Model Train Forum banner

1 - 20 of 21 Posts

·
Registered
Joined
·
568 Posts
Discussion Starter #1
I need some input from you long timers.

I've been in the O Scale hobby as a buyer about 7 years. Some of you know I favor MTH but have Lionel, Williams and Atlas. Some K Line etc.

I am still a bit confused by the break off point for detail especially on locomotives. I am a detail freak. I prefer detail over price.

Using MTH PS levels as an example, I am seeing little difference in detail level between PS-1 and PS-3. MOST new PS-3 "Premier" is superior in detail to "Premier" PS-1 but not appreciably.

Also I would like comments on age. I can not tell when PS-1 started, PS-2 came on and then PS-3. MTH does not have the history of Lionel.

I have mistakenly purchased some Lionel single can stuff from the late 70's. 1980's maybe. I believe from looking at Trainz auctions on ebay that PS-1 is circa 1998 to 2004? But you guys would know better.

I don't mind buying 20-24 year old nicely detailed MTH PS-1 items but don't want to overpay. Am I wrong in my assessments of detail level over the years from MTH?

I have a $2900 order with MTH so am buying new but see these nice items on ebay and am curious.

Passenger cars are a little easier for me to determine. I am not a shadow guy, and most of the MTH, Lionel and Atlas stuff is great for my purposes.

Thoughts and comments.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
462 Posts
We have similar tastes in terms of details. I have even less experience than you but I know a little bit about MTH dates.

I'm totally unfamiliar with PS1. I don't touch them.

PS2 was first offered in the 2000 Vol. 2 catalog. MTH began transitioning from 5-volt to 3-volt PS2 in 2004. There was no hard and fast cut off date for the 5v/3v transition. I think by 2006 the transition to 3-volt PS2 was complete.

PS3 appeared in the 2011 Vol. 1 catalog.

I can't speak to the level of detail over the years. I try to stay away from anything older that I can't see in person.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
8,868 Posts
Bryan, you and Beachhead and I all seem to have a similar want for really good detail. I've actually studied this and thought about it as I've bought new and used locos over the years. I do not want to claim to be an expert, but here is a summary of what I think about this topic:

But first, a caveat: I like to see crisply molded rivets, panel lines, etc., and love a loco, particularly a steamer, with lots of those 'separately added parts' for pipes,ladders and climbing handles, valves, levers, etc., along with operating cab windows and roof hatches, etc., etc. But fI am not a real stickler for prototypical accuracy: I don't really care if the loco has 53 rivets on a particular panel when the actual loco had 57, etc. - as long as they are good, crisply-molded rivets.

So, back to detail. I think over time, MTH, Lionel, and to some extent WBB have occasionally added detail to a new release of a model they have issued in the past. The best example of that is no doubt the scale NYC Hudson J or the Niagaras made by Lionel. Lionel has made a scale Hudson since 1937 or so and issued new models of the Hudson every so often since, and reissued its Niagara several times, too.
Now, not all of those "re-issues" had new, better detail or features, but over time Lionel occasionally added 'stuff' to their scale Hudson so that the most recent release is about as detailed and feature-laden as anything on the market and definately ahead of anything done twenty years earlier. MTH has done similar with locos it releases at intervals, too, such as the Santa Fe 2900 Hudson - I had one from the PS1 era and the most recent PS3, and the latter is noticeably better than the former (but its still pretty damn good!).
Thus, over the very long run one can generalize that "Usually detail on locos made recently is better than detail on those made long ago."

Point 1) But that isn't a hard and fast rule, there are exceptions, and my working assumption unless I know and can see otherwise is that a newly released version will not have more detail than past versions unless the manufacturer says it will. Usually, in the catalog, the detailed 'fine print' will say something like, "new added detail to firebox and boiler piping, and cab windows' or something like that.

Point 2: I suggest not correlating the detail (and features for that matter) with the electronics, by which I mean PS1, PS2 or PS3, or, for Lionel, so-old-it-has-no-TMCC vs. TMCC vs. Legacy, vs. Legacy-with-bluetooth. I've seen no strong evidence that Lionel or MTH or others say to themselves, "since we're improving the electronics, lets improve detail too." Frankly I think its the opposite, "We're issuing this again in Legacy, so lets give them more detail this time so they have a reason to buy the newer loco."
Instead, look at the periodic re-issues of the loco by year. Both MTH and Lionel have released versions of the same loco two or more times under their current PS3 or Legacy systems, but with different levels of detail added. I think this is the norm, not the exception.

