model train set on track

Review: MTH Greatest Layouts II

e*Train Issue: Apr 2002   |   Posted in:

by Don Grabski Should I review the video and quality thereof, or the content?

Quite a dilemma I got myself into. Actually, the video quality is without equal. It will be difficult to cover all aspects in this short review.

I had the privilege of reviewing the first MTH Video done by TM Books namely Tom McComas and Joe Stachler. These gentlemen are, without a doubt, the foremost videographers in the model train industry. Having worked in Hollywood in the technical end of sound and video, I feel I am qualified to make a comment, or two on the technical aspects of this video.

The lighting, which affects everything from accurate color rendition to good depth of field, is Oscar class. My color monitor has been calibrated for true color display. The color rendition is superb. I was able to color match objects on the screen with items, (boxcars), I held in my hand. The detail and focus are sharp and clear from the opening scene to the closing credits.

One minor flaw (and it could have been my VCR) was in the scene showing John Shankland without gray or white in either his hair or beard. Now, John is nearly my age, and most of you have seen my photo on my website and various other publications. Lot’s of gray and white. Come on John, fess up, it couldn’t be my VCR. John is widely known in Hi Rail circles and we applaud him for his expertise. The layouts that are the subject of this video are definitely in the “Master Modeler” class.

The video opens with a Burlington F3 Diesel coming straight towards you as another Burlington E3 roars past using what sounds like the Doppler effect of the MTH DCS system. It is a quite spectacular opening scene.

Take note of John Shankland’s scratch built signal bridge. When you build them yourself, you can design them to any height needed for your consists or terrain.

It is important to note here the narrator’s short, but pointed dissertation on “running trains mindlessly about with no thought or real RR operation.” John wants to bridge the gap with scale modelers. This will be a subject of much debate and controversy. Knowing model railroaders as I do, we are very passionate in our views and feelings about how we operate/collect and display our trains.

This review is not involved in this debate and it is only mentioned here because of the uniqueness of incorporating the subject in this video. John points out the “fun” of simulating real RR operation.

There is much depictation and discussion of the “how to” aspects of Hi Railing, with the aspects of prototypical operation being emphasized. Overall, John’s layout is one of those “Dream Layouts.” TM Books captured the real “flavor” of John’s layout, from the scenery to trains operating in all their glory. I am in awe of this Hi Rail layout; lots of “tips & tricks.”

John’s layout is computer controlled and fully signaled which of course aids in the real railroad simulation. Hey John, can I come over and play trains?

I like the triple headed 0-8-0 and the Erie Triplex. There are many other neat things about John’s layout, but you’ll have to purchase the video to see all of them.

The video is divided into two main sections. The first half is as reviewed above. The second is about a “custom built” layout for Steve Scholl constructed by Carl Wilmsen of Chesterton, Indiana. Carl built a layout in the first MTH video for Richar Johnson.

Some important and very interesting items shown in this section are the operating MTH Gold Hudson Steam Engine hauling the matching Gold Passenger cars. You’ll also see a Lionel “Lift Bridge” in operation. Five trains can be operated at one time. Two RailKing Hellgate Brides are connected together in a unique fashion.

This layout shows what can be built with MTH Real Trax and designed using the MTH Track Planning Software. My all time favorite engine can be seen traveling this layout, the Southern Pacific Daylight steam engine.

This is an “All Star” MTH cast layout. Lots of operation and many unusual bridges. Carl Wilmsen has built a CLASS A layout for Steve Scholl.

To sum up: Go out and buy this video. You’ll love it! I’m told it MAY be available in the fall on DVD!