Product Quality

Discussion in 'HO Scale Model Trains' started by Bob Collins, May 26, 2002.

  1. Bob Collins

    Bob Collins Active Member

    I think that over the months we have talked a little here and there about the quality of various products we come into contact with as we model our railroad empires and I'd sort of like to see if I can get some of that knowledge into one place.

    I post this question to the HO forum simply because that is what I am most interesting in learning more about.

    I have seen comments about the worth, or lack there of, of various brands of engines. Would anyone care to ranks what is available. Let's not do brass unless you specify. It's way out of my league for now as I spend other places on the layout.

    I'd also be very interested to know what others think about other rolling stock in addition to engines.

    This is all prompted for me by starting to take a look at e-Bay from time to time. I'd be afraid to buy very much because the brand names in some cases mean absolutely nothing to me!!

    I would truly be buying a pig in a poke.

  2. rockislandmike

    rockislandmike Active Member

    Kewl idea, Bob. If there's a lot of replies, I volunteer to put together a compendium of comments and/or ratings if others use a rating system, as I did. The first grade is an overall rating, the second is based on value for the $$$. if I think of any others I'll add them later. RIght now it's off to barbequed hamburgers at my parents house.


    Athearn (C/A): My favorite locomotives right now - they aren't as detailed or look quite as snazzy as some of the top end units, but they are the best value for the money, hands down.
    Bachmann (older) (F/D): while they might work "okay", older Bachmann units have a tendency to stutter, and are not researched in the slightest. Expect to get locomotives that never existed as prototypes.
    Bachmann Spectrum (B/C): Very nice looking, but I really haven't been impressed by their reliability and mechanical worthiness.
    Model Power (D/C): pretty mediocre engines, pretty so-so runners.
    Proto 2000 (A/B): These are the most expensive engines I have right now - $100+ CDN new in general. They are nicely detailed, and look the best of any of my locomotives (I have a pair, one ATSF and one UP). Definitely worth the money if you can afford them.
    Tyco (older) (F/F): while they might work "okay", older Tyco units have a tendency to stutter and/or fail altogether, and again research is definitely not in the budget for these puppies. Expect to get locomotives that never existed as prototypes.

    Something else I should note - sometimes if I know the unit won't work (or is indicated "as is" and no testing), I'll discount the price myself to account for it as a dummy unit. If I can get it working again, great - if not, I can never have enough dummy units.


    Atlas (A/B): higher priced than a lot of other rolling stock, but excellent units nonetheless.
    Athearn (C/A): as locomotives, fairly inexpensive, definitely good value for the money though.
    Model Power (D/C): pretty mediocre looks and mechanics, missing a lot of details and not as well manufactured as most others.
    Roundhouse (C/C): about the same price as Athearn, but not quite as well done in terms of mechanics or looks.
    Tyco (D/D): might find some okay rolling stock under the Tyco name, but don't really expect all that much.
    Walthers (C/C): above average rolling stock, both interms of overall value, and in terms of value (moderate prices).
  3. Bob Collins

    Bob Collins Active Member

    Mike and all;

    Great list and great idea to grade/grade your entries. Interesting enough I seem to rank those you list about the same.

    I see a lot of AHM rolling stock on e-Bay and have absolutely no clue as to whether or not it is worth a hoot.

    One the other hand, your comments about Bachman Spectrum are right on. I have three of them and think they are all good runners B/B. Will by more as the finances permit. I like the Athearn rolling stock I have B/B and have no complaints (yet?). Have some Roundhouse hoppers B/B that are okay, but also have a couple of Branchline reefers F/F that I think are of extremely poor quality. I also have several Proto 2000 hoppers that are excellent A/A and probably the best rolling stock I have are a couple of pieces of Intermountain Railway A/? that were gifts.

    Also Mike, thanks for volunteering to come up with a composite of the comments. I really think it is of value to all of us to have input on this matter of spending money. Although maybe everyone benefits, it is especially helpful to people like me whao are fairly new to the hobby.

