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Mike Miller’s Greatest Find

By | December 2, 2009

An unexpected discovery of one of Lionel's finest postwar outfits.

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Thanks to his wife’s timely phone call, Mike Miller learned that the pawnshop she assisted with its Internet auction selling had a classic Lionel passenger outfit that its owner wanted to unload. Little did Mike realize during his initial conversation with his wife that he would soon own set no. 2144W, cataloged in 1948 and ’49.
My greatest find could also be known as the one that almost got away. This Lionel outfit was sitting on a shelf of a local pawnshop for quite some time, collecting dust with many other items that no one was interested in buying.

Enter my wife, who had worked for a large telecommunications company that was soon to become extinct. Seeing the writing on the wall, and being good with a computer, she started her own business as an eBay contractor.

One of my wife’s first clients was the above-mentioned pawnshop. The owner provided her with an inventory, and she began listing pawned items on this well-known Internet auction Web site.

Just about anything you can think of comes into pawnshops, from fishing rods and jewelry to tools and videotapes. Even Lionel trains.

Now I know what you’re thinking: We have someone who works for a pawnshop, and she has a husband who collects toy trains. Therefore, the shop’s employees must have cut my wife a super deal for this Lionel train set.

Sorry. That is anything but what really happened.

While finishing up early on December 31, 2002, and getting ready to call it a year at my job, I called my wife to ask what time she was heading home to see if she wanted to join me for a late lunch. She replied that with family coming over to celebrate the arrival of the new year, a late lunch seemed like a good idea.

However, my wife added, one of the shop’s employees had asked for a favor. He explained that the store had inventory coming up, and the manager had been unable to rid of these Lionel trains for $75. Would she mind putting them on eBay before she left for the holiday?

Only slightly curious, I just had to ask my wife what the numbers were on the locomotive and cars. First she read off “2332.” Then she went on to say, “2625, 2627, and 2628.” (At this point I didn’t realize that she was reading the numbers off the boxes.)

Well, I knew that 2332 was a green GG1 electric locomotive, but I had no idea what the cars were. At this short time in the hobby, I thought I would never own an original GG1 so I really had never paid too much attention to what cars came with that celebrated locomotive.

Besides the no. 2332 GG1 electric-profile locomotive, his wife was able to get him the three heavyweight passenger cars that came in this outfit and the four component boxes. Makes you wonder what brought this train to a pawnshop.
I then asked my wife what kind of shape the engine and cars were in, and she said she didn’t know. Puzzled by her response, I asked, “What do you mean you don’t know?”

My wife then explained that the train was in boxes, each of which had the Lionel name on it. She had not opened them to look at the engine and cars yet.

My wife opened up one of the passenger car boxes and told me that this car was really dirty, the wheels did not move very well, and a door was broken. The next car was the same way, and there were some loose parts with the engine.

My sense of elation at possibly owning a GG1 outfit with its original boxes vanished. Now I felt disappointment because it sounded as though the locomotives and passenger cars in this set were exceedingly worn.

I thought about it for a moment and then asked my wife if, instead of putting the set on eBay, would the shop’s owner be interested selling it to me. She told me that she would check with the employees and give me a call back.

I waited for what seemed like a lifetime for the phone to ring, and finally it did. The manager informed my wife that they still wanted what was marked on the label, which was $75. With the way my wife had described the locomotive and cars, I decided to take a gamble on them and told her to bring them home.

I got home and, just like a little kid waiting for Christmas morning, waited for the arrival of my wife. When she pulled up in front of the house, I rushed out to meet her with cash in hand and got my new train set from the trunk of the car.

Before I could head down to the basement to see what I had purchased, I remembered that I still owed my wife lunch. After a nice meal, we returned home. Then, politely excusing myself, I rushed down to the basement of our house.

I opened what appeared to be a box but was the insert for the GG1. I took out the locomotive, looked it over, and was shocked at its condition. It had glitter on the shell, which I blew right off, some wear on the stripes, and no pantographs.

Then I looked in the box that my wife had used to pack everything. Laying in the bottom of the box were the pantographs in need of the insulators. Seeing how the GG1 looked, my spirits rose a bit, so I lubed it, put it on the track, and applied power. Naturally, this Lionel postwar beauty immediately took off!

I still had no idea what type of passenger cars I had purchased, so I grabbed a box and carefully opened it. Out came a heavyweight car with “Madison” stamped on the side. Like the GG1, it had glitter on the roof.

