How To Timeless Classics Collector and dealer types

Collector and dealer types

By John Grams | May 13, 2024

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This article was originally published in the December 1990 issue of Classic Toy Trains. John Grams was a longtime contributor and author of CTT’s Q&A column. He also wrote a number of toy train/hobby books. He died in 2011.

How do you think this article holds up today? Leave a comment about the “characters” you’ve encountered at shows.

drawing of a man at a train show next to two booths
Dave Bennett drawing

I like to watch people, particularly when they’re having fun. For the past nine years I’ve regularly attended train meets and shows. Although I can usually be found behind a dealer’s table, I’m not a big-time seller. And, if I don’t do a lot of selling, I can’t do a lot of buying, so I’ve had the time and opportunity to take in the action and observe the unforgettable characters on both sides of the tables.

The same types of people are found at collectors’ confabs everywhere. You’ll find them at the large annual or semiannual extravaganzas sponsored by the national organizations, down to the local events held in some back room. So here they are, a rogues’ gallery of 40 such types, evenly split between dealers and customers.


Dealers (as seen from the customer’s perspective)


Wholesale Herman

Has 14 tables piled high with new merchandise from all of the leading manufacturers. His prices undercut the competition, both advertised and unadvertised. He claims he sells everything for “cost.” When asked how he can do that and stay in business, he shrugs and explains that he buys below cost.


Dealer Wheeler

Fancies himself to be Wholesale Herman’s major competitor and positions his table complex accordingly. Formerly in the gasoline business, he often starts price wars just to get Herman steamed. He says he doesn’t care if he loses money on every sale. When asked how he can do that and stay in business, he explains that he makes it up in volume.


Parts-is-Parts Bart

Carries thousands of items in fishing tackle cases and browser boxes and on pegboard racks. He has parts for obscure trains made 50 years ago, but never seems to have the one you need.


Train Paper Chase

Deals in old railroad timetables, magazines, catalogs, and other train-related paper items, many of which are badly mildewed and crumbling into dust. His customers find his table by sniffing the air or by listening for the sound of sneezing.


Bad Meet Pete

Complains constantly about his lack of sales and threatens to quit coming to the meets. He’s been carrying around the same overpriced merchandise for the past three years.


Audio Augie

Demonstrates state-of-the-art electronic train sound effects equipment at a decibel level that is always far out of proportion to the scale of the models.


No Price Brice

Never tags anything. The price of an item, one suspects, is determined by how much he thinks the customer is carrying.


Madison Avenue Melvi

Dressed in a suit and tie. Show the slightest interest in something or ask a question, and he launches into a canned 30-second commercial about it.


Spray Wax Max

Everything on his table shines.


Durward the Dumper

He never unpacks, just opens his boxes and pours their contents onto the table.

drawing of man with folded arms next to a booth
Vinny the Intimidator. Dave Bennett drawing

Vinnie the Intimidator

Has a very high sales volume. He’s tall and muscular and stands erect, with his chin out and his arms folded. Pick up an item, and it’s yours. No one has ever dared to make a lower offer.


Hector the Erector

Spends hours constructing elaborate display shelves, back panels. and outriggers, all clamped


Pink Convertible Floyd

Always shows up with his sexy wife or girlfriend. She does the selling, while he sits back and handles the money.


Cellophane Blaine

All his stuff is neatly packaged and wrapped in plastic bags. He claims that this keeps items from becoming shopworn, but it also hides some of their flaws.


Blue Light Bennie

Spends most of the time at the meet repricing things. He’s especially good at this when someone is watching him. His tags always reflect “drastic reductions,” “markdowns,” and “closeouts.” His big scam: He will reduce an item’s price every hour until it’s sold.


Bad Light Dwight

Sets up in a far corner or unscrews the bulb directly over his table to enhance the condition of his merchandise.


Flea Market Fred

Has a few trains on his table, but really deals in surplus sweat socks, ashtrays, belt buckles, auto pans, and plumbing fixtures.


Oppenheimer the Operator

Always has a layout of some kind chugging and blinking to attract customers to his table.


Whiskey Carton Martin

All his trains are displayed in the compartments of old liquor boxes. This is fine if you can recognize the piece you’re looking for from its end.


