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13 tips for storing your trains

By Frank Schmidt | August 12, 2008

How to protect prewar and postwar O and S gauge toy trains

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When your toy trains aren’t on display, you need to store them properly. Otherwise, you risk damage that will reduce their beauty and value. Here are 13 tips for keeping your treasures safe.

1. Modern trains go in their boxes.

Be sure you store them out of direct sunlight and fluorescent lighting in a cupboard, drawer, or other dark, dry area. A packet or two of silica gel inside the box helps keep moisture and humidity low so your boxes won’t get musty and metal parts don’t rust. Prevent trains from rolling inside their boxes so paint isn’t rubbed off by the inside of the packaging.

2. Don’t wrap trains without boxes in newspapers.

Newspapers, especially recycled newsprint, may leave a dark smudge or black mark on the body from your handling.

3. Don’t wrap trains in plastic bubble wrap.

The “bubbles” leave circular marks on a model if the bubble wrap is wrapped tightly against the body. Also, a plastic bag can pull off old decals if it’s held too tight against the plastic or tinplate item.

4. Do not wrap trains in old dusters or clothes.

Residual soap, other detergents, and cloth dyes can bond to the plastic or tinplate and, when removed, take some color and detailing with them. At worst, they can initiate minute corrosion and abrasions, giving a rough feel to surfaces. Therefore, if you want to use cloth as an initial wrap, I recommend putting it through two or three hot-water rinses in a normal washing machine to remove dyes and residual chemicals.

5. Wrap sheet metal and plastic items in alkaline tissue paper first.

I use two or even three sheets of acid-free tissue paper. I wrap the item fairly tightly in the first 24- by 20-inch tissue and then wrap it again in a second or third tissue, folding in the ends much like wrapping a present. In addition, I put a note on the outside to identify a stored item. Then I make sure to put one or two silica gel sacks nearby
to keep down the humidity.

6. Wrap flatcar loads separately.

Vehicle loads may have old rubber tires that are susceptible to becoming soft and flattening on the bottom. The tires may also chemically react with the surface of a plastic flatcar. Wrap them separately, but store each load with the correct car.

Don’t attach a load on a flatcar with an elastic band or tie-tape. Rubber bands and elastic will deteriorate over time and stick to the surface of the load. If possible, store vehicle loads upside down to take the weight off their tires. Mount other types of loads with dry blocks of wood that hold the load above the surface of the car. This is also a good method for displaying these loads on a shelf.

7. Dry all items before storing.

I’ve found that a cloth towel that’s warmed from home heating (radiant/forced air and radiators are best) works very well for this.

8. Avoid woods that emit acidic vapors and strong odors.

These may keep away moths, but can harm trains. Pine and cedar, with their strong scents, aren’t good. Also, keep your trains away from any “green” wood you may have purchased when building your layout.

9. Store old trains with their wheels down, but don’t let them roll.

If I’m storing two rows of items in either a box or drawer, I separate the top and bottom layers with a layer of newspaper or a thin dense foam layer (lightly springy foam will break down over time) in order to provide an ample cushion.

10. Cover staples in boxes.

These can rust and scratch whatever they come in contact with. Storage boxes or set boxes that have staples may scratch improperly wrapped items. Cover staples with heavy-duty tape to prevent scratches, or line the cardboard box with dense plastic foam.

11. Use polyethylene bags with care.

These are helpful, but they can trap moisture, causing metal objects to rust. Bags can also release compounds that damage any plastic items stored inside them.

12. Rely on one or two dehumidifiers.

These remove water vapor in basements or other damp areas. Our toy trains are worth the marginal cost of running a dehumidifier all summer.

13. Keep humidity at 50 to 60 percent.

Buy a hygrometer at a hardware store or home improvement center to measure the humidity of wherever your trains are stored. Also, keep that area at an even, moderate temperature (55 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit).

Very low humidity is not ideal either. Storing items in an attic without insulation during the hot summer can be as bad for your trains as keeping them in a wet basement. Items can dry out, causing paint to crumble and decals to crack. In extreme heat, plastics can warp or melt.

10 thoughts on “13 tips for storing your trains

  1. I have always stored my trains in ziplock-type bags but unzipped, packed together, with a silica gel pack or two thrown in the trunk. 16 years later, the trains are totally fine and I've seen no evidence of any interactions between the ziplock bags and the plastic or metal train bodies.

    Although with the motive power, if there's no box. I wrap the engine and tender in a clean, soft cotton cloth then stick it in the bag.

  2. Many thanks for the advice–being old, but new at storing and trying to bring some old rail cars, etc back to life, this is most helpful.

  3. Great story on storing lionel trains.What is the best thing to store them in,boxes or plastic bags.

  4. I have stored my trains from the forties and fifties in wooden boxes for the past 12 years. Taking them out, I saw white dust or mold on all the plastic wheels and some of the metal wheels. I have cleaned my collection and they are back in wooden boxes again. None are stored in the original boxes. I have plastic covered bins that will hold apx. 30 pcs. of rolling stock. Is it a good idea to put these trains into their original boxes and then stack them in the plastic bin, which has a secure lid? larry@mrvinerack.com

  5. Sounds to me like there is almost no way to store them that doesn't have q down side other than in their origonal boxes which I don't have. I finally now store my trains on shelves I have put up on my walls so I can enjoy them year around rather than just during the holidays. They get dusty but I blow thm off with a fireplace bellows that I have dedicated for that purpose.

  6. I also store my trains in plastic bins. I have most of them in their original boxes and some in reproduced boxes.

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