Buy pre-owned models
How to bag a bargain and dodge a disaster when buying second-hand.
“Railway modelling is such an expensive hobby!” “Prices just keep going up!” All too often you hear the prophets of doom and gloom extolling the virtues of railway modelling while putting off newcomers by telling them they’ll need to spend a fortune in the pursuit of this hobby. In truth, all hobbies can be as expensive as you make them, but railway modelling can also be affordable and enjoyable on a budget. So, let’s start by making the pursuit of bargains and inexpensive models part of the enjoyment of the hobby. Let’s ignore the boasts of “I just bought this. It’s top of the range, and it cost me a king’s ransom,” and make our own boast: “I just bought this, it’s really good. It does everything I need and it only cost a few quid.”
Let’s begin by looking at the things we’ll need to make a start in railway modelling. I will assume that you are going to want to build a layout. It may be permanent or portable and in a spare room, shed, garage or loft. For any sort of layout, you’re going to need a baseboard and there’s really little chance of escaping the costs involved in buying suitable materials. A durable baseboard, whether permanent or portable, really needs to be made of timber and plywood or MDF. Your local DIY superstore will be the easiest place to find these, although they may or may not be the cheapest source. Regardless of what you’re paying, make sure that the timber is straight and that the board materials are not warped. A small ‘OO’ gauge layout or a larger setup in ‘N’ gauge can be built on a standard flush internal door. B&Q sells them for £24 which, if you value your time, may be cheaper than buying the materials and building your own baseboard. ‘OO’ gauge has the biggest choice in model railways. It’s in that gauge where you’ll find most of the bargains and second-hand items
and, for that reason, that’s the gauge I recommend. If you need to work in ‘N’ gauge due to space constraints, you’ll have a lot less choice in pre-owned models, while second-hand ‘O’ gauge items are automatically assumed to be worth a fortune. Second-hand ‘O’ gauge is a minefield of overpricing, largely due to the shortage (until recently) of keenly priced ready-to-run models, and the belief that anything that has been kit-built or scratchbuilt must be priceless. So, if your primary requirement is a good choice of used models at affordable prices, you need to be looking at ‘OO’. Having chosen your gauge, you will need track. Like your baseboard, your track is crucial to the running of your trains and your enjoyment of the hobby. For this reason I would recommend that you avoid second-hand flexible track. Flexible track may well have been cut to length or to suit curves, and the soft nature of its sleeper base means that it is easily damaged when lifted from its original installation. Track pins will have caused sleepers to break and rails may well have been pulled from their tiny fastenings on the sleepers. In addition, depending on where it has been used, exposure to extremes of temperature may have made the sleeper base brittle. Second-hand sectional track is a better bet. This comes in rigid pieces so check that you have enough for your needs, that the available curved pieces are all the same radius, that it is undamaged and that the fishplates (rail joiners) are present on opposite rails, one at each end. When buying second-hand points (turnouts) check that the fishplates are present, that the blades move easily and that both are attached to the operating bar. In all cases, look for track that is clean. The rails need to be shiny. Avoid track that has residues of glue and track ballast. As far as controllers are concerned, whether or not you buy second-hand really depends on how comfortable you feel about buying second-hand mains electrical products in general. I would not do so, but a browse through ebay showed half a dozen modern analogue DC controllers that I might consider. I would not recommend older equipment such as the grey-cased H&M range because these are unsuitable for use with many of the modern locomotive motors. Old Hornby-dublo (Meccano) controllers will now be some 60 years old. Would you even consider using any other electrical appliance that old?
So, where should we shop for second-hand equipment? It is worth browsing ebay in order to see what’s on offer and the prices people are asking. Use it for initial research, rather than for buying. You need to know exactly what you are looking for and have a rough idea of what you should expect to pay for it. Remember that some ebay sellers may be getting rid of a late relative’s models and have no idea what they are dealing with. Equally, ignore headings that include words like ‘rare’ and ‘highly collectable’. Unscrupulous dealers will use these as excuses to place absurd
“Know what you are looking for and have a rough idea of what you should expect to pay ”
Here’s the first place to look – a well presented display of the best second-hand stock that the shop has to offer, including boxed locomotives and coaches. There’s some ‘N’ gauge stuff, too.
With a little careful selection you could make up a pretty good passenger train out of these boxed models, though for the best compatibility I would avoid mixing Mainline/airfix and Hornby in the same train.