Point 3: I avoid PS1 locos whenever I can because of problems with the electronics and because PS1 sound is generally not as good as more modern locos, not because detail may not be good. But I have several old PS1 locos that I have purely as shelf queens that have particularly good detail. One example is the original PS1 UP coal turbine. Mine does run, and I got a bargain on it when I bought it because the PS1 electronics had fritzed. But it is a nicely detailed model and serve that purpose well for years.
Similarly i avoid early TMCC locos if I can because they don't run as well in conventional (what i run) as legacy.

Point 4: From personal observation, I have noted that manufacturers almost never remove detail in later issues - but this does happen. I can't recall who and what now but one steamer issued in circa 2008 had an operating cab roof hatch that was, on the updated latest 2018 release I bought, cast in place rather than a separately applied moving piece as in the one I had from around 2008.

Point 5: Finally, again from personal observation, I think that detail varies alot between different model locos more than between say, PS2 and PS3, or between those issued in 2008 and 2018. Some locos just are detailed, others less so, and the manufacturer seems to be happy to leave it so or only improve it a bit when they re-issue it. An example is MTH's Santa Fe 3460 series Hudsons. The latest issue, in PS3, from maybe 4 years ago, is extraordinarily detailed, matching anytying I have seen 3rd Rail make. I understand that its really only the same level of detail on an older PS2 version - that loco has apparently always been made with really good detail several time in that last 20 years. On the other end of the scale, Lionel's perinnial 0-4-0 A5 has "barely adequate" detail in my opinion and apparently has had that same level of detail since it was first made.

Paying doo attention to photos on the internet can help you identify locos that will be detaied. But going to train shows, or the club meets, and paying attention or asking when you see a particularly good looking loco is the way to find out who made what, when.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
3,081 Posts
MTH has pretty much stuck to the same casting on most all of their steam. PS1 can usually be identified by the bright handrails. PS2 and later pretty much got black handrails. Mid to late 2000s they added cab curtains and when the wireless tethers came along with late PS2 they were able to add cab deck plates since the big tether loop was gone.
If you can do your own upgrades, Premier PS1 steam can be a great deal. Most all feature big Pittman motors including 2-8-2s, 4-6-2s, and 0-8-0s where Lionel is still using little Mabuchi 385s.

Regarding Lionel's Hudsons The J1s which include all three 700Es and the Pullmor Hudsons have not changed much in the detail department going back to 1937. The new J3a shares its detail with the TMCC J3s from the early 2000s. Lionel didn't really add anything to them. J3s by design had more visible plumbing.

Pete
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
898 Posts
MTH has pretty much stuck to the same casting on most all of their steam. PS1 can usually be identified by the bright handrails. PS2 and later pretty much got black handrails. Mid to late 2000s they added cab curtains and when the wireless tethers came along with late PS2 they were able to add cab deck plates since the big tether loop was gone.
If you can do your own upgrades, Premier PS1 steam can be a great deal. Most all feature big Pittman motors including 2-8-2s, 4-6-2s, and 0-8-0s where Lionel is still using little Mabuchi 385s.

Regarding Lionel's Hudsons The J1s which include all three 700Es and the Pullmor Hudsons have not changed much in the detail department going back to 1937. The new J3a shares its detail with the TMCC J3s from the early 2000s. Lionel didn't really add anything to them. J3s by design had more visible plumbing.

Pete
I don't know if I qualify as a long/old timer still less as a "lifer" but I have been around long enough to know that (1) MTH have not updated their castings or applied details much, and in many cases not at all, for years and (2) Lionel have "recycled" some of their better products (AC-12 cab forward is an example) with few changes other than in smoke output and Legacy electronics. Overall, and having regard to the fact that there is new tooling for some of the VL GS series engines, IMHO and FWIW, Lionel has done more to enhance the detail level than MTH.

It might not be relevant but unless I have missed something no one has mentioned 3rd Rail Sunset models, which are the best for pure detail in 3 rail O gauge. Their products lack the play value of PS2/3 or Legacy but the models are beautifully detailed. These come up on auction sites very regularly. The price point usually compares with new MTH Premier engines or higher end Legacy. If you are mainly interested in admiring a nicely detailed model then there's a lot to be said for 3rd Rail.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
3,081 Posts
One thing about MTH is their level of detail going back to the first PS2 models was already way ahead of Lionel. Bell and whistle pulls, pilot air hoses, coupler lift chains. Lionel has only recently added some of this. My upgrades are largely based on what MTH has been doing for decades but Lionel still hasn't caught up.
BTW their new NYC J3a still has the wrong headlight not to mention the class light fiasco.
True, some Lionel engines do have better detail than MTH. The UP Big Boys, Challengers and FEFs for example. Close but Lionel has the edge.

