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TINPLATE TIMES PROFILE: BRIAN MILLER

Tinplate Times: Brian, Please tell us about yourself and your background.

Brian Miller: I am 48 years old, a youngster in the world of toy train collecting. I live in the house my parents lived in when I was born in Tucson, Arizona. I have lived several places but have returned to the family homestead. It was during part of my childhood in northern Indiana that I got my start in toy trains. We had a neighbor named Chuck Marshall who had a house full of old Lionel trains. I was playing with a blue comet set before I knew what it was. He was a good guy and generous with his time helping start a new generation of collectors. I have a degree in Music. How’s that for no job skills! I do play a mean piano though. (I do not intend to imply that I am a good player, my piano is just mean! It doesn’t always put forth the sounds I hope for.) I am a licensed contractor who owns a consulting firm for the swimming pool industry that helps owner builders get the necessary information, engineering, plans, equipment, etc to build their own swimming pool without using a traditional contractor. They go directly to the licensed subs, and cut out the middleman that sometimes is not as competent as they should be. This is something I am good at and it funds train purchases.


Tinplate Times: Besides tinplate toy trains, do you have any other collecting interests or favorite hobbies?

Brian Miller: I tell people that I collect two things. Old toy trains, and all the stuff I find looking for old toy trains. My house is full of old toys, antiques, gas pumps, juke boxes, phonographs, radios, coke machines, etc. Out in the ol' wild west here, train shows are not held as often as back east or in California. In the pursuit of trains you bump into a lot of other neat stuff and it is hard to turn it down.

Tinplate Times: Tell us about your toy train affiliations.

Brian Miller: I have no club affiliations. Being self-employed I don’t have the time to take off and drive to a big national meet somewhere. My wife likes to spend her vacation time in Hawaii or Europe, not a train show. Silly girl. There was a “national” club division here years ago. It's gone now, but after the big fight over the closed box rule (a communist “fairness” rule that if your priorities are not trains, every one else has to wait for your sorry kiester to show up before they can buy or sell) I had had enough. Early bird gets the worm! I am a capitalist! (Sorry for the rant.) PS For the kids, a well placed arm or elbow to get in the meet door first is ok, punching and pushing is not.


Tinplate Times: Have you co-authored or acted as a consultant on and toy train books, articles, web sites, etc.??

Brian Miller: No, nobody asked my opinion. The standard gauge layout was in Classic toy trains about 10 years ago. I plan to write a book after I retire on collectors and the collecting mind set. We need to find out why some people are normal and others want 24 variations of a 6464-150 Mo Pac box car.

Tinplate Times: What was your first toy train set?

Brian Miller: That depends.

There have been several milestones. The first was a Japanese battery operated set that I got for Christmas in 1966, at age 6. The first electric train set arrived Christmas 1971. At 11 I was too old to believe in Santa, but I covered all the bases just in case. Dear Santa I Want a LIONEL train. Parents knew I wanted a LIONEL train. Grandparents knew I wanted a LIONEL train. Everyone knew I wanted a LIONEL train. Christmas morning I awoke, ran to the tree, and low and behold there was a …..Tyco HO train set. A CRAPPY HO train! Talk about disappointment. That was confirmation Santa did not exist!

The first REAL train set (a Lionel) was acquired at a garage sale when I was 13 for $1. That’s right one thin George Washington. It was a cheap 1130 scout set, but it was a Lionel and it was mine. I am one of the few train guys without the normal story. You know the one. Trains as a kid, got interested in girls, cars, whatever, mom sold the trains, yada, yada, yada. I started out strong at age 11 and haven’t stopped. When the girls in high school and college made it clear it was them or the trains, it was bye-bye so I could buy-buy. It was a lot more fun to spend my precious dollars on trains than on flowers, candy and fancy meals for a cranky female unit.


Tinplate Times: Do you have a layout now? What gauge interests you the most?

Brian Miller: I have a standard gauge layout at present. It takes up most of about a 900 square building on the property. I hope to add on to the layout room in the next few years. I also collect that horrible postwar Lionel stuff, and would like to expand the train room with a new two story structure. The standard gauge will stay put. I want to have a postwar layout on the first floor of the new addition and a scale-like high rail layout on the second.


Tinplate Times: Have you always had a layout as an adult?

Brian Miller: Pretty much. There have been a few years here and there without one but the layout building was completed in 1993. My layout is based on what the Rockefellers might have done in the 1930’s with an unlimited budget. I mimicked the old Lionel Magazine articles where the standard gauge trains ran in scale scenery like settings.


Tinplate Times: What tinplate do you enjoy collecting the most?

Brian Miller: Classic period Lionel. I have been adding standard gauge as well as some O gauge lately. My latest endeavor is to acquire all the 800/2800 series variations of O gauge freight cars.

Tinplate Times: What trains or sets do you enjoy operating the most?

Brian Miller: Right now I run three sets on the layout. The IVES National Limited, a blue comet, and a 408 with 200 series freight cars.

Tinplate Times: If you could keep only one toy train from your collection what would it be?

Brian Miller: Believe it or not my girl’s trains. Yep, the 1957 pastel nightmares! I have been lucky to find several scarce variations of the girls set tenders. These are probably the “rarest” items I have. I don’t like the word rare, but when only a handful of item is known to exist it applies. They would be the hardest items in my collection to replace.

