Sunday, July 14, 2013

A railroad crossing sign find !

I am back from a nice summer vacation! Although the sun occasionally hid behind the clouds, we still had plenty of beach, sun and surf.  More importantly, the family enjoyed themselves and that's what it's all about. The vacation didn't knock me off my routine however. Despite being away for most of the week, I was still able to make my garage sale rounds! I've noticed the hot summer weather has really thinned out the sales. But this didn't stop me from coming home with some of my favorite finds, including a few Lego sets, radios and some fishing gear. 

Speaking of summer, if you take a look at the calendar you might notice that the first half of the year is now behind us. Pointing out the passage of time is one of my little obsessions. For some reason I like to point out mile markers on the calendar. For example, it's important to me that every year I tune in to watch QVC's "Christmas in July" program. This is because I take some strange pleasure in noting
Hey, we're half way through the year!
that the Holidays are just five months away! (Ironically I am not the only blogger wired this way-check out latest blog-ha!) In another example, at the dinner table this week I'll probably announce that there's only six weeks of summer left. A few days ago, I pointed out to my disinterested family that because the first day of summer had past, the days were now getting shorter. Mrs. Dude finds my habit a little annoying and often warns me that I am wishing my life away! I usually respond by telling her that my weird obsession could actually be a sign that I am some sort of crazy genius! She feels I got the crazy part right, but the genius? Not so much.  But annoying or not, there's no denying we are now at the year's mid-point. That's very important to me because I started the second half of the year off with a bang.....or more appropriately......a choooo-chooooo!

Several weeks ago, I walked into my favorite little thrift store and came across what was a genuine "first" for me. Leaning against the wall was a vintage railroad crossing sign! Suffice it to say that railroad memorabilia is one of the most consistently strong markets out there. Every weekend hundreds of railroad meets are attended by collectors who passionately buy, sell and trade railroad memorabilia. For many of these railroad buffs, the classic crossing sign is often the "piece de resistance" of their personal collection!

All aboard for a great flip!
The sign I found would make any collector salivate!  It was the real deal....heavy, huge and  built to last. The four foot lengths making up the sign consisted of porcelain wrapped over steel.  The sign had a nice patina going for it too, with just enough rust and dirt to give it a seasoned look. Even better, the glass reflectors mounted in the porcelain were almost all intact. It also had one more thing going for it. Stamped on one edge of the sign was something you rarely see any more. It read,"Made in the USA".

My personal hero, Mike Wolfe of American Pickers, often likes to say that the time to buy something is when you see it. In other words, don't hesitate to buy a unique item-you just never know when you'll get the same chance again. That's how I felt about this old railroad crossing sign. How often do you find one of these things? For me the answer might be never! Gazing at this piece of railroad memorabilia, I knew I wasn't leaving the store without it. But bringing it home at the right price was another matter. Once again I would have to tangle with Dana, the thrift store's "all-business" manager.

My old pal Dana had marked the sign at $200 dollars. As is her usual practice, she researched similar signs on eBay and priced it accordingly. I also did some quick price checking on Ebay using my phone. Railroad crossing signs are surprisingly abundant on eBay, with some listed for as much as $500 dollars. Pricing depends on age, condition, style and even the type of reflectors used in the sign. For example signs with "cat eye" reflectors sell for more money then signs with clear glass reflectors. Although this sign had clear glass, I knew I could still make some decent money if I bought it for the right price.

After doing my price comparisons, I was ready to negotiate with Dana. I started the dance by asking her how long the sign had been on the sales floor? Dana was up front, informing me the sign had been out for several days starting on the weekend. Since the weekend always brings in the most shoppers, this told me Dana may have set the price too high. I tossed out my first salvo, offering $100 bucks for the big sign. Dana countered at $175, offering some mumbo-jumbo about how the sign still had its original brackets and u-bolts, thus making it more valuable. I chuckled to myself, speculating that Dana must have found an overpriced eBay listing that included u-bolts with the sign. Why else would she be throwing this bit of hardware minutia at me? After some more friendly negotiating between pros, I finally worked Dana down to $140 on the sign. Just to sweeten the deal, I even had her throw in small fifties era desk lamp that had been languishing on the store shelves for weeks. Selling the lamp should net me a twenty dollar bill, effectively bringing down my cash outlay to a very acceptable $120 dollars.

Arriving home, I propped the sign against a sturdy tree and photographed it. Hoping that collectors would go nuts over the sign, I quickly posted the monster on Craigslist with a cross-my-fingers price of $500. That dreamy number met with just one phone call from a railroad buff who asked me what I really wanted for the sign? After that first inquiry the silence was deafening, telling me my price was too high. I then dropped the price down to a more reasonable $300 then went on vacation. (In fact, it was exactly a week ago I was sitting on the beach...whoops, there I go again!)

Upon my return from vacation, I received an inquiry from a guy who wanted to buy the sign for his father. He asked me if I would consider coming down on the price further? Feeling all groovy from my week long vacation, I told this very considerate son that I'd take $275 for the sign if he picked it up that night. The son agreed and we met at a local gas station to seal the deal! His father got an awesome birthday gift and I drove away with a total profit of $135, doubling my money in the matter of a few weeks! Interesting to note, the railroad sign deal occurred exactly three days ago...dang I did it again! Anyway, it was an incredible flip, and in my crazy mind, a great way to start off the second half of the year!

I hope the second half of the year starts off great for you too! If you had any great railroad collectible flips or anything else, share your story below.


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  1. Hi Dude - No railroad flip for me - I flipped Bigfoot! I picked up a Bigfoot action figure at Goodwill for $1.49 and he just sold for $35.99!! Squatch is on his way to PA and I'm hopefully on my way to a more productive second half of the year. I took it easy the first half of the year, but really need to get listing to get selling. With the holidays coming, thank you for pointing out 5 months away, I need to get going. As always, thank you for a great post and good luck to you in the second half of the year.

  2. Jill-I am going to keep an eye out for Big Foot. Looks like he can make you some nice dough!
    Thanks for checking in and good luck to you too in the second half of the year....Dude!

  3. Great negotiating! I almost love negotiating a great deal as much as making a nice profit on the flip. Almost...:)

  4. Thanks! It's fun negotiating back and forth, isn't it? Especially when you are dealing with an opponent who enjoys it too!

    Thanks for checking in....Dude!

  5. Finally catching up on my reading. Great post! Last month, I posted about a pair of New York Railroad oil cans that we paid $5 - for both. We sold them for $100 plus shipping, for a profit of $95+. Great way to start the second half of the year and I'm sure that $135 came in handy just after the vacation!