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Designing a Model Trains Inventory


Whether you consider yourself a collector or just have fun playing with trains, it is a good idea to keep an inventory of your model trains. A good inventory is a valuable asset to help track the value, location and composition of your collection. It can save money by preventing duplicate purchases. Hopefully you'll never need to file an insurance claim, but an inventory will be important if you do.

An inventory can be as detailed or as basic as you want. You probably don't need to account for every piece of track, figure and push button on your railroad. On the other hand, if you only collect electric trains from the 1930s, then every piece takes on more collectable and monetary value. You can start easily by creating a spreadsheet in Excel or similar software that is probably already on your computer.

Set Up

Each line of your spreadsheet will represent a unique piece of your collection. Use columns to identify, locate, value and describe each piece as necessary for your needs. You can group everything on one page, but if you have a large or diverse collection it may be easier to create separate inventory pages tailored for locomotives, cars, accessories, books, etc.

Identifying a unique piece may require more than one column. Sample identifiers include:

  • Type - box car, hopper, etc.
  • Roadname / Reporting Marks - Union Pacific / UP
  • Road Number - railroad identifying number painted on car
  • Part Number - model manufacturer number
  • Manufacturer

If your collection is stored in multiple locations or even boxes, it can be helpful to add a column for a quick finding aid. If your trains travel to a local club or friend's railroad, note this as well.

Monetary value can be assigned in a variety of ways, and you may want to use more than one column. Determining fair market value may be the most difficult to pinpoint and will change over time but is probably best for insurance purposes.

  • List Price
  • Purchase Price
  • Fair Market Value

Fair market value will be affected by condition. A simple descriptive column (excellent/very good/poor) is often sufficient. More detailed descriptions may be in order for highly collectible or valuable items.

A general Notes column for adding additional descriptive information is always a good idea. It's a good idea to record modifications that impact value or help identify a specific piece such as weathering, extra details, or custom paint.

Special Categories
Inventories can also be used to track progress on large projects. If you are converting to DCC or a different type of coupler, a column for these items can help you keep track of the process. Collectors may want to include a column for original packaging materials.

Photograph every piece in the inventory. Photos should be simple, show the object clearly and support the written descriptors. A basic digital camera is all that is needed. Thumbnails can be included in the inventory itself, or images can be filed separately and linked to the inventory by file number.

Digital data is among the least stable archival forms, so you should print a copy of your inventory, including photos, and store it in a safe location. You may even want to consider keeping a second copy at another safe location away from the house for insurance. A print copy (perhaps condensed to just the identifying columns) is also a handy tool to carry to shows when shopping.

Reprint the inventory regularly or as you make significant updates.

Keeping track of your collection doesn't need to be a time-consuming project. It only takes a few seconds to open the file and add a line. Start when the collection is small and you can probably complete the inventory in an evening or two. As your collection grows and diversifies, you can add additional columns. Keep it up and you'll find the inventory is one of the best modeling tools you don't put on a workbench.

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