Quality Under $200.00: Athearn Genesis, Atlas Master, & Walther’s Mainline

Quality Under $200.00: Athearn Genesis, Atlas Master, & Walther’s Mainline

NOTE: This article is specifically about HO scale models. Prices for other scales may vary widely.

Many things have changed about model railroading since I first started in the late 1970s. One of the most apparent is the cost. I still have Athearn model engines in the old blue box that I paid $US25.00 or less for, new, and model train cars I paid less than US$8.00 for new. Today, quality is hard to come by for less than $100.00 unless you manage to snatch a great deal on eBay (and I have done that a few times), but you can get quality for under $200.00, specifically from Athearn Genesis, Atlas Master, and Walther’s Mainline.

Athearn Genesis

Athearn Genesis® is Athearn’s top-of-the-line brand. The Genesis brand was developed in the late 1990s as Athearn revamped many of their molds and their brand structure. Genesis model locomotives are more highly detailed than other Athearn products (such as their Ready To Roll®, or RTR as many modelers call it, line, which is basically an update and improvement on the old “blue box” line) and do not come complete. Instead, the engines in this line come with detail parts and hand rails separate, with instructions on how to apply them.

Athearn has long been a favorite of mine and I have several old “blue box” engines that I am slowly upgrading to DCC. I had read a lot of great things about the Genesis line and heard friends talk about them, so I recently picked up an older, but never used, Genesis engine off of eBay, getting it for under $100.00. It is a BNSF SD75I and is easily one of the most beautiful model train engines I have ever owned. The SD70 line from Genesis retails for $199.98 for the non-sound, DC version (which mine is), but you can often find them for less from different retailers, both online and in actual stores. The Athearn Genesis® line is worth every penny you pay for them as far as I am concerned (especially since I got mine for a steal!).

The Athearn Genesis SD75I I recently acquired.

Close up of the cab of the Athearn Genesis SD75I

Close up of the rear of the Athearn Genesis SD75I

Etched metal fan covers really add to the realism of the Athearn Genesis SD 75I

I should note that there will be some models in this line that retail for more than $200.00, especially among the steam engines and their Union Pacific gas turbine. Also, it is the non-sound/non-DCC versions of the line that will be under $200.00. If you want DCC versions, they are almost $100.00 more.

Atlas Master Silver

Atlas Model Railroad Company was one of the companies that made innovations early in the hobby that led to it being the widespread commercial success it is today. They didn’t start marketing model train engines, though, until the 1970s, and those were actually imports manufactured in Austria by Roco. As time went on, Atlas began to manufacture their own model engines, and to raise the bar on quality in the process. Today, the top of the line brand for Atlas is their Master series, which is produced in “Gold” and “Silver” versions. Atlas Master Silver are quality model train engines, under $200.00, but are DC only (though usually DCC compatible) and do not come with sound.

I do not currently own an Atlas Master model engine, but I’ve had the pleasure of examining a couple of different models, to see the detailing and precision that Atlas built its name on. Though not as super-detailed as the Athearn Genesis models, with their separately applied detail parts, the Atlas Master Silver GE Dash 8-40CW and EMD MP15DC I got to play with were both still exceptional models and well worth their MSRP of $169.95.

Manufacturer’s photo of the Dash 8 I got to examine.

Manufacturers photo of the MP15DC I played around with

Again, the Silver line does not come DCC equipped, or with sound, so if you want sound and DCC you will either pay nearly $300.00 for the Gold version or spend a bit on a DCC decoder and install it yourself.

Walther’s Mainline

Walther’s Mainline is Walther’s line of quality, detailed model train engines and cars. Walthers has been around since the 1930s, when they started as a manufacturer of model rail, model couplers, and model train electrical parts. Eventually, the evolved into producing quality building and scenery kits as well, and then into a full-line distributor for other model train companies. Walther’s acquired Life-Like in 2005, and Life-Like’s Proto series became the primary Walther’s line of highly detailed model train engines. To fill the market for ready-to-run model engines, Walther’s created their Mainline line.

One of the two Walther’s Mainline SD70ACes I recently purchased.

Close up of the cab of the Walther’s Mainline SD70ACe

Close up of the rear of the Walther’s Mainline SD70ACe

Though not etched metal like the Athearn Genesis, these are the most detailed plastic model fan covers I’ve ever seen.

Mainline model engines are not as highly detailed as the Athearn Genesis or even Atlas Master models, but they are far more detailed than the ready-to-run model locomotives of years past. The really nice thing about the Mainline models is that even the DCC and sound equipped versions often have an MSRP of under $200.00. On a recent trip to a hobby shop, I picked up a Mainline Union Pacific SD70ACe with DCC and sound and a Norfolk Southern SD70ACe without either. The one without sound was a little over $100.00 and the one with sound just a little over $150.00. Both are amazingly beautiful models, and the best looking ready-to-run models I’ve seen in ages. I will be adding some super detailing to both down the road, but for engines that are ready to go right out of the box, you really can’t beat the Mainline series.

Quality Under $200.00: Athearn Genesis, Atlas Master, and Walther’s Mainline – all three are highly recommended by all of us here at Model Trains for Beginners. I have a Genesis and two Mainline engines, and based on the two I got to play with a bit, I’ll be soon adding one or two Atlas Master models to my model train roster. If you are looking for good deals on model train engines, pick up a model from one of these three lines.

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Robert Thomson

Robert W. Thomson is a life-long railfan, the son of a former L&N Railroad B&B gang foreman, and an amateur photographer. He was born and raised in southeast Tennessee but now lives in Butte, Montana with his wife, Connie and cat, Charlie. Robert has worked as a park ranger, underground mine tour guide, freelance roleplaying game writer, and ran his own roleplaying game publishing company until selling it in 2012.

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About The Author

Robert Thomson

Robert W. Thomson is a life-long railfan, the son of a former L&N Railroad B&B gang foreman, and an amateur photographer. He was born and raised in southeast Tennessee but now lives in Butte, Montana with his wife, Connie and cat, Charlie. Robert has worked as a park ranger, underground mine tour guide, freelance roleplaying game writer, and ran his own roleplaying game publishing company until selling it in 2012.