This introduction to the important O Scale 2-Rail (OS2R) secondary market explains how to find and purchase used equipment. It describes the different elements and explains how modelers can access good quality models at reasonable prices. Treat this as a primer; a first cut on how a modeler can make effective use of the secondary market. Secondary markets are not specific to O Scale. However, the role of the OS2R secondary market is more important than in other scales.
OS2R models have been manufactured for over a century. At one time, O Scale enjoyed the largest percentage of modelers in the hobby. There are manufacturers currently producing OS2R models, with online and brick and mortar businesses selling new state-of-the-art models. However, because of the large amount of older OS2R models out there, buying pre-owned or “new old stock” (NOS) OS2R models has become an alternate way for OS2R modelers to purchase what they need to build and detail a model railroad. There are many models from the 1960’s and before, as early as the 1930s and 40’s, that are available. Such models can be made quite presentable on present day layouts. The secondary market consists of businesses and individuals who deal in preowned or NOS pieces. It is a market place which can be accessed in several different ways.
Learning how to find and use the secondary market helps new and current OS2R modelers find quality products at inexpensive prices. In many instances, pre-owned OS2R pieces are cheaper than comparable models in smaller scales. As with any treasure hunt, the process of identifying and acquiring models can be both a challenge and a reward. Finding and rebuilding older models to bring them to present standards of detail and operation can also be satisfying. Building and upgrading models and kits can be very satisfying.
What can you expect to find on the secondary market? Product availability and prices largely depends on who is selling what; pieces and offering will vary. Where, how and when also can matter. Available equipment can be older used models, buildings and both unbuilt kits and those someone has built or started. You may also find upgraded pieces and NOS locomotives (sometimes referred to as “closet/mantle queens”) and rolling stock in original packaging. Many secondary market models are offered as single pieces, so what is available is constantly changing. But you can find almost anything given time and patience. You just need to know where to look and be persistent.
Sellers who offer pre-owned or NOS pieces may also offer new equipment. There are service providers who can upgrade older equipment, such as DCC-Sound installations and general repairs. These sellers and service providers are listed in the OS2R Product Guide™. Make sure to look through the guide for more information in addition to the resources listed below.
Secondary Marketplaces include train shows, resale vendors, auctions, estate sales and online platforms (such as eBay or oscaleyardsale.io). There are others out there. Be sure to keep your eye out for OS2R pieces. O Scale has a long and rich history, and lots of used/NOS pieces are accessible in OS2R. As indicated, this makes the secondary market significantly more important to O Scale modelers. Descriptions and comments follow as to the different parts of the OS2R secondary market.
Train Shows are essentially train-specific flea markets, with selling, buying and trading model trains as the main focus. Train shows can be small (held in a fire house, church basement or similar venue) or large enough to fill an exhibition hall (larger regional shows or national conventions). The size of train shows is generally described based on the number of vendor tables. A small show might have 50 or fewer. The largest shows have hundreds of tables, and may also include operating layouts, presentation of clinics on various modeling topics and tables for special interest groups such as historical societies.
Train shows may be scale-specific or “all-scale” shows, where vendors for every scale participate. Some shows described as O Gauge cater to 3-Rail O (e.g., Lionel and MTH). Although some OS2R models (or 3-Rail models convertible to 2-Rail) may be for sale at 3-Rail O shows and at all-scale shows, the percentage present is usually rather low. Accessories in 1:48 such as structures, vehicles and scenery supplies are, of course, shared between the 2-Rail and 3-Rail modelers.
Finding train shows is easy if you know where to look. They are scheduled well in advance and are listed in a variety of places, including the “coming events” sections of various model railroad magazines, as well as on this website and online forums. Some train shows have their own websites. Find the contact information and ask questions; people want attendees and help expanding the hobby.
Train shows typically have an admission fee. If you want to sell things as well as buy, you can rent a vendor table (advanced reservation in usually required) or bring things for a white elephant table if the show has one. Arriving at the show before it opens is generally a good idea, as the initial opening flurry is when the most merchandise is available. Some vendors may be able to help you with questions. Be cautioned that vendors at many shows start packing up an hour or even more before the time the show is officially over, particularly if attendance is light.
