made in America

Discussion in 'HO Scale Model Trains' started by diesel, Jan 28, 2008.

  1. diesel

    diesel Member

    Hello All,

    I just posted this on Model Railroader's boards, so I thought I'd hit here too....

    I was just looking over bethgons and saw that Huberts cars are made in USA. I don't know if 100% of it is done here, they do use Atlas trucks for instance. But if the actual work is done here is it worth paying the extra cash for these to support American made over Chinese made Atlas and Athearn? I hadn't thought about that before.
    I've seen the older LBF and EC cars but didn't seem to run extreamly well. The new Huberts now have better trucks and I think the whole bad coupler area has been fixed as well as using better couplers.
    They claim to be weighted to NMRA specs as well.
    What do ya'll think?
  2. ed acosta

    ed acosta Member

    Hey diesel,
    You bring up an interesting point: the economy. Everybody is talking about our current recession and our presidential candidates are trying to present their take on the matter. None, however, are addressing the long-term effect of losing our manufacturing base in this country.

    Five years ago I was paying $6 or $7 for an Athearn or MDC kit made in the USA. ('Kit' simply means you slide the doors into the guides and screw the coupler and trucks in place.) Today, they are made in Asia "ready to run" and it is my understanding that these Asian workers work all day for one dollar. Well, you would think that you and I would be seeing the savings at the shelf, right? Not true. These imports are costing us at least triple the price. Who is pocketing the savings? Long term economics shows the spread between the wealthy and middle class is getting much larger.
  3. tomustang

    tomustang Has Entered.

    Just because they are made cheap doesn't mean they are shipped cheap. That is a key most often looked about production, have to factor in the shipping cost
  4. nachoman

    nachoman Guest

    I overheard an interesting conversation at the LHS the other day... A patron was complaining about limited-run items or items that are rarely in stock. This is a frequent complaint of mine, because I hate to have to order everything I want. It's not just the LHS, it is everywhere. I remember the days when I could walk into the LHS and one whole wall was athearn and MDC kits. Now that wall is half-empty.

    Back to the conversation I overheard - the shopkeep was explaining the problem of limited availability on the manufacturer's end. His opinion is that model companies used to be owned and operated by people within the hobby who had an interest in sharing what they had, rather than just making a buck. Now, model manufacturers are larger companies who have marketing people that realize by limiting supply, one can charge a higher price.

    What making things overseas does is allows manufacturers to release new products more frequently. It doesn't lower the price because production runs remain small.

  5. DeckRoid

    DeckRoid Member

    I am trying to buy most of my gear from anywhere but China. I like stuff made in the US, but have also bought rolling stock from Austria, UK and Mexico and Canada.

    Yes, it does cost more. Yes, it hurts my pocketbook and I don't get as much. I can't really say why I am doing this, beyond what my dad once told me. "Make yer money locally, spend it locally." I made a little addendum to that.. "... it's your money, spend it where you want, but friends come first"

    That's my .02 worth. Uh, what's .02 US worth now-a-days?
  6. nkp174

    nkp174 Active Member

    The market has shifted from craftsman to shake-the-box to RTR. Decent detail in RTR requires cheap labor. Hence, made in China. If China's economy does continue to grow...then they made be made in Indonesia in a decade or two.

    If the pendulum would shift back from "operators" and collectors to builders...then you would see less RTR.

    If you want Made in the USA (or Canada or Germany or the UK)...check out craftsman kits...they're still by the modeler, for the modeler. The prototypes are typically far less common...and frequently more interesting than what is RTR.

    For passenger cars...check out Eastern Car works... -- manuinfo/v117 page

    For freight cars, try Westerfield or one of the other resin companies.

    For narrow gaugers...The Cimarron Works Sn3 Kits

    Perhaps cool HO cars?

    La Belle is classic
    LaBelle Woodworking Index


    Check out the Loco shop!

