Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A 1:87 size American icon falls.

Back in the depression racked 1930's, Irv Athearn started a small company to make model trains. Athearn survived the depression, squeaked thru the material shortages of WWII and blossomed in the post war years. The signature product was a series of kits. For a couple of dollars (way less than the cost of a single piece of Lionel) you got a kit that assembled into a very decent HO car. These kits stayed in production from 1950 right up until a few days ago. Generations of railroad hobbyists had bought zillions of the "Blue Box" kits and enjoyed them.
Last Friday Athearn called it quits. I got an email from them announcing end of production. No more $5 kits, from now on all you get is $18 fully assembled (ready-to-run they call it) . Irv Athearn died years ago, the company was sold to "Horizon Hobbies" and a new bunch of suits (managers) first moved production to China and then decided they would make more money selling $18 ready-to-run rather than $5 kits. Athearn kits were always easy to assemble, we used to call them "shake-the-box" kits (shake the box hard enough and the kit will fall together). The suits figure they can have a few pennies worth of Chinese labor put the kits together and raise the product price by a factor of three. Nice plan if it works.
Somehow, I don't think it's going to pan out that way. Hobbies are the ultimate discretionary purchase. People, kids especially, have only so much money to spend on a hobby. I think the Athearn suits are gong to find that their revenues stay about the same, as people buy fewer ready-to-runs at $18 than they did of kits at $5.
As the fond owner of a vast fleet of Athearn models, I decided to buy up a few more kits before they were all gone. It was a beautiful sunny day, the leaves are still pretty bright (although past peak now) and I drove out US 302, up thru Crawford Notch and down to Hartmann's RR hobby shop just north of North Conway. US 302 had smooth black new asphalt, NH has been aggressive in getting and spending Porkulus money. $49 later I had 6 new Athearn kits for building later this winter.

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