For O Scale-specific shows, there has been a long-standing calendar: Chicago, IL in March, Santa Clara, CA in May, Indianapolis, IN in September and Cleveland, OH in November. There are, in addition, various regional shows, including Strasburg, PA (happening in April, August and October), Atlanta, GA in February and a Southwest regional show (Texas and Oklahoma) in the fall. You can find more information on these shows in the OS2R Events calendar.
The O Scale National Convention (OSN) is an annual OS2R event and is held at different locations each year. It is more than just a train show, with events such as clinics, layout tours, side trips, social events and fun at “destination” locations. OSN also includes a large train show and trading hall. The next O Scale National convention will be in Denver June 8-11, 2023. Please visit their website (https://oscalenational.com/) and Facebook page (facebook.com/OScaleNationalConvention) for more information.
Check where show information is updated to ensure that the show is on before you travel there. Online forums such as O Scale Forum are your best bets if the show does not have a website or is not up to date.
Health and safety precautions may vary. Make sure you know and follow the safety requirements, which include masks, social distancing, and other, common sense restrictions. Such requirements may vary over time and from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Please use common sense!
Resale Vendors are, as the name suggests, these vendors sell used and NOS pieces. They may buy up estates or make other bulk purchases. Some resale vendors advertise on line and in magazines, and/or take booths at train shows and sell there. Some operate hobby shops; others are “basement operators”. Some limit sales to online transactions only. A perusal of model railroading magazines and websites will reveal several ads from resale vendors, typically presenting a list of models, identified by manufacturer, railroad, equipment type and price. Check the OS2R Product Guide™ to find these vendors!
The range of resale vendor services varies. Some perform tests and minor repairs on equipment they list, while others sell equipment “as is”. As a general rule, the more work a resale vendor puts into a piece, the higher the price, but with potentially better products. Buying used equipment from resellers who advertise a piece as “tested” can increase the confidence level of the purchaser that the equipment has been inspected and repaired as needed to make it operational. At train shows you may be able to test a model before completing your purchase.
If resale vendors are shipping items purchased by you, that will add both cost and risk. Have an advance understanding how the models will be shipped and who is responsible for damage. Always document transactions in writing; this is just good practice.
On-Line Auctions and Sales Platforms are a staple in the modern world. eBay is the 900-pound gorilla in online sales. Sellers list items, which are posted on eBay and made available for bid or direct purchase. The auction ends at a specified time, and the successful bidder then makes arrangement for the payment for the bid price and the buyer ships per the terms of the listing. eBay charges commissions and generally sides with the purchaser in disputes.
Key to using any online auction or forum is to identify what you are looking for as specifically as possible. An undifferentiated search for model trains will produce an overwhelming number of listings. Narrowing the search to specific words in the title or description text will yield more manageable results. For example, “O Scale two rail brass locomotives” is a large umbrella, but “On3 locomotive” is more specific and will give you more focused results. Sophisticated search algorithms are possible, but are beyond the scope of this article. eBay does not separate 3-Rail and 2-Rail well in its results. Some sellers list 3-Rail pieces as 2-Rail, and the algorithm lumps all O Gauge/Scale together. Broader O Scale searches will bring up large amounts of 3-Rail O.
Make it a point to review the product descriptions and photographs closely to check the brand, and condition of the piece. Don’t hesitate to ask questions about the piece to the sellers on any platform.
While this article will not get into specifics on effective uses of ebay, it is advised to review the photographs and narrative descriptions posted by the seller very carefully. As with any auction format, sellers rely on the possibility of multiple people who want the model at issue, bidding against each other to yield the highest selling price. There are lots of different strategies how to maximize success in bidding on eBay. Again, describing such gamesmanship is not the purpose of this article. “Buyer Beware” applies in any transaction you undertake, but especially with regard to online marketplaces like eBay.
There are other online sales platforms, including a Groups.io group called O Scale Yard Sale (https://groups.io/g/OSCALEYARDSALE/topics). These are essentially peer to peer transactions, in which a seller lists what is offered and would be purchasers either meet the asked price or make offers to purchase the equipment. Purchase and shipping arrangements are handled between the purchaser and seller.