model train set on track

MTH’s Meteoric Rise To Success

e*Train Issue: Apr 2002   |   Posted in:

by Stirling Woodin

So I got to thinking (don’t worry, it doesn’t happen too often), how in the heck did a guy from Maryland get to be a major force in the toy train industry in 10+ short years?

My opinions follow:

Example #1: MTH starts making O gauge trains that run very well, look great, and are priced so that the average Joe can afford them.

Example #2: MTH brought out a line of train accessories that not only LOOKED exactly like Lionel accessories, but actually carried the same part numbers as the Lionel accessories that they were based on. Kudos to MTH for realizing that there was a market for all of those Pre and Post war accessories that Lionel had let languish. And, even more astonishingly, Lionel had let the mechanical patents run out! Shamey, shamey, shamey.

Example #3: MTH’s smoking locomotives actually smoke enough that you don’t have to have the unit standing with a black background behind them, with the lighting just right, and then maybe you could see a hint of smoke.

Example #4: MTH is run by a train nut, Mike Wolf, who started fixing trains professionally at the tender age of 12, and has since gone on to … well, you know the rest. Lionel was being run by a train nut, namely Richard Kughn, but just when things started getting interesting for Lionel LTI, King Richard goes and sells the company to a bunch of faceless, (with the exception of Neil Young,) investment bankers, who promptly install as president a former silverware salesman, Gary Morreau, whose primary focus for Lionel was licensing the name to every cheapo midnight TV ad huckster to put the name on everything from clocks to toilet tissue!

Gary gets the ax soon after making the statement that “Lionel isn’t for everybody” (we already knew that as evidenced by the lame catalog offerings, the Heritage non discount program, and the total lack of new product; can you say another F unit and several more GP’s?).

In comes Dick Maddox, whose main function, as far as I can tell, was to eliminate Lionel’s stateside union workforce, and move production “offshore”, as Asian manufacturing is euphemistically called. (What I found hilarious was when Dick Maddox and company were at the LOTS convention in Baltimore last year and took a ride in one of the B&O museum’s diesel locomotives. Maddox comes back and is like a kid, saying to anyone who’ll listen, that he had NEVER BEFORE been in the cab of a real locomotive, this after being in the model and toy train business for 30+ years. Astonishing! Nothing like being intimately familiar with the thing that you are making models of, I always say).

Maddox’s hatchet work being done, Wellsprings bring in Bill Bracy as president, another non-train enthusiast to head up the company. If Mr. Bracy’s long winded and bore-me-to-tears speech at the AOL banquet last year is any indication of his enthusiasm for toy trains, Lionel is in deep kimchee.

Example #5: MTH has two separate train lines; Premier Line, aimed squarely at the modern train operator/collector, and features excruciating detail, scale dimensions, and a host of paint schemes and names of fallen flags and current prototype train companies to choose from. And then they bring out complementary cabeese (?) to match the locomotives. What a revolutionary concept! I buy a Lionel C-420 in Lehigh Valley paint, and then have to go buy a K-Line caboose to match it. Duh?!

RailKing line of MTH trains is more in line with the tinplate traditions, and captures the look of the old Lionel amazingly well. Scaled down proportions that can operate on 027 track, stubby cars that capture the feel of post war Lionel to a tee, and are priced so that the average trainhead can get several cars and accessories for the same price as one Lionel locomotive.

MTH, along with Atlas O, K-Line, and Weaver, have been paying attention to the rapidly changing O gauge train world, have brought out innovative equipment, at affordable prices, and are constantly improving their quality and variety.

We are starting to see those innovations from the previously undisputed king of O gauge trains, but, as one prominent manufacturer in my field of employment once said, “It’s a big ship and it takes many hands to turn the wheel. I just hope we can get the thing on the right course before we hit an iceberg.”