I looked the heavyweight car over, noting that it had one sprung door, was in need of rewiring, and its window inserts were curled on the ends. Luckily for me, though, it had no flaking of paint from the Bakelite body shell.

Then I opened up the other boxes, and out came the “Manhattan” and the “Irvington” cars in the same shape. I was stunned at the condition of these cars, so I asked my wife about all of this dirt that was supposed to be on them. The so-called dirt turned out to be this glitter that was on the locomotive and cars.

Since the cars needed to be rewired and not wanting to take a chance of messing something up, I called a good friend, who is an authorized Lionel repairperson. After explaining what I had bought, I asked if I could bring over the locomotive and cars for him to fix and tune up the following weekend.

First my friend rewired the cars, fixed the sprung doors, and oiled the wheels. Up next was the GG1. When he pulled the shell off, out came a lot more of the glitter. I guess that this set must have gone through some sort of glitter snowstorm because that sparkly stuff was in and on everything inside the engine.

With the glitter cleaned up, my friend noticed what turned out to be the only real issue with the GG1. Somewhere along the line someone had removed the horn. Having never heard one, I am quite content to keep my GG1 the way it is.

After my friend checked the wiring, which was fine, and applied the proper lubrication, we gave the electric locomotive a test run. It performed magnificently, and so it was time to return the engine to its new home.

Once I was back in my train room I couldn’t help wondering whether the joy I felt when opening the boxes had matched the joy that the original owner of this set had felt many years ago. I know that in my first year as the new caretaker of what is my favorite set, it never left the layout except for normal lubrication.

During the years I have owned this Lionel train, the GG1 has continued to run like a watch, and it sees a lot of running time. Looking back to that fateful day in 2002, I often reflect on the events that occurred and the childlike joy of opening a Lionel box for the first time. Being able to experience that amazing feeling once more is, as much as the GG1 heavyweight passenger train set, my greatest find.

9 thoughts on “Mike Miller’s Greatest Find

  1. my greatest find are alway when i'm doing work on someones house,i tell the people to go and fine out how much there worth then i barter the work for the trains and believe me i got some good trains and i always tell them if they ever wanted them back in later years for their kids i give back at the price of when i got then be honest and the rewards always come to you i have 75%prewar 25% postwar,i did have a guy come in were i was working when i first got married in 1978 ask me if i wanted some trains,and said sure he i want $200 which was alot to me what do you have ,he took me to his house in these boxes were standard guauge engines and cars ,wooden inboats,10 brass engins so on and on i said what you have is worth more then $200 he i know put i want you to have them that's when i work at the pennsauken fire dept,in nj as a maint.carpenter and they thank me for all i done for them ,yes i had a to tell my wife i about trains and we're still married and still buying trains

  2. I thoroughly enjoyed the article. As I read it, I felt Mike's excitement. ( I know I'd be excited). Keep on presenting these articles-THEY ARE FUN!

  3. I love reading about greatest finds . Keep up the good work. When I'm ready , I'll let you know about my greatest find .

  4. Reading about someone else's greatest find brings back memories of mine.1945,Lionel was back in business and I made a big nuisance of myself.Alas ! to no avail. I waited and looked for many years for this 1945 set.Well it's a long story.I literaly tripped over one at work.A fellow worker found a Lionel at a yard sale for $5.00 bucks (yeah five) and left it by my desk.O.K. so I didn't find it, some else did.It's still my greatest find and thats one of the things that makes this hobby so great.

  5. I love this stuff. This past weekend, I bid on an auction for a couple of Lionel branded diesels. I got one, a 18858 GP-20, for $70, and the other, a 18846 GP-9 for $70. Thefirst lists in Greenburg's for $400 and the other for $370. The GP-20 is unrun, new in the box! I also picked up a #18136 SF 'B' unit, unrun, for $80, and it lists at $240. Great weekend, now my collection just got better.

  6. My greatest find was a 1952 Lionel Santa Fe F-3, A-B-A #2343 freight set. I am in the process of composing a more complete dissertation on why we should always share our love of toy trains. You never know who among your audience might make a critical connection to a treasure just waiting to be discovered!
    Wes Hill

  7. WOW! I would certainly say you got your money's woth. I have the same set (recent Lionel reissue) and I really enjoy the set. Hooray for all GG-1's !!!

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