Tinplate Times: What tinplate train or set that you don't own would you like to have the most?

Brian Miller: That could be a long list, but I will go with a brown State set.

Tinplate Times: Are you still adding to your collection?

Brian Miller: Always! Life would be boring if I we not looking for trains. If any of you ever see me playing golf, please shoot me!

Tinplate Times: Where do you find interesting new trains?

Brian Miller: Ebay, and occasionally at a train meet.


Tinplate Times: Do you attend toy train shows? Which shows do you enjoy the most?

Brian Miller: There are two yearly shows here in Tucson and a few more 2 hours up the road in Phoenix. The shows here tend to not bring in a lot of new items to buy. Many people tend to bring the same stuff over and over. Year after year. I myself am starting a new philosophy that if an item has been to three shows and doesn’t sell, it is time to put it away for a while or send it to Ebay. I think that a lot of the same people that sell at shows also sell on Ebay. The best stuff goes online. Everyone wants to get top dollar for their stuff and Ebay is the place.

Tinplate Times: How do you feel about online trading of toy trains?

Brian Miller: I Love it! I am able to buy things I would never find locally. I get to go to a train meet every night in my own home. (In my drawers with an adult beverage. Something I can’t seem to get the train show promoters to let me do.) Ebay has also shown us what is truly scarce and what is not. It has helped equalize the rarity scale. My wife on the other hand thinks that Ebay is of the devil. She believes that the creation of Ebay is one of the most evil human acts right up there with the Adam and Eve eat the fruit in the garden fiasco.

Tinplate Times: What is it about tinplate toy trains that appeals to you the most?

Brian Miller: I don’t know. Maybe the colors. I also like the idea of something that was made to be a toy is still usable 80 years later. I often think about a given item and what little boy owned it 70 or 80 years ago and how he played with it.

Tinplate Times: What do you think will be the future of tinplate collecting and operating?

Brian Miller: Tinplate will not suffer as bad as postwar. I don’t see a continuous rise in prices even for tinplate. There is a demand for the stuff now but there will be less in the future. Again, at 48 years old I am the youngster at most train meets. I don’t see the demand for the trains in 15 or 20 years. The prewar trains are holding value based on how neat they are, the antique factor, etc. They have held value even with those who do not have a childhood attachment to them.

Postwar, on the other hand, is going to be a problem. As the baby boomers retire there will be a sharp decline in demand, and a quick rise in supply as they sell their collections to fund retirement. I can remember hearing guys back in the early 80’s telling their wives that the trains are an investment, for our retirement. I always thought that was a dumb way to sell the wife on the purchase. We men are stupid and don’t remember what we ate for lunch yesterday. The female units however remember every detail of every conversation you have ever had with her! If you think the women folk are going to forgo the trip to Europe, the cruise, etc. in retirement so you can keep the trains, dream on!


The other issue with postwar is that every train manufacturer has rerun and rerun everything over and over. Your mint boxed Lionel $3500 Jersey central FM, in 20 years it will be a $135 door stop. In 20 years the semiannual TCA York meet will take place in the cafeteria of an assisted living center in southeast Pennsylvania. The few old boys left will come hoping to trade their mint Santa Fe F-3 set for a new oxygen regulator.

Tinplate Times: Do you think tinplate collecting and operating will still be around 50 or 100 years from now?

Brian Miller: Yes I am sure to some degree. Most people have a regard for history. I think there will always be real trains as an integral part of our nations transportation systems. I believe that the hobby is, and will continue to move back to a model railroading philosophy. Collecting seems to be something associated with recapturing our childhood. Trains have not been a part of children’s lives since the 1950’s. I am close to 50 and we always flew on the airplane. Most children today don’t live in a part of town where the train can be seen. Trains as a hobby are almost non-existent unless you have a father, grandfather, etc. pushing it.


We have lots of museums. People spend a lot of money collecting relics from the War Between the States that they have no attachment to. (That would be the Civil War for you Yankees (half a word) that don’t know what a civil war is.). Again, sorry for the rant I didn’t call it the northern war of aggression like I should have. The rarest and most desirable trains will hold value, and be collected, just don’t expect your 500 series freights and #8’s to make your house payment after you retire. They will be used model train equipment.

Tinplate Times: Do you have any final comments?

Brian Miller: Are you kidding? Play trains no matter what your budget is. It is better to play standard gauge on a budget then to collect stamps, or Hummels with a limitless checkbook! Build a layout. I had a small 4x8 standard gauge layout in my living room for several years of my young adult life. It was way more fun then say collecting cameras or watches. Do everything possible to try and make the “presentation” of your collection as nice as reasonably possible. We don’t want to display a $150 loco in a $2000 cabinet, but I am always amazed at the number of $10,000 sets that run on a cobbled up layout of used 2x4’s and recycled indoor-outdoor carpet. I am not bagging on those guys, but think about display. Frank Ellison wisely said the layout is a stage and the trains are the actors. Your guest’s wives will let them play longer if the surroundings are comfortable and they don’t feel like they will need to get their darling spouse a tetanus shot after leaving your place.

On my layout I tried to make all of the layout tables attractive. I used Victorian wainscoting and trim to mimic my Victorian house. I also carpeted the entire layout room after the plaster and scenery work was done. This makes it a nice environment to share with your guests.

If you are not having guests visit your collection shame on you. The three rules of collecting are share, share and share!

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