    Railmaster NZ has an awesome Made in New Zealand line...
    Locomotives Price List

    Bowser's rolling stock kits are made in the USA...although their RTR line is assembled and decorated in China...from US castings...I'm pretty certain their steam locomotive kits are made in the USA...unless OSHA has driven the casting out of the country (this has happened with some metals).
    Welcome to Bowser Manufacturing
  7. stdguage

    stdguage Member

    ReE Made in America

    Hello! Your topic caught my eye. Manufacturing is not being lost from this country. It is important to understand the various business steps involved: concept, design, tooling, fabrication, assembly, packaging, shipping, distribution and sales. The Chinese are certainly into assembly (“Made in China” means assembled in China). We still do the bulk of everything else. When the China made product is exported to Europe, we have exported quite a bit of value also.

    I keep on my desk a paperweight of a crude casting of a caricatured human head. It is heavy (it’s a paperweight after all) and it is made in china. Shipping cannot be all that expensive. Remember as long as the boat floats and speed is not a high priority, the shipping cost on the water is not that great. Heck, I can buy Chilean raspberries in the off-season for just a small part of an hourly wage! Raspberries are much more perishable than a cast paperweight. Most of the shipping cost is in the labor at the transport mode changeover points.

    Yes, Chinese labor is cheaper when using dollars per hour. The key to cost however is productivity and dollars spent, not the wage per hour of labor. Americans, Canadians, Germans, etc. are much more productive per hour and can thus demand and receive greater compensation. This is partly because capital is invested in education and equipment. Greater productivity can be looked at two ways. One, fewer people are now needed to produce the same product, so direct cost per unit will drop. This is why you are seeing manufacturing job losses while output is stable or even increasing. Second, the use of labor skills that a tied better to required skills used will result in a lower cost for the product and thus a greater demand worldwide. So the assembly is off-shored and the remaining employees are busier than before.

    Small production kits are more likely to be made in the high skill countries because a bigger price of each kit is recovering the high skill components such as design.

    Comments were made about “$1 a day” wages. I do not know if that is true, but if it is true the workers are taking the jobs to be better off. This is good. A large portion of the planet is still very rural while the high paying jobs are urban. Not very long ago, in this country, workers were also happy with a “$1 a day” job as they too moved from the farms to the city (it may have been a Swedish farm to a farm in Illinois to a city in Colorado over 3 generations).

    My desktop picture is of a 1920 coke oven scene in Colorado. Literally back breaking work. Coal is hand shoveled from the mine into chutes for gondola loading. Gondola coal is shoveling into chutes for transfer into smaller mule driven rail carts to the coke oven. The coke is hand shoveled out of the ovens. The coke is then shoveled into boxcars for shipment to a steel mill in Pueblo Colorado where it is again shoveled into storage for the steel operation. How many more times the raw materials and the finished steel is muscled about until rail is laid somewhere in the west I do not know. I have only counted about a half a dozen handlings of each and every ton. I am grateful for the work of my grandparents, but I am even more grateful to work at a desk today ninety years later.

    It would be much too complicated to determine percentage of content that is domestic. I am working on a series of LaBelle kits and I have purchased Bachman Spectrum locomotives. I guess I buy more for product values and less as to where the product was assembled.

    A bit long and a bit off topic. I promise pics of an inclined trestle shortly. The trestle will be much more on topic.

  8. rekline

    rekline Member

    After coming home from the model train show on saturday, I noticed that all of my purchases were Made in USA. Of course I didn't buy that much but the Bowser Hopper set that I picked up is going to be really fun to build. The other items that I was looking at were also made here. In talking to alot of the reps that were there, The design and die development is done in the US and Canada but the actual production is overseas. Makes you wonder what would happen to the Chinese economy if they put the development out of business.
  9. Santa Fe Jack

    Santa Fe Jack Member

    This issue surely is not limited to model railroading, of course. As an environmental engineer, what bothers me is outsourcing to countries that have lax (or nonexistent) environmental controls. We end up exporting our pollution. It comes back to haunt us, of course, since we are all living in the same "pool". I wish there were a way to promote/enforce our environmental laws to cover all products sold in the US, no matter they are made.

