Thursday, May 18, 2017

Lessons from York: What We Saw (Part 3) - 6464 No More?

It appears such displays are moving from the
collector's home to the open market.
Dad and I recently returned from our semi-annual trip to the Train Collectors Association (TCA) Eastern Division toy train meet in York, PA. This is the largest such show in the United States and provides an interesting snapshot of the state of the hobby.

It can also hint at the current state of collecting in general. As is our tradition, we spent a lot of time discussing what we saw a lot of (and what we didn't) -- and more importantly, the reasons behind them.

In Part 1 I outlined the reasons for what I see as a major shift in the hobby. Basically, younger collectors seem more interested in operating their trains rather than simply displaying them. And that, I think, explains what we say this time at York -- the results of upgrading.

And that upgrading, I think, has affected one of the mainstays of toy train collecting -- the Lionel 6464 series box car.

A little background

 From 1953 to 1969 Lionel Trains made a semi-scale box car that would become the standard for O-gauge railroading. It's known as the 6464 series, from the catalog number prefix all these box cars share. 29 different models were made. They were found in both high-end and entry-level sets. Some were available separately.

The Lionel 6464-300 from 1955-56. All the box cars in this series start with

Stamp collecting for trains 

The 6464 box cars look good on layouts, but the primary reason these boxcars have retained their value over the years is their desirability as collectables. There are two different door types, four different body types, one of which has two different roof types. There are variations in the colors and applications of the graphics. There are factory samples, production prototypes, and factory errors.

Some of the box cars are readily available. Some, like the pastel-colored box car for the ill-fated Girl's Train are extremely rare. Just like stamp collectors seeking all the denominations of a single stamp design, train collectors have been filling their shelves with row after row of just 6464 box cars.

Taking it off the shelf

Vintage 6464 box cars have appealing graphics, and they look great in a train rolling along the track. But there are some disadvantages for the collector/operator.

  1. The cars (especially the ones from the 1950s) are somewhat heavy, which limits the length 
  2. The wheels don't turn that easily, increasing the strain on the locomotive. 
  3. Only about 17 road names are represented. If you like the Norfolk & Western, for example, you're out of luck

But the 6464 box car remained an influence in the hobby long after they were discontinued. When MPC took over Lionel in the 1970s, they reused the molds to issue their own "collectible" line of 9700 box cars. While some of the graphics were interesting, the cheapening of the plastic and trucks made these less desirable.

An MPC/Lionel 9700 box car from the 1970. Compare it to the original 1950s
version above. It's easy to see that the plastic is cheaper, and the
graphics not quite as crisp.

As time went on, others (including the new Lionel) offered better quality box cars designed for the operator. The advantages over the classic 6464 cars are:

  1. Modern 6464-like box cars are much lighter than the vintage cars 
  2. Needle nose axles produce minimal friction, allowing the wheels to spin freely, reducing strain on the locomotive. 
  3. Between all the manufacturers, hundreds of road names (both of current and defunct railroads) are available. If you like the Norfolk & Western, you can find examples of their box car liveries from the 1940s through the modern era.

6464 galore

So what did we see at York?

Tons of vintage 6464 box cars, including several examples of the Girl's Train model. If, as I believe, the trend is towards operation, then a wall of box cars has perhaps lost its appeal. Virtually all of the graphics of the original 6464 box cars are now available at much lower prices.

If you want a green NYC box car on your layout, why not use the Mikes' Train House version instead of the vintage Lionel one? It's less expensive, it runs better, and it looks just as good.

A 6464-900 Lionel NYC box car from the 1960s. 

The MTH version. 

We've always seen 6464 box cars at York, but never like this. There were tables with nothing but boxes stacked in four or five layers. And they were all there -- all 29 models.

Prices seemed a little soft, too -- about $40 to $120. Is this just the beginning?

Next: American Flyer's flown

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