Pete
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
8,868 Posts
It might not be relevant but unless I have missed something no one has mentioned 3rd Rail Sunset models, which are the best for pure detail in 3 rail O gauge. Their products lack the play value of PS2/3 or Legacy but the models are beautifully detailed. These come up on auction sites very regularly. The price point usually compares with new MTH Premier engines or higher end Legacy. If you are mainly interested in admiring a nicely detailed model then there's a lot to be said for 3rd Rail.
I agree complketely, 3rd Rail locos are very nicely detailed. But the 3rd Rail locos I have now, or have had, never ran as well as MTH or Lionel. Only the Train of Tomorrow E7A, of nine 3rd-rail locos I have had, really ran nicely. The others were essentialy pure shelf queens bought just to put on my display shelves.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
898 Posts
I agree complketely, 3rd Rail locos are very nicely detailed. But the 3rd Rail locos I have now, or have had, never ran as well as MTH or Lionel. Only the Train of Tomorrow E7A, of nine 3rd-rail locos I have had, really ran nicely. The others were essentialy pure shelf queens bought just to put on my display shelves.
As far as I have seen from opening my 3rd Rail diesels and a couple of steamers, they do have a different motor/drive system than you see with Lionel/MTH. Even without Legacy, slow speed control is amazing and MTH is not a patch on that.

Someone I bought an older 3rd Rail Pennsy steamer from remarked that he'd had no difficulty with any 3rd Rail engine apart from cosmetic issues, all of which he dealt with himself. I have not been quite that lucky as a couple of mine have had to go back for repairs - but Scott Mann stands behind his products if you ask him for help.

All that said, it depends on how much you value detail or having a model that the major importers will not make. Case in point is the Jawn Henry steam turbine, which is beautiful to behold and mine runs like a top.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
3,081 Posts
I also have had only cosmetic issues with 3rd Rail engines. Not counting the funky operation of their older engines equipped with TAS electronics. Everything purchased in the last 8 or so years have been trouble free.

Pete
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
4,379 Posts
I don’t think this answers Bryan questions, but his thread made me think about the first time I was wowed by detail. It was back in the early to mid 90s, I think. I was running PW and MPC Lionel stuff at the time. Browsing through Henning’s, I saw some MTH locos and was amazed at the detail. Didn’t want to spend the bucks at the time so I didn’t get anything, but never forgot it.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
2,112 Posts
....

Point 2: I suggest not correlating the detail (and features for that matter) with the electronics, by which I mean PS1, PS2 or PS3, or, for Lionel, so-old-it-has-no-TMCC vs. TMCC vs. Legacy, vs. Legacy-with-bluetooth. I've seen no strong evidence that Lionel or MTH or others say to themselves, "since we're improving the electronics, lets improve detail too." Frankly I think its the opposite, "We're issuing this again in Legacy, so lets give them more detail this time so they have a reason to buy the newer loco." ...
I keep reading a contradiction. Am I interpretation this wrong?

EDIT: Never mind, I got it now. Lee's take on the mfg's true motivation for adding detail.

Thx Harborbelt1970.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
898 Posts
I keep reading a contradiction. Am I interpretation this wrong?
Lee can certainly answer for himself but I see the point he is making as, detail is not added for its own sake; instead, a slight increase in it is some inducement to purchasers to buy what is essentially a recycled product. Actually I think that with certain models, adding an operating feature - smoke, lighting or sound - is more appealing to a manufacturer than upping the detail factor.

Going back to my example of the Lionel AC-12 cab forward, this is basically the only cab forward model Lionel has produced in many years. The TMCC version was very nicely made; for Legacy, Lionel added whistle smoke, Legacy sounds and a fantasy paint scheme and some internal cab detail improvements but the basic tooling was the same.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
8,868 Posts
Lee can certainly answer for himself but I see the point he is making as, detail is not added for its own sake; instead, a slight increase in it is some inducement to purchasers to buy what is essentially a recycled product. Actually I think that with certain models, adding an operating feature - smoke, lighting or sound - is more appealing to a manufacturer than upping the detail factor.