    An analogous argument can be made for labor standards.

    Now, I know that bringing the rest of the world up to our standards of labor and environmental protection will end up costing us a bundle. No doubt this is a more expensive way of doing business than simply discounting the hidden costs to the environment and to the laborer.

    No easy answers -- just more tough questions.

    Now, am I really going to have to tear up all my track in order to wire power to the turnout frogs and points? Now would be the time, I suppose, as it is only pinned in place.
  10. RonP

    RonP Member of the WMRC

    This is the point that bring back our factories. Sure we pay more but at least we can afford it.
  11. Art Decko

    Art Decko Member

    It's hard to translate the amount easily for Chinese workers.

    I think a "typical" Chinese factory worker (for the kinds of factories you guys are talking about) probably makes something like 500 - 800 rmb per month.

    In China, a factory of any size likely provides room & board on-site (or within walking distance) in the form of factory dormitories and cafeterias. Living conditions are usually pretty spartan, but workers make due - conditions are not that much worse than that of the typical college student, and may be in some ways an improvement over back home. Anyway, compared with a typical American factory worker, the average Chinese factory worker has few significant monthly expenses.

    Depending on the kind of factory, they might well work very long days of 12-14 hours, quite likely with little or no overtime pay. Probably they get one, or a few days off each month, and a couple major holidays each year. Working conditions in the factory range widely from modern to "Dickensian".

    For comparison purposes, 800 rmb spent in China has the spending power of something like $250 in the US.

    What is most important is not the exact amount, but that someone from China's rural countryside can travel to a factory city, work in awful conditions for a few years, but maybe earn enough cash to return home and open their own business, or buy a modest house, or maybe put a relative through college.

    Whatever the actual pay translates to, the possibility of breaking out of dead-end subsistance farming is what draws Chinese workers to the sweatshops and factories. I think a similar dynamic works throughout the developing world.
  12. ezdays

    ezdays Out AZ way

    Very well put Art... I think it puts things in prospective as to what is going on in a country that we know very little about, and what conditions are like there. Your explanation also busts a few myths that we perceive about the working conditions and the workers there. Basically, you're saying that the workers of China are the same as anywhere else, all they are trying to do is to make a living and try to get a better life for themselves and their families.

    Thank you for that valuable insight.
  13. ed acosta

    ed acosta Member

    I don't want us to get side-tracked off the main issue. First off, I am convinced that China produces high quality work at a very low price. I strongly feel that people throughout the globe should be given the opportunity to improve their lives.

    My point, however, is that five years ago we were paying $6 or $7 for good quality Athearn and MDC cars. Americans, who produced these cars, were making a liveable wage. Today, Chinese workers are working long hours and living in squalid conditions, yet we, the consumers, are having to pay three times more for a similar car. Who winds up with all of that profit? Would it hurt these greedy profiteers to pay the workers 25 cents an hour more and make a huge improvement in their quality of life? If they gave the Chinese worker 25 cents an hour more, would they charge us $40 for the car?

  14. ezdays

    ezdays Out AZ way

    Ed, there's no way I can defend either paying someone really sub-wages to make more profit, nor profiteering. There is though, what marketeers call, Supply and Demand. When supply exceeds demand, prices tend to go down, when demand exceeds supply, they go up. One example here in Phoenix this week is try to get a cheap flight from Boston to here this weekend. Normally you can fly round trip for under $400. It's Super Bowl weekend so that same flight will cost you $2700. The same goes for Super Bowl tickets. A ticket to the stadium to see a Cardinals game probably runs $50 to $100. The same seats this weekend will run you $800 to $4,000 and from a scalper, $3500 to $20,000. Rooms are going for four to ten times their normal rate. Are they justified in doing this? I can't say, if that's what the market dictates, that's what they'll get.

    BTW, the pilots, ticket takers, cleaning people, cooks and everyone else associated with these venues won't see an extra dime in their paychecks, plus there's a tremendous burden to the taxpayers to provide security and safety all along the line.

