So you've decided to jump into the hobby by purchasing a horn! Let me start by saying that you can't purchase horns directly from me - I have none for sale, and wouldn't post to this page if I did have any for sale - sorry! Also, don't e-mail me asking if I have any suggestions where to purchase horns, as I will only direct you back to this page. Last, I am not affiliated with eBay or any of its sellers, or with any third party sellers or dealers. I take no responsibility for any problems that may result from the suggestions on this page - they are posted as a reference only.
That being said, considering that I have a page dedicated to how to acquire a set of train horns, you may think that I have many other suggestions for you. However, I unfortunately can't cater to this, either. Train horns are railroad-specific items, and as such do not appear in many common marketplaces. Therefore, used horns tend to be just about the only horns found in collectors' hands.
I hope I didn't just discourage anyone - please read on, as there really is good information here to get you started!
When I first started collecting horns, the only real option open to me was eBay, which is still an option as noted below, as I didn't really have a clue how to even get started. Thankfully after I started learning about horns, I stumbled across the greater horn collecting community, which at that time was primarily through Yahoo groups (as noted below) and the Horn and Whistle journal (which are both still today excellent mediums, both of which I recommend joining!). Today, though, there are even more opportunities to get involved in the community if you are even a little computer savvy. There are at least two message boards that are set up for the horn collecting community, one dedicated solely to horns, the other being more of a general sound signaling board. These two the Locomotive Air Horns board and Adam's awesome Horn/Whistle Board. Both of these two sites have a for-sale and wanted section which get heavy use. I highly recommend both sites, and not just for the horn purchase potential!
By far, the most common place to find horns is eBay. Almost always, there will be at least a few horns up for auction at any given time. I've seen some days where there are well over a dozen or so horns up for auction! The most common horns that appear tend to be those that are still in active service, such as Nathan Ks and Ps, and Leslie SuperTyfons, though older and rarer horns do show up on occasion. The prices may not always be the best, but in general, it seems that eBay has reset the value of a train horn, and so, depending on the auction, you may not do much better outside of eBay.
As with any purchase, research prior to your purchase is invaluable. With the online community, this holds especially true, since you will most likely never meet the seller face-to-face, and you will not see your purchased item until after you've paid for it. I recommend watching horn prices and models on eBay for awhile before considering a purchase, so that you can see what horns tend to bring, and when a horn starts reaching into the overpriced range. For instance, I've seen K5LAs go for well over $1000, even more than they cost new from Nathan! You also need to research the seller. Feedback is about the only form of credibility on eBay, and so examine it as best you can to make a decision for yourself if the seller is telling you the truth or not. When you feel ready, go ahead and place a bid you feel comfortable with. Don't get discouraged if you don't win - more auctions are always being posted!
Direct From Nathan / AirChime
Around 2009, AirChime was acquired by the Micro Precision Group. At this time, Micro Precision started offering horns and parts for sale on their web site. This represents the first time that locomotive horns have been accessible to virtually anyone. It also provides a venue for repair parts for the K and P series horns, also difficult to find prior. Prices are higher than used models, but that's to be expected given you are getting factory fresh horns. I urge you to check them out at their online store!
As alternatives to eBay, there are a few other ways to acquire horns. First, if you know anyone working for a railroad repair facility, you may be able to check with them to see if they are getting rid of any horns. Many railroads do not bother repairing old horns, but replace them when they go bad instead. I've found that the best approach is to be honest, and say why you are interested in the horn. Then, offer a fair amount for the horn. If the railroad is getting rid of the horn, take this into consideration, as it will probably not be worth as much to them as it will be to you. Above all, don't be annoying and don't pester - it only puts you into the "foamer" category of railfans, virtually eliminating any possibility of working out a deal.
Be aware that though I've worked out deals with a couple of railroads, they are not common. However, they are well worth the time to try! For instance, I've acquired an RS-3LR from Conrail for free, as the mechanic said it was broken and didn't want it. A friend working with Conrail was in the right place at the right time, and picked it up for me since he knew I collected horns. It turns out that all it needed was a good cleaning and three new gaskets.
Another option for purchasing a horn is at a railroad scrapyard. On occasion, a locomotive with horn still attached will arrive at a scapper, and you may be able to work out a deal for the horn. The same ideas as above hold true. Again, these are not common, though I have heard some wonderful success stories.
One last way to acquire horns is from other collectors. I would strongly suggest that if you are interested in this hobby that you consider joining either the Horn/Whistle or TrainHorns Yahoo group, or both. The Horn and Whistle journal is also a great way to learn more about the hobby! These groups represent an invaluable wealth of information, and a pile of great people involved in the hobby. The Yahoo groups are another easy way to start communicating with other collectors, and to start really getting into this hobby. The bonus is that horns are occasionally offered for sale through these groups as well.
Happy horn hunting!
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