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Tinplate Times Profile: Rob English

Tinplate Times: Rob, please tell us about yourself and your background.

Rob English: I was born in Charlotte, NC. We moved a lot when I was young and we lived in Atlanta, GA, in Summit, NJ, Pensacola, FL, and 2 places in New York. We moved to St. Louis, MO in 1976 and this has been home since (with the exception of college and 2 job moves.) I have been married to Kathie since 1999 (10 years!) and we have 2 boys: Cade, age 7, and Owen, age 5. Both boys are avid postwar and modern operators, having experience with TMCC and Legacy. The boys started operating the main layout at age 2!...Ok, with supervision.

Owen and Cade

I have been employed since 1988 in the industrial insulation industry, currently Director of Sales for a major manufacturer serving the industry since 1937. I trained as a Aerospace Maintenance Manager at Parks College, which is big in aviation. I moved into insulation when the major cutbacks in military and civilian aviation occurred 20 years ago.

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

Rob English: I collected Structo trucks for a while. My memories of youth included these trucks, Dinky, Matchbox and Hot Wheel Red Line Cars, GI Joes... and of course Lionel MPC. I have also been a fan of Muscle cars and WWII war birds, but can afford neither at the moment. I still collect Dinkys and have about 60 of these cars and trucks.

Tinplate Times: Tell us about your toy train affiliations.

Rob English: I have been a member of the TCA and the St. Louis Lionel Railroader Club since 1996... and continue my membership in the LCCA.

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

Rob English: I worked with David Doyle on his Lionel Pre-War, Modern Era, and American Flyer Catalogs. These books are a great photographic reference work for new collectors. No other official publishing, but I like to be active in the Tinplate sections of a couple internet forums.

Tinplate Times: What was your first toy train set?

Rob English: My first set was a Sears 2-4-2 set with cheap MPC cars and a blue transformer. My mom donated it to goodwill years ago, and I have been trying to find a replacement ever since. I haven’t seen a reference to those sets... hmmm maybe a research project??? In '70 or '71 I got a B&M GP for christmas, a real highlight!

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

Rob English: I do have a layout under construction, but, it is a 3RS (3 rail scale) type, what used to be described as a Hi Rail layout ala Phil Klopp, Herb Lindsey or Joe Youngblood. It is a huge undertaking (48 x 28 feet) and allows for a lot of opportunities for enjoyment. This makes sense in that I got back into train collecting/operating in 1993. I started then with the modern trains with digital sound and TMCC... I have a small layout built for the boys to operate when I am traveling, and will convert that to tinplate when they eventually lose interest in running their postwar and modern equipment. We also construct a small layout for the Thanksgiving to Christmas holiday time.

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

Rob English: I have had a layout since 1970 minus 12 years for the usual distractions.

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

Rob English: I collect primarily 0 and Standard Gauge classic period Tinplate now, and continue to grow my American Flyer Wide Gauge collection, which is also Classic Period.

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

Rob English: I run a lot of Classic Period 0 gauge. I have run them on all three layouts for a change in “scenery”. I also enjoy running Modern passenger sets like the just released 20th Century by Golden Gate Depot. On occasion,the boys and I get the hankering for some Wide Gauge and we will do a temporary loop on the floor and overwhelm the house with OZONE!

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

Rob English: “Keep only one?” That's a tough question for me as I have so many types that I enjoy. For tinplate I would keep my recently acquired Märklin Commodore Vanderbilt locomotive. To me this is the epitome of tinplate design and construction. However, for a full train it would have to be the 0 gauge freight train I put together with a 263E, several 800 and 2800 series cars with late colors and RS or Plates depending on which one is toughest.

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

Rob English: The train that I would like most to add to my collection is... well three! They are all Ives though. I covet the late AF bodied passenger cars and the Lionel bodied cars. I would be extremely happy to be the caretaker of an Ives Northern Limited, National Limited or Black Diamond set. These are the most attractive Wide gauge sets ever made in my opinion. I am attracted to a Flying Colonel by American Flyer as well.

Tinplate Times: Are you still adding to your collection?

Rob English: I will add to my collection as “long as the good lord is willing and the creek don’t rise” as they say. I am always on the prowl locally and at auction and York for new pieces to add to the collection.

Tinplate Times: Where do you find interesting new trains?

Rob English: Good pieces can be found at local meets, in antique shops, auctions, York, and through other collectors with which I have developed a relationship. Any of these provide the opportunity to add unique trains to the collection, and in fact spreading it around is a good way to see more possibilities to consider for purchase. The best of the best have come from long time collectors that were thinning their collections, however, I have found some really nice pieces at local shows too.

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

Rob English: I attend as many shows as I can squeeze in to my schedule, including York, PA at least once a year. I enjoy many shows for differing reasons, some because of the great selection of trains for purchase, many also just for the social aspect of seeing friends and fellow collectors.

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

Rob English: I have never traded on Ebay. I generally want to look at the pieces I am buying much closer than a picture or two. If it is a hard piece or truly a rare one, I can usually track down where it comes from anyway. I do use on line forum-based trading boards for certain things and have bought and sold on these. I do absentee bid at some auctions sites as well. On line is a double-edged sword in my opinion. On one hand it provides an opportunity for those that don’t see too many local shows and cannot afford to travel to regional or national shows. However, there are any number of ways to be taken advantage of, and a good understanding of how things work as well as an education in trains themselves is a must. I recover badly when treated inequitably by on line traders. I don’t appreciate those that seek advantage on the backs of others in any form. The fact that we have to follow Caveat Emptor is a real shame.

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

Rob English: I love tinplate trains for their simplicity and ruggedness of design, bright colors, and ozone generating capacity. They may not have sound and digital control, but they do have a “presence” and ALWAYS bring a smile to visitor’s faces. The Wide Gauge effect is really something, and will stop even the most experienced collector in their tracks. Just watch the folks surrounding the SGMA layout if you can tear your eyes off the trains for a minute.

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

Rob English: The future is bright. Tinplate Traditions and Lionel Corporate Tinplate trains are affordable, beautifully done reproductions that are re-introducing tin to a newer generation. The Standard Gauge Module Association (SGMA) display layouts are generating tons of interest, I also see new forum posters with some frequency on tinplate forums. The trains are the star of the show, and their rugged, colorful simplicity hearkens back to a simpler time without all the hand held controllers and computers and day to day stress. Don’t get me wrong, I very much enjoy running modern trains with Legacy and TMCC ( I am sure DCS is just as much fun), but oft-times it sure is nice just to hear the hiss of steel wheels on steel rails, and the tinplate rumble with all the little noises that the cars make.

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

Rob English: Very simply...yes, for the aforementioned reasons. Tinplate trains are a form of industrial art, that many can enjoy with appeal to those from the depression era to a huge number of the very young (with thanks to Thomas the Tank engine).

Tinplate Times: Do you have any final comments, Rob?

Rob English: Collecting tinplate is a blast. A most enjoyable part is learning about the toys and their history. David Doyle’s books, Greenberg Series books, catalogs from the manufacturers, and classic books from Louis Hertz and others make for enjoyable reading and tools for learning what this is all about. There are a number of facets that people enjoy: from the hunt, to restoration, operating, to researching, to paper collecting. Go see a SGMA modular layout sometime, or go to a local show. Talk to the guy with the overpriced trains on his table rather than haggle with him, you may just learn something!

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