  4. Vic

    Vic Active Member


    Hey Bob, I'm gonna stay out of this one!!!:D :D Been modeling in HOn3 for over twenty years so I have to take what I can gits!!!!:D :D :D
  5. Bob Collins

    Bob Collins Active Member

    Hi Vic;

    I understand what you are saying. I'm certainly not asking anyone to libel themselves. I'm just trying to get a sense of the experiences folks have had with quality. I live about 100 miles from the closest hobby shop and even when I occasionally get there they don't carry a wide variety of brand names so I have very little opportunity to do any comparing except to order and take my chances.

    So far I am generally pleased with what I have purchased. The only rolling stock I have that I am disappointed with are some Branchline reefers and they may be the exception rather than the rule for that brand name. I don't know.

    Anyway, it's fun to hear what others have migrated to over the years. When they sahre their experience it really helps someone in my particular position. The same is true for structures. When I see some of the work that is shown by others I have a much clearer snse of what others can do and that at least lets me know what basic products they are using to achieve such great results.

  6. IMRL393

    IMRL393 Member

    My cut at this:

    Best locos (in order):

    1. Atlas Master series (the cream of the crop!)
    2. Athearn Genesis (quickly rising!)
    3. Kato (But DON"T buy the SD40-2 - major problems!)
    4. Life Like P2k (very good detail, good runners)
    5. Stewart / Atlas Classic series (reliable, less detail)
    6. Bachmann Spectrum (select steamers ONLY! Try before you buy!)
    7. Athearn / P1K (less detail than above, usually very reliable runners)
    8. Walthers (quality varies - my F40PH is a very good loco, however.)

    Atlas M and Athearn G have overtaken Kato in detail and drive quality, IMHO.

    Worst locos (in order, but avoid them all!):

    1. Tyco
    2. Model Power
    3. Bachmann (diesel - certain steamers are MUCH better!)

    Tyco is noted for making non-existant locos (RI sharknoses, etc).

    I have bought a lot of locos on e-Bay, but tend to buy ONLY "New in Box" ones from sellers with NO negative comments (or maybe one per hundred positive ones). Most of my locos have been from "Modeltrainstuff", who is M. B. Klein - one of the top mail order dealers in the country (see their ads in MR) ! You WON'T go wrong buying from them!

    Best rolling stock:

    1. Kadee (superb detail and very authenic paint/markings)
    2. Atlas (a close second - great detail, authenic markings)
    3. P2K (the best of the kits for detail - but harder to put together)
    4. Athearn Genesis (a newcomer - may overtake the others!)
    5. Athearn (Ole reliable blue box - some have surprisingly good authenic paint and detail - other don't, but this brand is the standard on most layouts!)
    6. Branchline Blueprint series (??? Have one of the kits - looks VERY good - can't make it until we move, so can't say beyond the fact that it is very detailed with authenic markings and paint - I have high hopes for this line!)

    I am supprised at Bob's remarks about Branchline - is your car a blueprint series Bob ????

    Intermountain has a good rep, but I don't have nor seen any.

    I think Roundhouse, Walthers and Accurail and Bachmann spectrum fall somewhere inbetween these two lists - some have detail/paint/markings that don't match the designated road at all! Have seen it first hand with "Rock Island" versions of their cars. I will avoid them unless I can't get a certain type car from anyone else!

    Worst (avoid at all costs!):

    1. Tyco (avoid! not authenic! poor quality!)
    2. Model Power (good for your kids)

    In terms of paint and markings, I compare photos of rolling stock models to photos of the prototype. For the Rock Island, I use the "Rock Island Color Guide to Freight and Passenger Equipment" by Hile, Hickcox, and Miller. Other Roads have simular books. I would suggest getting the books FIRST and then the rolling stock!

    I would (and do) only buy "new" kits or R-T-R rolling stock on e-Bay, and only if a photo of the model is shown (to compare with prototype photos and to see if there is any problem with the model). I would suggest NOT buying kits already put together by someone else - you may be buying their construction mistakes! Again, check the rating comments for negative feedback!

