what the attendance would be. Parking conditions might be intolerable, and the neighboring plants wouldn't accommodate overflowing cars. All told, approximately 150 people pre-registered on-line, and 150 people registered in person. Plans were made for people to bid on-line as well. Parking was not a problem.

Parts were placed in boxes and lined up on the floor where they fit. Most were not labeled and parts for the same unit might be located on opposite sides of the plant.

For a lot of people, the parts sale was too good to be true. "For years, I'd been trying to buy undecorated diesel shells for custom paint jobs. They're worth at least $30 in the market. Now I bought more than enough and at $4.00 a pound, it was a steal," said a dealer.

Other items available for immediate purchase included some starter set cars and cabooses. Another great opportunity for customers was the sale of hundreds of Arbor presses. These were all temporarily customized for specific production jobs in the factory. Now that production has moved off-shore, the Arbor presses were available. They were sold for $5.00 each. One could buy the whole lot for $3.00 each, but later that was knocked down to $1.00 each. Eventually, someone bought the remaining presses for this deal.

Collectors and dealers peruse the hundreds of boxes of parts. A sale like this wasn't likely to come around again.

Arbor presses like these were sold for $5.00 each. $1.00 each if all were purchased. Someone eventually took that deal.

The first day of the auction started at 9:00 a.m. Starter sets and freight rolling stock were among the first items to be sold. Prices were generally very reasonable for many of the items. For instance, a lot of six Erie bay window cabooses with RailSounds, which originally retailed for $200.00 each, all sold for $150.00.

Accessories were also sold on the first day. Lots of signals and building kits were available for great deals. Some of the bigger items, such as bridges, also sold for great prices.

Bidders stood in a modest-sized group, some participating, and some making notes on how much each lot sold for.

Most cars and accessories were tightly bundled to form one lot. Passenger car lots like the ones above did not necessarily form a complete set, but may have included four or five of the same car. 

Myron Bowling auctioneer Geoff Smith calls an auction. Each auction moved swiftly and on schedule.

The second day the auction again commenced at 9:00 a.m. The first items sold were the J-1e Hudsons with Vandy tenders. Each of these sold for about $450. There were some bidders who became very active in purchasing locomotives. I bought four separate locomotives: two Mohawks and two S.P. GP9s. There was something wrong with every one of them. Nothing that I can't fix, and I didn't pay very much for them. But I couldn't help but wonder about the people who bought twenty or thirty locomotives and what condition they are in. Hence the phrase "bidder beware."

I think it became clear to many bidders upon coming home and inspecting their purchases as to what the history of some of these items were. Many were defective returns that Lionel didn't service, but replaced for consumers. My suggestion to someone who bought a locomotive with defective electronics is to put an E-unit in there.

Sometimes the auctioneer would say, "load me up" and Myron Bowling staff would combine several lots into one auction.

"Do you think this could really get $20,000.00?" one of the auction staff asked me. "I honestly have no idea what this will sell for," I replied. Myron Bowling had been calling the auction for a while, but he kept his position on the podium. He would be calling this one.

The station was accurately described as being one-of-a-kind, designed and built by a modeler who worked in film, including the "Star Wars" films. The bidding started pretty high, $100,000.00, and was scaled back to $10,000.00 before anyone would take it. From there it moved pretty fast. People looked at each other, wondering how much would the station go for and who was going to buy it. Mike Braga was the winner at $40,000.00. Add the 10 % buyer premium for the auctioneers and the 6% Michigan sales tax, and the final price was $46,400.00. Now I don't know how much Mike makes at Lionel, but I am going to go out on a limb and guess that he was buying that for someone else.

The ill-fated Rail Tales was also included in the auction. This handsome display was auctioned off on the second day.


Sometimes it was difficult for people to identify what the different parts were used for. The bin located bottom center had ladders for the firefighting car and cherry picker car.

Also on the eleventh, an incredible parts sale was being held in Plant One. Many of these parts until now were not available for sale, including replacement shells for rolling stock, cabs for diesels, and boilers for steamers. All sorts of trucks and other components were also available. Everything there was sold for $4.00 a pound. Only cash was accepted.

"It's great to see all this, but somehow I have a bad feeling about it," said one collector. Others voiced concern about the future of the parts inventory of Lionel.

"If you looked closely, the vast majority of the parts offered in this sale were ones we simply don't stock in Customer Service," said Mike Braga, Director of Consumer Services. "We can't sell parts like undecorated shells or incomplete assemblies as replacement parts."

Parts available for purchase ranged from streamlined aluminum passenger car bodies to diesel frames complete with electronics.

Among the items available for inspection was an immense model of Grand Central Station made by independent designer Mike Fulmer. It measured approximately three feet by three feet. The two-level building featured fourteen illuminated street lights, figures, advertising posters, and a detailed interior complete with clock.

No one was sure who was going to bid for it or what it would go for. There was no rule that the winning bidder had to be present, a proxy bidder could handle the details.

The Grand Central Station prototype was positioned front and center for prospective bidders to inspect. The day it was auctioned the street lights and interior were illuminated. Click on the picture to view a larger image.

Side view of the station. The red tags are to hold the access panels to the building. Click on the picture to view a larger image.

The Myron Bowling auction staff kept things moving at a brisk pace. There was a lot of trains to sell. Myron Bowling was one of the gentlemen calling the auction. There other two were Geoff Smith and Joe Oliver. They each took turns at the podium, which was atop a wheeled platform and moved along to each lot location. The auctioneers wore a microphone headset, and a loudspeaker on a wheeled cart broadcast the trademark cadence of the auctions.

Assistance on the floor was provided by other auction staff members, who would hold up the pieces for everyone to see. They'd keep their eyes on bidders, giving a quick shout when someone would signal a bid, and the auctioneer would announce the next bid increment.

Occasionally, Lionel personnel would come in on their lunch break and walk around and see how things are going. Lionel employees who wanted to participate in the auction had to take vacation.

Chairman emeritus Richard Kughn came by and briefly looked around.

At 2:00, the purchasing phase of the auction was opened. Buyers went to the registration table and gave the staff their bidder number. Their orders were processed and they paid their bills. Then they turned around and handed their auction lot tickets to auction staff who worked in a roped off area containing the items. Each bidders merchandise was gathered on carts and wheeled out to their vehicles. Lionel plant staff, many of whom would lost their jobs in a month, assisted customers with moving their purchases.

The auction ended for the day just before 5:00, right on schedule.

An incredible amount of orange and blue boxes were lined up on skids throughout the plant. Note the P&H shovel kit. This was the only postwar item I noticed.

The second day of the auction sold all of these locomotives. This picture represents a mere fraction of the amount available.

Other items up for auction on the second day included paint masks and  large banners. "Lionel: more than a toy, a tradition" was one such banner. Banners sold for as much as $900.00 each.

Finally came the moment everyone was waiting for. In the early afternoon, the auction for the Grand Central Station prototype was held. Everyone gathered in a semi-circle around the model. Many from Lionel upper-management were there as well, including president Dick Maddox, who assured bidders the winner would also get a signed certificate of authenticity of the model from him.

Myron Bowling gets set to call the auction for the Station prototype.

Paint masks were auctioned off on the second day. Other items included advertising banners.

There was more to sell, but the highlight of the day was over. Some stayed to finish out the auction and maybe bid on some more items. Eventually everything was sold.

The auction seemed to be very successful. Even though it wasn't attended by a thousand people, many items sold for fair amounts. In an auction, it only takes two to bump up a price.

Lionel's Mike Braga, third from left, is congratulated after winning the auction for the station prototype. Lionel's Chuck Horan is on the right.