I'm not going to jabber too much about the new catalog. It has been posted online at the MTH website and my blogging colleagues have done an admirable job covering the introduction.
A few observations:
At some point, I'd like to see a larger discussion on the channel, specifically hobby stores and resellers. I am going to save this for another post because I have some strong feelings about it. My strong feelings percolated up again when MTH withheld the catalog from the website to drive retail business. I understand the business goal MTH is trying to achieve, I'd like to hash out our feelings on toy train resellers a little bit. One of the very interesting things is that I know some dealers have read my blog yet I've only heard from one of them (and that is because he has a McCoy Carousel). I'd be interested in hearing from them....
I think that MTH did a great job of walking the line in this catalog. I like the PDF release on the web by the way, I think it is a good way to get a solid catalog out in an electronic format that is safe, printable and secure.
As to "walking the line", the line I am referring to is old standard gauge versus new standard gauge. Lots of people perceive new standard gauge as anything that doesn't have a prewar Lionel counterpart to represent it. I'm ok with that. Old standard gauge is stuff that was produced prior to WWII and is reflected by mass manufacturing of the time (IE: Lionel 392, 400e, 390E, 200 and 500 series boxcars and so on).
As far as I can tell, most everything in the new catalog has been reproduced in the modern era (meaning in the last 35 years) at some point in time or another with a few exceptions like the monorail. I like the Chrome 1134 (I'm a male of the species, I like shiny toys and things that make sparks). What caught my eye was the Civil Defense searchlight car and the graphics on the 200 and 500 series cars. This is really taking something old and making it their own. I like it because we can take that creative impulse and do things with it: IE a Civil Defense train or a Beer Train or whatever.
The same with the 1694's pictured above. Three different engines and three different sets of cars. It's somewhat linear but it does give us a substantial set of choices that we didn't have before and for product that costs an arm and a leg for originals.
Why should you care? Couple of reasons:
1) Because it is a strong product strategy in a small market segment.
Sounds like gibberish because it is. But the logic behind the gibberish is a reality; the standard gauge and O gauge items are profitable, modular and can be produced in large enough quantities to satisfy us nuts that buy this stuff. But not get produced so much that the stuff is being given away on eBay for diddly. I recently sold an old MTH caboose on ebay for 12 bucks. The caboose was great, there were just tons out there that were in the box, like new. Most of the eBay MTH out there now is from dealers speculating or with left over stock. That's actually good for us.
2) Because MTH really does care about us as a segment.
I like the fact that MTH's founder knows ALOT about prewar trains. That wins huge kudos in my book. I also like the fact that he tries new paint schemes on old favorites and has the guts to try some new things like the Leland Monorail and the 101 bridges. The 101 bridge is tough; in my experience you can't run trains over that bridge with any kind of speed without suffering a derailment and something going airborne. That bridge is best set up in slow areas and in places where no speed is needed. It looks kind of silly leading up to a Hellgate. The point is that it's a neat item nonetheless and one I sought after for a long time before I found an original that wasn't banged up.
I could provide quite a few additional reasons why I like the new catalog. The bottom line is that I hope the catalogs keep coming and that Mike Wolf and Team get access to more ideas and different trains. I've heard quite a few people that don't like MTH (they usually email me after I write something like this). One more thought: the more standard gauge track that gets put out, put down on a layout (modular or non-modular (KIRK IS DA MAN!!!)) the better it is for us as a hobby and for manufacturers everywhere here in the United States. The numbers for our hobby aren't exactly flying up. They may get better as the 78 million baby boomers fly to Florida and get rec-rooms with something besides ping pong tables and plasma screen TV's. I'm not going to stake any of my savings on that though. So the more exposure that is out there for standard gauge, the better off we'll be.
15 years from now when my house is bucking under the weight of tinplate I don't want to have to go out of state to get a lock on (or make one myself) for my standard gauge track. Just my 2 cents.