MTH's Meteoric Rise To Success
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
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.
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."