Lionel Train Auction Draws Bidders from Across U.S.

NORTH LIMA, Ohio – David Scopellite has been collecting trains for 40 years. The Ellwood City, Pa. resident remembers when his father bought him his first model, which he played with frequently as a child.

As he got older, Scopellite would advertise in local newspapers about train models he was seeking and attended auctions to build his collection. To date, he’s invested some $75,000 into his collection, amassing 20,000 pieces, particularly the post-war trains from his childhood, he said.

“I always wanted things that we couldn’t afford, so when I became an adult, I said, now it’s my turn and I’m buying everything that I wanted when I was a kid that I don’t have now, and I don’t care what I have to pay for it,” Scopellite said.

Scopellite may add more from the collection of the late Ronald Rapp, whose collection of Lionel model trains is currently being auctioned online. Scopellite attended a viewing of the collection Monday afternoon at Basinger Auction Service, 9983 Market St. Basinger is handling the auction, for which bidding ends at 6:30 p.m. today.

The $50,000 worth of inventory that’s being auctioned includes 2,500 pieces that are old and new, said J. Paul Basinger, owner of Basinger Auction Service. Featured items include a Norfolk and Western 746 model with a stripe running from the nose to the tender of the train, and a LGB Wilson Bros. Circus train set that is brand new and has never run.

“Whatever they’re worth is based on condition and the market conditions,” Basinger said. “There are people who are still collecting, so we felt that was a fair value to put on the contents.”

What makes Rapp’s collection special to Basinger is the fact that he knew the owner, he said. His family’s farm was next to the Rapp family farm. Growing up, he and Rapp would pick potatoes together and would trade labor back and forth, he said.

Even Basinger’s son, Jay, sales manager for the auction company, recalls asking Rapp to play with the trains when he was younger.

“If you would ask, ‘Mr. Rapp, can we go play with the trains?’ he would say, ‘Sure,’ ” Jay Basinger recalled. “He would go down in the basement, put on his engineer’s cap and he fire up some switches. You’d see the little boy in him come out.”

Jay and Paul Basinger were family friends of the late Ronald Rapp.

Trains embody an entire genre of romance and commerce, and it was how people got around back in the day, said Jay Basinger. That’s why collectors gravitate to the hobby, he said.

Collections like Scopellite’s and Rapp’s are not about monetary value, but about play value, Scopellite added. If people are into it to make money, they’re not going to do it. But if they’re in it because they love it, that’s what it’s all about, he said.

Basinger train auction

“My collection has probably, in the last 20 years, dropped 50% in value,” Scopellite said. “I don’t care. I just enjoy playing with them. So that’s the difference between a collector and somebody who wants to make money.”

Collectors are either looking for something they don’t have or something in better condition, Scopellite said. There were a few pieces in Rapp’s collection that Scopellite does not own, he said, but it’s not imperative that he has them. In the next three to five years, he plans to have a layout built.

The first preview of Rapp’s collection drew about 100 people, Paul Basinger said, and he expected another 50 to 60 for Monday’s viewing. Some 9,000 bidders are already registered and he expects as many as 2,000 will participate in the auction by the time it’s finished, he said.

Over the years, Basinger has done quite a few model train auctions, he said. Most recently, an auction for another collector of model trains was conducted for Anthony Romano, who was president of the Youngstown Model Railroad Association, he said. The auction brought in $30,000.

David Scopellite came from Ellwood City to view the Rapp collection.

Bidders come from anywhere in the United States, he said. And with online bidding, buyers can come from any country as well. In previous auctions, the company has shipped sterling silver to Singapore and a Schwinn Bike to Japan, he said.

“There’s maybe 20 other guys in this general area who have collections just as large and it’s something they grew up with and it was one of those hobbies that was handed to them by their dad or they just picked it up,” Basinger said.

Rapp was always an avid collector and a supporter of his community, Basinger said. The long-time North Lima resident owned a number of Dairy Queen restaurants. In addition to trains, he collected cars and firearms.

The market is still somewhat strong when it comes to collectibles, but the younger generations have not taken an interest in collecting, he said. According to Basinger’s website, the Rapp train collection is the company’s largest Lionel train auction ever.

“It’s one of those things that I’m happy to be able to be selling,” Basinger said. “That’s a privilege and it’s a part of what we do. We sell coins, cars, antiques, furniture, artwork and this is just one of those niche markets.”

Copyright 2023 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.