MTH Electric Trains dispatches Memories onto Pittsburgh Pikes!

by MartyE  

October, 2002

            It’s a Saturday fall afternoon in Pittsburgh and a twelve year old boy and his father are picking up the Sunday morning donuts and other odds and ends.  Walking down Brookline Blvd. they pass a familiar building with an aroma that is hard to beat.  Going inside they pickup a package wrapped in white butchers paper.  The young boy slips his fingers inside to sneak a small taste of the contents.  Chipped Ham, Pittsburgh’s favorite lunchmeat! 

That’s how I remember Isaly’s, the local deli chain, and now MTH is making it easier for all of us to remember this and other Pittsburgh classics!  What a great time to be involved in O gauge railroading if you are in or from Pittsburgh!  Over the past year or so we have been offered a series of cars that represent some of the local tastes and landmarks of Western Pennsylvania!  MTH Electric Trains of Columbia Maryland has been producing some great boxcars, tankers, engines and buildings that all have Pittsburgh flavor.  From the Pittsburgh Brewing series to the Montour Railroad, folks have been buying these beautifully decorated cars as fast as they come out.         

The Iron City Cars appeared first.

        The series started with the Pittsburgh Brewing Series offered directly from the brewery.  There was little advertising done but quickly word spread and it was off to the races.  The brewery series has grown currently to 6 cars that included offerings from MTH dealers.  Isaly’s, Eat N Park,  and Kennywood Amusement Park Cars soon followed.  Just announced and now available to order are a Marsh Wheeling Cigar Car and  Westview Amusement Park Car. They just keep coming!   

    I recently had the opportunity to ask Rich Foster, MTH’s Sales VP about the very successful Pittsburgh series cars.  He was kind enough to spend some time giving us some specifics and a look into the Pittsburgh series as well as the new the dealer program started here in Pittsburgh.  Rich has been a very pivotal player in researching and working with the Pittsburgh companies and landmarks represented in the series.  His work has paid off in what is undoubtedly a very successful product.

Rich Foster

MTH VP of Sales

MartyE   A local series of cars for any region would be quite an interesting prospect, but one of the most asked questions that seems to always come up is: why Pittsburgh?  What was it about Pittsburgh that you thought it that this project would work?

RF There are several reasons why we felt the Pittsburgh area may be successful.  First, it is simply a good train area, with lots of railroading, railroading history, and an abundance of train enthusiasts.  It seems that virtually everyone you meet from the western Pennsylvania area had an uncle or parent or grandparent that worked for a railroad.  That gives those customers from the area a different perspective on railroads and they seem to enjoy model trains even more than most.  Pittsburgh seems to have a lot of small town feel in a fairly big town so there seems to be more "hometown" feeling from the locals as well as those who have moved away.  With this hometown feel comes a nostalgic feeling for the businesses in that area, like Isaly's or Kennywood Park and folks like to see some of that captured on their layout.” 

The Kennywood Park Cars, including the park exclusive and rare Arrow Car.

MartyE   KDKA Radio has had Mike on the Air several times over the last few years and MTH will have several shows this holiday season as well.  Did the shows with KDKA help get the ball rolling on the Pittsburgh Cars?

The KDKA Box Car available through the Pittsburgh Co-Op dealers.*

RF  “KDKA has been a big part of the success of many of the local products MTH has offered.  One of the KDKA on-air personalities, Rob Pratte, is a big model railroad fan and a fan of MTH.  Rob contacted us about doing an interview with Mike Wolf on model trains and how our business has grown over the years.  We have done some shows and some advertising with Rob on KDKA and his enthusiasm with the hobby really shows through to his audience.  It has helped get some very good exposure for the hobby and for MTH.  I can't really say it lead to the Pittsburgh series, because many factors sort of fell into place, but it had a good deal of influence on it, since getting many of these products exposed to the market is very important.”

MartyE   There are many Pittsburgh cars being offered with many different Pittsburgh businesses represented.  From the Pittsburgh Brewery to our local amusement park and Pittsburgh icon, Kennywood Park, who has been open for over 100 seasons, MTH has captured a real local flavor of the region.  This must have been quite a task especially since not many people outside our hobby associate with O gauge trains. What was the reaction of the local businesses and did MTH expect such great response?

RF  Many of the local businesses we have dealt with for this series have been great to work with.  Often they don't know much about our industry and market, but trains seem to be a "feel good" type of word and most were willing to let us try it and see how it went.  We did not have any grand plans with the series, and I don't believe they felt that the reaction would be a strong as it has been.  It is a win-win-win situation - for the brands featured on the cars, for MTH to partner with many of these great brands, and for the customer to be able to pick up a great looking car that is tied to his hometown area.” 

MartyE   And were there any businesses that were hard to convince to go along with the project?

RF  At times, yes.  We've had a few that haven't been as receptive as we would have liked, but I'll keep working to show them that it is something the market is interested in and can be good for them as well.”