Going back to my example of the Lionel AC-12 cab forward, this is basically the only cab forward model Lionel has produced in many years. The TMCC version was very nicely made; for Legacy, Lionel added whistle smoke, Legacy sounds and a fantasy paint scheme and some internal cab detail improvements but the basic tooling was the same.
That was exactly my point. Frankly, if you have a good PS2 version of a loco, it is hard to justify buying the PS3 for the slight increase in sound quality and such. so what does a manufactruer do? l do agree that a new operating feature is more attractive - syncrhonize the smoke puffs, add cylinder steam or a swinging bell, etc. But that costs a lot of development money and on some locos there is no room left inside for any more feature machinery. Adding detail is an option, and one I've seen used - adding things like sliding glass cab windows and roof hatches, a few more pipes, etc., creates some "new" content that maybe increases sales.

Then too, there is a competitive element at work. Reviews in magazines and "talk on the street" (okay, at the club) will often discuss of compare the detail of a model locomotive, and people compare MTH to Lionel, so adding a bit of detail - which is easy to see - to make you Santa Fe Northern more detailed than theirs, or your NYC Niagara more appeal than theirs - is something you do when you can.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
1,232 Posts
One other thing to mention is that some "RailKing Scale" diesel locomotives are former PS-1 Premier locomotives. (That now have PS-2/3) MTH moved them to the RailKing line when they got new molds to make more detailed diesels.

But for some of them moved to the RailKing line, the prototypes didn't have a whole lot of detail anyway, so those are probably the best scale sized value in O gauge.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
568 Posts
Discussion Starter #15
All excellent thoughts and that is kind of what I wanted to know. I know some of you guys have commented over the past few years "that new model is using old tooling and not worth the price" or similar comments.

Except for true O Scale v O27, I am not seeing enough of a difference between what is in a 2020 catalog and what might have been in a 2005 catalog for rolling stock.

Passenger cars my criteria is shadows v no shadows. Shadow passengers - to me - means cheaper and I don't want that on my layout.

I am curious when the light went on for Lionel and they went from the less detail, single can motor to "Pullmor" duel motors. And since I am not a train geek in terms of being able to look up the stock number easily, putting a manufacture date on the ebay auction is always helpful.

That is why I like Trainz as an ebay seller. They put the date and other information in their auctions.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
462 Posts
I concur regarding silhouette (shadow) cars. At this point, I'm also limiting myself to only LED lighting on passenger cars. And I'm not converting old ones.

Easy for me to say since the midwest road names I'm interested in generally aren't for sale (new or used) in any form.

I've settled on new MTH Premier 18" cars as my sweet spot. Twice a year I cross my fingers and hope there is something in the new catalog. If not, back to bed.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
4,379 Posts
Passenger cars my criteria is shadows v no shadows. Shadow passengers - to me - means cheaper and I don't want that on my layout.

And since I am not a train geek in terms of being able to look up the stock number easily, putting a manufacture date on the ebay auction is always helpful.
I also prefer passenger cars with detailed interiors. I don’t have any of the silhouette cars. I have a few Railking 15”/60’ sets, but lately I have been getting the Premier 18”/70 foot sets. Over the years, there have been a number of improvements in the 18” passenger cars (LED lighting, better trucks, addition of passengers). On some recent ATSF sets, the plated finish is spectacular. I have been getting older sets and adding passengers and LED lighting, but the if the time and expense to do that doesn’t appeal to you, a newer, pricier set might be your preference.

As for finding out the year and features of locos and cars, I have found that Lionel does not make it easy, but MTH is a breeze. If you know the MTH stock number, you can just plug it in the search box on the home page and find all the info for all but older models. If you don’t know the stock number, the product locater makes it easy to find.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
3,158 Posts
I don't have an opinion on detail, but I do think this is a very interesting thread. All the answers offer a good perspective, and I think Bryan has received some great information from a good group of folks. That is all.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
1,232 Posts
I have some MTH 18” aluminum passenger cars and a few sets of Williams 21” aluminum passenger cars from the early/ mid 1990s that have silhouettes in the windows. I do prefer detailed interiors but they weren’t made at the time but these are really nice cars.

Because they’re so nice I may plan to detail their interiors once I’m closer to finishing my layout, in about 80 years or so.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
8,868 Posts
One other thing to mention is that some "RailKing Scale" diesel locomotives are former PS-1 Premier locomotives. (That now have PS-2/3) MTH moved them to the RailKing line when they got new molds to make more detailed diesels.

But for some of them moved to the RailKing line, the prototypes didn't have a whole lot of detail anyway, so those are probably the best scale sized value in O gauge.
Yes!! I love Railking scale diesels. Some of them are actually pretty well detailed, and certainly incredible value for the money.
 
1 - 20 of 21 Posts
Top