I was looking at some items on eBay the other day and ran across not one, but two examples of something that really, really, bugs me. I call it the tender trap.
When you're talking about steam locomotives (at least in the U.S.), the car immediately behind the engine is called the "tender." It's where the engine's fuel supply is carried. In the early days, this was wood, but soon it was replaced by coal. The term is probably a shortened form of "coal tender."
Now I know that most people don't really know -- or even care to know -- that much about toy trains. But if you're going to display them for sale, why not set it up properly? It definitely makes what you're trying to sell more appealing to the potential buyer (who most likely does know something about these items).
So how can you tell if you've set the train up right? Simple. Just hook the cars together. Almost any toy train will have some kind of unique coupling arrangement that prevents you from having the tender face the wrong way.
Why would anyone want the tender to face the wrong way? Because there's a mistaken notion that the tender should slope into the engine's cab, so the end that's taller should be in the back.
Here's the first example, a small Strombrecker floor toy:
Yep. The tender's backward. That opening should be facing the engine, because (if this were a real train), that's how the fireman would access the coal. And ignorance is no excuse. These Strombrecker trains used a very simple coupling system. Underneath the body of each car runs a long wire that sticks out at both ends. On one end is a hook, and on the other, an eye. Sticking out of the back of the engine is a hook. In the current setup, the photographer has the hook from the engine touching the hook of the tender. That should have been a clue that perhaps it wasn't set up right.
Strombrecker built the train so that the tender could only be connected to the engine one way -- by using the hook on the engine to connect to the eye of the tender (found on the open end). So simple, a child could do it (and often did, back in the day).
Here's what it should look like, in an image from the Strombrecker catalog. If you look carefully, you can even see the hook and eye connectors. (You can click on an image to enlarge)
This next one really takes the cake, though. It was clear from the copy that the seller had absolutely no idea what the tender was for. He called it a "blue car." Notice how it's not even close to the engine!
And yet, even though he has no idea of the car's function, he still placed it backward! Despite the hook and eye connectors that suggested otherwise, by golly there it is.
As you can see from the Strombrecker image below, these things only connect one way.
No real need for any kind of expertise here. Just connect the cars together, and you'll be fine. Really.
And so will I!