Out to Lunch (no last name)

Nobody knows him because nobody has ever seen him. He comes early and loads his table with interesting items. Then he disappears for the rest of the meet.


Customers (from the dealer’s perspective)


Frankie the Finger

Touches everything on the table. He specializes in poking. probing, and spinning wheels. When he picks up an item, he makes sure that his sweaty palms are over the rubber­stamped lettering. His prints wind up on everything at the meet, but he usually leaves empty handed.


Hal the High-Roller

Carries around a huge wad of bills, which he flashes at every opportunity. However, no one has ever seen him spending more than $2 a time.


Miller the Scratchbuilder

Religiously attends every meet, trying to find missing parts for a locomotive or carbody that he bought for a bargain price. He’s very persistent and is often able to piece together a $20 item for about $40.


Trader Vic

Carries around a box of battered Scout locomotives and plastic cars, which he hopes to parlay into a Lionel No. 773.


Boss Hogger

Obsessed with the desire to own every train that was ever made … not a copy of each one, but every train.


Henpecked Henry

Attends each and every train show within a 500-mile radius of home. They’re his only excuse to get out of the house for a while.


Lowball Lenny and Would-Ya-Take Jake

Usually operate as a team but have been known to do a single number from time to time. They talk loudly to each other, generally casting aspersions about condition and denigrating the merchandise. Their theory is that the seller may offer them a reduced price just to get them away from the table. Sometimes it works.


Percy the Purist

Wouldn’t think of buying a train unless it had all the original dust on it.


Archie the Antiquarian

Collects only obscure early pieces by Voltamp, Elektoy, and Boucher. He never finds anything, but he’s never disappointed either. Probably the only guy who leaves a meet with all the money he came with.


Lionel Krylon

Has the urge to re­paint everything he owns, right over the nicks and rust.


Pocket-Guide Clyde and Want-List Willie

Both walk around all day, happily thumbing through their little books.


Greg Garious

Always starts a long conversation with four of his friends right in front of your table. Meanwhile, everyone else has to go around them without seeing what you have for sale.

Drawing of a man carry bags
Dave Bennett drawing

Bruce the Bag Man

Walks around carrying a shopping bag full of stuff. He usually hangs out with Greg Garious and sets his bag on top of your merchandise while they gab.


Last Week Louie

Says he found a train just like the one you have for sale last week, in better condition or cheaper.


Sidestep Sidney

Can be seen with his hands in his pockets, facing the tables, seriously contemplating every last detail on every item. He never looks up or down. He never takes his hands out of his pockets. He walks only sideways.


Know-It-All Paul

Lets you know he’s an expert, who’s seen and handled everything (as he’s handling your merchandise). He can tell by the solder joints on your locomotive how much vino Mario Caruso had for lunch on the day it was made. This is the same guy who will swear up and down that Lionel, Ives, Flyer, or even Marx never produced such a variation. Never! Never! Never!


Arthur the Atheist

Doesn’t go to church, so he has to go somewhere on Sunday mornings.


Be Back Jack

Takes up an hour of your time asking questions and examining your piece from every angle, then says he’ll be back later to buy it. His cousin, Hold-It-for-Me McGee, uses the same technique. Of course, they’re long gone before the meet’s over.


Tony the Test Pilot

Has run more locomotives than Casey Jones. He gets his kicks by taking every engine in sight to the test track. Then he gives his evaluation of their performance and walks away.


Original Box Wilcox

Never buys anything that isn’t in its original, factory-sealed carton that he never opens. All his boxes are neatly lined up on shelves in his train room. His trains never get dusty that way. He has no need for a layout. But he could use a secondhand X-ray machine. He got a new one last Christmas, but just can’t bring himself to take it out of the box.

That’s about all l could think of. While these 20 dealers and 20 customers are presented as broadly generalized caricatures, anyone who’s been to a few train shows will agree these fellows exist. Look for them the next time you attend a show; you’ll be amazed at how many you meet.

Two final notes: Try not to laugh too hard when you do run across them, and don’t be surprised if one of them is staring back at you in a mirror.

One thought on “Collector and dealer types

  1. Great article. I enjoy going to train shows and watching people is a good side attraction.

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