MartyE   The Pittsburgh Brewing series was the first of the bunch.  This so far has included 3 offerings directly from the brewery with a fourth on the way and 4 from the MTH dealers including “The American Beer” refer.  I asked Rich whether we would see an engine to pull these cars.

RF  We are very appreciative of Pittsburgh Brewing and hope to continue with more PBC items in the future.  I won't say what items yet, but an engine may be interesting along with some other ideas we have.” (MTH has offered a brewery building in their 2002 volume 2 catalog without any Pittsburgh Brewing logos. I am sure these would do nicely with a bit of kit bashing.) 

The American Beer Refer

MartyE   MTH has put out just the tip of the stack of Pittsburgh cars that could be made.  I’ve heard from folks at shows and from the OGR Forum about other great Pittsburgh area landmarks and businesses that they would love to see. Obviously all ideas couldn’t be produced but what is the best way for an idea to be submitted?

RF  “I am always interested in hearing from the customer.  The best way to probably get an idea to me is to email me at  We do get many good ideas from folks in the area and often several of them are thinking the same way.  I have a file with a bunch of notes that I have made, either from ideas I may have had or that come from the customer and retailers in the area.  It is tough to do them all too quickly but we will be getting to many of them over time.  If anyone has any thoughts, let me know.  It is tough to answer all of the emails, but I certainly try to make sure I see all of them.” 

MartyE   Although Pittsburgh has a great history in railroading and the material could almost be never ending from the region, a lot of train enthusiasts are wondering how to get their hometown a series of cars.  MTH recently announced what could be a start of another regional series with the Palisades Park car.  I asked Rich how other cities could get their own series started and once again it all seems to come down to the suggestions of the consumers.

RF  Well, if we can come up with the right idea, we would be happy to look into other areas.  That is where the customer's ideas definitely help.  I had briefly given some thought to Palisades Park some time ago, but a customer I have known for years kept mentioning it to me and with some research, the car kind of came about.  Obviously, Palisades Park has that nostalgic, good-time appeal and should be a popular car for those that spent some of their youth there or just heard the Freddy Cannon song.  One note I'd like to make, I don't know the histories behind many of the customer's hometowns like they do.  Whether it is Pittsburgh or anywhere else.  The customer's ideas on this are often the start of something good.”

The Palisades Park Car now being offered.  The start of a new series?*

MartyE   Along with the Pittsburgh series of cars MTH, along with some of the local Pittsburgh retailers have initiated an innovative program to get O gauge railroading more exposure.  Trying to bring new people into our hobby is getting harder with the computer age upon us.  Rich explained to me the concept behind the Pittsburgh Trains program.

RF  We are trying to team up with the retailers in the Pittsburgh area to advertise model trains and try to get more exposure for our hobby. We feel that together, we have a stronger voice and can reach more folks in that area with the message that trains are a great hobby. Today more than ever, we feel people are looking for activities to do with their kids/grandkids. Many people don't even know trains exist and we would like them to think about getting into the hobby, having fun, and building strong family ties and memories. Too many times these days kids are starring at an electronic game screen and that may be OK, but it isn't really something the family is doing together. People will never regret the time they spend with their family and we hope that by teaming up, our message has a better chance of being heard in a very noisy marketplace.

Note: To learn more about this program and the retailers involved visit  The website is full of information from dealers involved, maps to participating dealers as well a complete list of regional cars that are available.  

MartyE   MTH has obviously once again taken the lead in a very unique program and is making trains reflect a more local flavor.  Not only does this attract new hobbyist but keeps the veterans supplied with creative rolling stock that holds a nostalgic place in our hearts. I tried to get Rich to spill the beans on some upcoming cars, he held his ground but did say this.  

RF I can't give any specific hints, but as I said earlier, we have many more good ideas and you will probably some popular items announced in the near future. Some of the future offerings will be continuations of a current series and some will be brand new. As many of the folks have seen, we have primarily offered rolling stock, but we have begun offering some other items and we will be delivering some local buildings and a Montour RR diesel soon. I would like to continue to encourage the ideas and thoughts from not only Pittsburgh, but other areas as well.”    

Some of the future products that we know about including the Isaly's Building and Eat N' Park Car.


Like Rich said, Pittsburgh has always had a high train enthusiast population and from the looks of the train shows and the continuing effort to offer local flavor, including Isaly's and their Chipped Ham,  I can’t see that changing for many years to come.  It is easy to surmise…  

The "I Remember Isaly's" Car

It is truly a great time to be an O gauge railroader in Pittsburgh!




MTH Electric Trains has issued special two special cars that will help raise money for the families of firefighters lost in the 9-11 attacks on New York City.  A portion of the proceeds from each car sold will be donated to the Rescue 2 Family Fund or the North Jersey Media Disaster Relief fund and the Bravest Fund. The special Rescue 2 and Ground Zero Spirit Boxcars will be available in November 2002 and may be ordered on line at  or through your local MTH Authorized Retailer.  Add some local American flair to your layout and help a worthy cause!

*Images used with permission from MTH Electric Trains.