    Well, that's my 5 cents worth (more than 2 cents, but not worth a dime!).

    - George
  7. Bob Collins

    Bob Collins Active Member


    What an absolute wealth of great information. I thank you very much.

    To answer your question about Branchline. I bought several of those decorated reefers (Heinz, Schneider Brewing, etc.) They just don't seem to have near the quality I have found in the others. Trying to get them balanced so they don't waddle down the right of way was a real problem.

    I have wondered about Kadee. I don't have any of their rolling stock, mainly because I wasn't sure about the quality and the price is steep. I guess you get what you pay for. I saw a couple of Kadee boxcars I'd like to have so I may have to go back and revisit their website one of these first days.

    I am very careful about buying anything on e-Bay. I agree that it is buyer beware. I've bid on a couple of things I didn't get, but they went over what I was willing to pay. I did get four Athearn kits I am very pleased with.

    Thanks again

  8. IMRL393

    IMRL393 Member

    Bob -

    Sorry to hear about your problem with the Branchline reefers.

    Will let you know how my Branchline RI GARX insulated car turns out - but not soon! Everything is in boxes for the move!!!

    You might buy one Kadee and see what you think. The more detail, the more fragile the car, of course, so they must be treated gently. Having said that, and loving detail, I think they are great cars!

    And they come with Kadee couplers, too. Imagine that!


    (Even better - two of my four Kadee rolling stock were gifts from my mother-in-law! A very nice lady - like mother, like daughter, and granddaughter!)


    You have the right approach to e-Bay: when the bidding goes above your "set" amount, bail out.

    Glad you won a good bid - you can't go too far wrong with the good ole bluebox Athearn - can always add kadees or make other modifications if you need or want to!

    BTW, I've heard that some of the newer Athearn R-T-R cars have some problems - just forum talk I've read, don't have any to confirm or deny.

    This rumor does NOT apply to the Genesis R-T-R or the regular bluebox kits!!!!

    Good luck with the other e-Bay bids!

    - George
  9. Gary Pfeil

    Gary Pfeil Active Member

    George's list nails it. I bought my first Atlas master series loco this weekend. The finish is exceptional. the mechanism is great, but to be expected nowadays, in my opinion. Nice that it includes a decoder, i reversed the plug and was ready to go. Haven't tried programming it yet, don't expect any problems. Unit comes addressed to last two digits of road #, and I can use that for now. The only Athearn Genesis I have are two 2-8-2's which I think are very good, traction not great but otherwise fine. These will be the subject of my first loco mods in years this summer. I hope to use Bachmanns Vanderbuilt tenders (one on order, I need to see if DCC sound will fit in one) add Elesco heater out in front of smokebox and Pyle headlights. I think balance of detail will remain the same. I don't own any Kato but know they run well. A large percentage of my fleet is LLP2000 units, I like them very much but do have minor problems. The GP9's I have buck a bit when coming down a 2% grade with the train pushing them. Play in the motor shaft i suspect. My Stewart FT's are great, Bachmann Spectrum, George is absolutely correct, steam only! My two 2-8-0's run well, but I returned my mountain. My dealer said there were quite a few problems with these, almost half of what he sold were returned. I think this must be a problem of non existant quality controls. The original Athearn is still close to my heart as it was the only option for so many years. The older Bachmann and Life Like (and Model Power, Tyco, Mantua) were useless. OK, let me take part of that back, Mantua kits were capable of being built into decent locos. When I was a kid, i liked the Rivarossi steam, when I got more into scale, their flanges wouldn't run on code 70, so I left them behind. I understand the flanges are no longer oversized, so if the mechanisms have been improved (which, after 30 years seems likely) they should be worthy of consideration. I have an ABA set of Walthers FA's, the body detail is crude but the units run well and outhaul my newer LLP2000 FA's.

    I see rolling stock the same as George as well, I also have several Blueprint series kits waiting to be built, a quick look at them made me think they should build into very nice cars, but with quite a bit of work.


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