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June 10, 2008

GUEST BLOGGER: John of Railroad Express - My York Experience

Guest blogger, John of Railroad Express, sent in this post about his experience at York this spring. 

It was a bright Spring day in April 2008 as I parked my car in the lot of the holy grail of train collector heaven, the mighty train meet called “York”.

If you have been to York, this article will tell you nothing you already do not know. But for the “non-Yorkers”, this might be an interested peek into this massive event.

First the basics, York is actually York, PA, held at the fairgrounds. York is about an hour outside of Philadelphia in the Pennsylvania Dutch region of this great state.

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The official meet is about 2 1/2 days long, however for the 3 or 4 days leading up to the event, there are “pre-meets” all over York. The first time I went I hooked up with some old timers who helped me understand the ropes, which basically meant driving around looking for large groups of older men standing around tables in parking lots and in hotel lobbies. I found them at local hotels, the firehouse and various other spots around town. It is kind of like Spring Break for folks over 50. The difference is less drinking, earlier bedtimes and serious money being spent trading trains.

Like many attending York, I flew into Philadelphia, got my rental car and started the drive to the meet. Unlike most of the attendees, I was only able to attend for one day and had a clear mission in mind.

I had been attended once before and spent two or three days there (attending both the pre-meets and the York event itself). So I am not a die hard York attendant, as some of these guys (and their families) have been going twice a year for the last 10 or 20 years. These guys usually stand out in the crowd due to the large number to “train meet” hog dogs and bad coffee they’ve consumed over the years.

The York event itself is like no other train meet in the world. Every gauge is represented, from the smallest “Z” scale to trains you could ride in your backyard. Every type of collector is present, from the grumpy old man who really does not want to sell anything and barks at you when you ask a question, to the “used car” sales guy (what would it take to get you into this Lionel Wabash F3 today?), to some of the nicest guys around. A word of warning, do not ask anyone a question, unless you have 10 to 15 minutes to hear train jokes / comments on the weather / questions about where you are from / discussion  on the price of gas / and stories about the old days. I actually quite like this kind of chat, but be warned, train collectors do not know how to have a short discussion.

Once you survive the pre-meets and are ready for the main event you move to the main York County fairgrounds, where York becomes this massive event taking over 6 or 7 huge halls all over the fairground. Each hall has it’s own name “the Orange Hall”, “the Silver hall” etc. Apparently, the fairground does not use these names for any other event, it’s an old time TCA labeling system. I asked a number of workers where a particular hall was (such as the “red hall”) only to be stared at with the universal response, “sorry I just work here, I am not a train guy”.

I really do not know the history of the names for the halls, but I do know that old time collectors/vendors are proud of their hall placement “ Look for me in the Orange Hall!” and get very upset when for what ever reason they get moved to a different hall from the previous year.

With six or seven huge halls, each lined with rows and rows of tables, with each table sagging with trains of every vintage, valuation, size and condition. I really have not figured out the right way to work York. Like a kid in a candy shop, a drunk at Jack Daniels distillery, or a college kid in Cancun, it just all becomes too much.

This year, I set up a mission for myself. Start with the “official dealers and see what was new in the accessories area. Not the most exciting strategy, but I only had one day there and needed to meet some of my best dealers and see what the competition was doing. So, I started in the Orange Hall, and started my day with a long discussion with the folks at the Ink Well and Santana Miniatures. We were talking die cast, freight loads, new products and the such. But the siren call of pre-war Lionel was just too great and off I went to walk aisle by aisle by sagging tables loaded with pre and post war Lionel, old German Marklin,. Vintage Marx, Brand New Lionel, Weaver, MTH and ETS.

Five Hours later I talked down the last aisle, having spent about 10 nanoseconds at each table in each of the halls.

My trip was really more for my business than my collection, so while I passed on some great deals, I did ink some nice dealer relationships for my Cargo-To-Go line and found a couple new small manufactures to add to the line.

As I boarded my plane to come home, I left York feeling like someone who had experienced something really unique. A snap shot back to a time when trains were king and the little boys who played with them still have the same spirit they did years ago. Yes, we are all older, but still get excited about model trains as we did on Christmas morning years ago.

So York (for me) is part Train meet, part summer camp, blended with a history lesson and the chance to make new friends who enjoy old trains as much as I do!

My business, The Railroad Express (, produces the Cargo-To-Go line of realistic “O” and “G” Scale Freight, Cargo and Flat Car Loads.

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