    One artist splashes some paint on a canvas, another arranges four vacuum cleaners in a box. They call it art and get $100,000 for a few hours work. Another artist spends weeks creating an exquisite painting, but barely gets anything for their efforts. Why? Because that's what someone is willing to pay for that particular artist's work.

    I could go on and on, but I guess my point is that the market will always dictate what one pays for something and what one gets paid for what they do.
  15. pgandw

    pgandw Active Member


    The key word is similar. Until you or I know what the actual cost differentials are, or are comparing the same car, we are speculating. And to put it bluntly, speculating about somebody else's greed, although a common enough American past time, is not a very nice thing to do. I could very easily turn it around, and pronounce us the greedy ones for wanting $6 or $7 cars, when they should cost more.

    None of the train manufacturers I know of are publicly owned, and consequently they don't have to show us their books. I do know my local pusher (LHS) isn't making a fortune - he couldn't afford to hire me as additional staff (I asked). And none of the owners of model railroad businesses that I do know personally are living the life style of the rich and famous.

    Having studied the business case for starting up a new line of steam kit locomotives, I realized I was probably going to lose my shirt and then some. That's even if I could find some investors to pony up a minimum of $500K to start the venture.

    The Athearn blue box kits are still made in the U.S. Bowser, Kadee, and MicroTrains still produce in the U.S. Nearly all the craftsman kits and non-plastic structure kits are made in the U.S. or Canada. Locomotives, due to their higher labor content for assembly, have been imported since the 1950s. Rivarosssi, Aristo-Craft, Japanese and Korean brass, AHM, IHC, and Model Power have all been importing locomotives for decades. Kato and Bachmann are not U.S. companies to begin with.

    The big change came when Atlas and MRC decided they wanted to be more than track and power pack companies, respectively. They began importing RTR locomotives and cars, first from Europe, and then later from China. MRC eventually dropped out, but Atlas went on to expand themselves big time.

    In the meantime, the original founders of Roundhouse and Athearn (and other names like Varney, Penn Line, Mantua) left the business. The folks who bought the old companies realized that they were not going to survive without producing new product to compete with the others. Yes, they often chose to out-source the new product to China. Producing in China is not without risk or extra costs (lots of extra travel and transportation), but it may have been the cheaper/easier thing to do than find die makers and set up production in the U.S.

    If the hobby should move back to assembling kits rather than buying RTR, production in China loses a lot of its advantages.

    just my thoughts
  16. ed acosta

    ed acosta Member

    Hey Don and Fred,

    Thanks for jumping in with your insight. I am worried about losing our North American manufacturing base. I am worried of the current recession and perhaps an even greater recession having to do with much more labor being outsourced by companies who can no longer afford American or Canadian workers. BUT THAT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH MODEL RAILROADING!!!

    We are drawn into this incredibly complex and rewarding hobby for any number of reasons and WE CHOOSE what WE WANT to BUY or BUILD. No one is forcing our hand either way.

    Thank you both for putting all of my wheels back on the railhead!

  17. rekline

    rekline Member

    In my humble opinion, I prefer to build the models from kits, I got into the hobby for a couple of reasons, one was I loved building model airplanes and ships when I was a kid and so building freight cars even the simple Athearn kits is fun. I am very thankful that they have not discontinued the bluebox series, simply they are inexpensive and I have sat down with my kids and we have built them together. A great way to introduce them to the hobby and get their hands dirty.

    I have always made a concerted effort to support the local team by buying things from one of the LHS's near me, Wish one of them would supply Bowser products (but that is another story). And my preference is Made in North America but have come to the realization that that can not always happen in order to get the quality for the price I can afford to pay. It does make me feel better that one of my employers largest customers is based in China, were it not for their expanding economy, my companies profits would be smaller. One of the upsides of a Global economy.
  18. wilbro47

    wilbro47 New Member

    One of the chief economists did say that one way out of the current mess is for everyone to go out and buy American. Seems to me that's a very short list. Some one said that companies need tax breaks. Since they have a take the money and run attitude, How will that work? Sorry, this is suppose to be about trains.

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