Q. Could you tell me where I might be able to sell my 1950s vintage Lionel model trains?
-- L.K., of Fairview Heights
A. Normally, I steer clear of pocketbook issues (especially when it's not my pocketbook), but your question elicited so many childhood memories, I couldn't help but try to put you on the right track.
This, of course, was the time of year my family would have the traditional train running around our Christmas tree. We had a sizable train board in the basement, but we always kept a few extra pieces of track for a small layout upstairs that Santa could play with for a few minutes when he made his annual visit. When I was about 8, I remember replacing our tarnished, black 1940s-era locomotive with my new, powerful red-and-white Texas Special diesel that Santa left that year.
Your question also gave me a chance to catch up with a Belleville man who has extensive knowledge of Lionel trains -- and who just happened to be good friends with my brother during their young saxophone-playing days decades ago. Besides, if you can't trust a guy who strings 40,000 Christmas lights around his Belleville neighborhood, whom can you trust?
Tom Germann likes to joke that he has been collecting trains since he was 6 months old. At least, that's how old he was when his parents bought a set in 1946 for his first Christmas. But it must have made a lasting impression because the former New Athens High School math and science teacher got back into the hobby in a big way about 1980 and still loves it.
He says he'd be happy to talk with you about your old treasures, but, in general, trains are like comics, baseball cards and just about anything else: Value depends on their rarity, demand and condition.
Some might be worth $100 while others could fetch several thousand. Germann remembers a 1957 pastel pink train set for girls, still sealed in its box, that brought its lucky owner $20,000 about 10 years ago. I will send you Germann's personal information so you can see if you might have any similar gems in your collection.
Also, after years of seeing this sign every time I drive past his house, I can finally put my powers of observation to good use: You might also call model railroad aficionado John Schmierbach at 233-2758. Starting in about 1990, Schmierbach set up hundreds of feet of track in his house at 3218 Frank Scott Parkway West, which he has opened for public viewing occasionally over the years. Now, he has a yard sign offering to buy and sell trains.
In the meantime, you might drive by Germann's house at 53 Dianne Drive to get into the holiday spirit. Always one of the area's must-sees, it's Germann's 48th annual Christmas display complete with lights affixed to painted plywood placards depicting holiday scenes.
However, this year's display is probably a bit bittersweet for the 66-year-old Germann after his sister, Suzan Clark, who lived next door, died last month.
In 2004, she married Bob Clark, who, while living on Ednick Drive, had a friendly feud with Germann over who could set up the most elaborate holiday contest display. It took eight years, but Germann finally beat Clark for the $125 top prize in 1972. It would be the last such contest sponsored by the Belleville Jaycees and Illinois Power after the energy crisis in 1973.
So by the time the Clarks moved next door in 2004, they were ready to let Germann work two months on decorating both houses. And, last year, he even started arranging lights down the street at his nephew's home.
A few last thoughts to choo-choo on: Bill Davis, web master of the Metro East Model Railroad Club, says you also might consider going to www.lionelcollectors.org, which, in turn, suggests model train price guides by Kalmbach and TM Books and Videos. You might also try a hobby store such as Switch Stand Train Shop at 9120 Lackland Road in St. Louis (314-733-1029).
Q. I'd like to buy some Lady Esther Face Cream in a store rather than on the Internet. Any chance?
-- J.E., of Belleville
Good luck, I was told by a customer representative at Lee Pharmaceuticals, in South El Monte, Calif., which handles Lady Esther in the United States. Lee sells the product through various wholesalers so they have no idea which stores might carry it.
You could ask stores if they could special-order it for you if they do not stock it. But from the prices I find on the Internet, you might be better off ordering directly from Lee. They offer a 7.5-ounce jar for $25 plus shipping, almost twice as much as the $20 4-ounce jars I see. You'll find it at leepharmaceuticals.com or call customer service at 800-950-5337 and press "1."
Or, wait a few days to see if any of my Answer Man elves have seen it in any area stores.
On Sunday, the St. Louis Rams' Steven Jackson joined the NFL's club of 10,000-yard rushers. Who was the group's founding member?
Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or firstname.lastname@example.org