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Tinplate Times Profile: Malcolm "Randy" Berger

Tinplate Times: Randy, please tell us about yourself.

Randy Berger: Well, I lived long enough to retire in spite of dire early predictions. I was born in Pennsylvania and attended school there, Ohio, and California. I married young, had three children who I helped raise and became a grandfather at the age of forty. My career has been varied and interesting. I've been a roofer, truck driver, maintenance man, foundry worker, and finally systems programmer on mainframe computers for the following U.S. Steel railroads: B&LE, URR, EJ&E, DMIR, and several smaller lines. Ask me sometime about the IVES 3237 passenger train I had out on the B&LE main line.

Tinplate Times: Besides tinplate toy trains, you collect antique cars. Tell us about your car collection.

Randy Berger: I have only one collectible automobile - a completely restored 1956 Packard 400 hardtop. I bought it in 1972 for $100.00. The current value is slightly higher. I'm a member of the Packard Automobile Club, the Antique Automobile Club of America and the Pharaohs car club of Pittsburgh. The auto isn't a trailer queen - I enjoy operating the car and have driven it from Pittsburgh to Detroit, which is about a five-hour trip - my longest so far. The fastest I have driven it is 105 mph, a feat that I will not repeat.

Tinplate Times: Tell us about your toy train affiliations.

Randy Berger: I joined the TCA in 1961 at the Pittsburgh convention and became member #600. Charlie Burt was my sponsor. I have missed only one Eastern Division meet since 1962. My best friends are all train collectors. I was lucky to be in the Pittsburgh area and participated in the early newsletter and Quarterly mailings. We got together at Lou Redman's home every three months to assemble and mail the newsletter and Quarterly magazine. That usually took us to around 10:00 PM, and then we sat around, educating one another and telling tales about our latest acquisitions. I also belong to The IVES Train Society and enjoy the seminars and discussions sponsored by the group. I have been a member since Don Lewis was first interested in the organization and asked me to join. Half the fun of going to York is participating in The IVES Train Society meetings.

Tinplate Times: Which toy train books have you co-authored or acted as a consultant on?

Randy Berger: I was a co-author of "Lionel, Standard of the World 1900-1943" on both editions, published in 1976 and 1989 respectively, and was a contributor to Doc Robbie's book "Made In The IVES Shops". I've also written several articles for the TCA Quarterly.

Tinplate Times: Randy, what was your first toy train set?

Randy Berger: For Christmas 1941 my mother bought me an American Flyer Royal Blue freight set. It came without a reversing mechanism, and for that reason she got it at cost from the hardware store where she worked. I spent the next several years tearing it apart trying to make it go backwards. When I was about eight, my Uncle Bill, who had to put it back together every year, finally sat my cousin and me down and explained electricity, magnetic fields and why my train would run in only one direction. He also explained that reversing the brush wires would make the motor run backwards. I ran that engine backward for more than a year.

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

Randy Berger: I have a 24 X 6 layout, which is primarily used to display accessories. On it I run Wide gauge, #1 gauge and American Flyer O-gauge. Wide gauge, both IVES and Dorfan, are my main interests. I also have IVES #1 gauge, both clockwork and electrics, and I enjoy American Flyer 3/16 O-gauge and S-gauge. I own some Dorfan O-gauge but not nearly a complete collection. I do own a very unique Dorfan O-gauge set. It is set 259NE in the original set box and has an IVES 1122 loco and tender in red with Dorfan decals specifying this as engine and tender #770. The tender is equipped with a Dorfan hook coupler. It is pictured just below the IVES Prosperity Special. As far as I know, it is the only existing example of this loco/tender combination.

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

Randy Berger: I built a layout for my daughter's first Christmas in 1959 and used my two daughters and son as an excuse for many years. My current layout dates from 1970, and I keep adding accessories to it.

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

Randy Berger: Although I enjoy collecting all different types and styles of tinplate, IVES Wide gauge is my favorite.

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

Randy Berger: I'm not primarily an operator - whether the locos run or not is secondary to original paint, but I do operate an IVES #1 gauge 3239 and four steel lithograph passenger cars. I had Charlie Burt work on the motor and it performs flawlessly (at least when I keep the track clean and clear the right of way).

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

Randy Berger: That's a tough one! I suppose it would be an IVES second series #40 with the straw yellow cars. I have that train's original bill of sale dated November 22, 1909 and managed to acquire it because of the help of two friends from the TCA. One of them knew of the train and directed the seller to me and the other one loaned me the money because I was short of funds at that crucial time. I am reminded of those friendships every time I look at that train.

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

Randy Berger: These are some tough questions. I would have to say the elusive IVES short-cab 3245 passenger set.

Tinplate Times: Are you still adding to your collection?

Randy Berger: Yes I am, although the items I want/need are very scarce and rare models. The search is half the fun. Sharing your finds with your friends is the other half.

Tinplate Times: Where do you find interesting new trains?

Randy Berger: I go to auctions, attend York, try to get to local train meets, read the want ads and prowl the internet. I've also been known to tell every new acquaintance that collecting old toy trains is my favorite hobby - with occasional success.

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

Randy Berger: The Eastern Division meet at York is a natural favorite. Not only do scarce items turn up, but it is also the one venue where I get to renew friendships with collectors from all over the country.

Tinplate Times: Do you buy and sell on EBAY? How do you feel about online trading of toy trains?

Randy Berger: I have sold only one item on EBAY just to see how everything worked. I do buy many items there and feel that a lot of trains have come into collectors' hands because of online trading. I bought a scarce Dorfan O-gauge set in the original box from a small antique dealer located in a remote spot in Northern California. I would never have run across it otherwise. The Internet has been mostly a blessing.

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

Randy Berger: The history and the wonderful toys created by so many manufacturers. To chronicle their progress and appreciate all the innovations and techniques parallels the progress of the twentieth century. Come to think of it, I guess I like old cars for the same reason.

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

Randy Berger: I hear a lot of doom and gloom and maybe I'm out of the main stream, but these toy trains hold a special place with many of us and I plan on being around a while yet. If a child is exposed to toy trains, he or she will enjoy them. The thrill of building something and watching it spring to life under your control will hook a lot of new enthusiasts. There's nothing like putting your face close to the track and have the loco churn by, generating that wonderful smell of ozone.

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

Randy Berger: Definitely, for the reasons given above, and as items survive and become old they gain in value. The U.S. is a great country of collectors. I won't be here, but the trains I have documented and helped preserve will still fascinate and educate many future generations. I believe there are more collectors of Voltamp and early Lionel, IVES and Dorfan than there were twenty or thirty years ago, and probably they are not trying to buy something they couldn't have as kids. Most of them weren't even born when those brands were popular. The toys of yesteryear that are still in original condition will always hold a special place for future collectors.

Tinplate Times: Randy, do you have any final comments?

Randy Berger: One of the things I enjoy is making my own Christmas cards every year. I've been doing that since 1984. I try to come up with a little different card every year. The card list grows a little each year by adding those people who take the time to stop and talk trains. They give me their time and share their knowledge and my way of saying thank you is adding them to the list. The list really should be longer than it is. I sent along a picture of one of my cards that has a lineup of observation cars. On top of one car is the Lionel boy always pictured with his right hand on a 42 loco and his left on an observation. Close inspection reveals a different lad, but with just as big a smile. I have spoken several times of the friendships made and valued over the last forty plus years. I guess after all is said and done, that has been this hobby's greatest gift to me. Now, enough of this sentimental claptrap - do you have a short-cab 3245 and what do you want for it?

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