UMTRR FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)
©2001-2015 George J. Irwin. All rights reserved. Legal Stuff

In this page I hope to answer a few of the more common queries I've received over the years(!) that I've written the UMTRR. More questions and answers will be added as time permits. I've organized them into what appear to be logical sections.

1. What is the history of Micro-Trains?
That's enough for a couple of web pages at least, but to summarize: The Kadee Quality Products Company was founded in the 1940's by brothers Keith and Dale Edwards. That's where you get the "K" and "D" in Kadee. The company's flagship product was its HO magnetic operating coupler, which set the standard for prototypical operation-- in fact, it's not a stretch to say it enabled prototypical operation. The line grew and expanded into other scales from HO, and in the late 1960's made it into N Scale. From the couplers came the trucks, and then, in late 1972, the Micro-Trains Line of freight cars. The company continued to grow across all scales to the point where it was decided to split the Kadee Quality Products Company into two parts. Kadee would continue to make and market to HO Scale and up, and Dale Edwards would look after that business. A new firm, Micro-Trains Line Inc. was founded in 1990 to handle the N and Z Scale lines, which included trucks, couplers and freight cars, under the ownership of Keith Edwards. And as they say, the rest is history. The next generation of the families are now in charge of the two companies.

2. Why do you think there is such an interest in Micro-Trains?
Everyone has a reason for collecting, running and/or "accumulating" MTL cars. My principal reason is that I appreciate the prototype history behind many of the releases. And, of course, I buy 'em because I like 'em. Other reasons I've heard are the breadth of the offerings, the fact that in general MT cars remain the best available in N and Z Scales, and the concept of not being able to have just one. My favorite expression on this topic, by the way, I first saw on John Nehrich's website: "the half-Noah," meaning "one of everything." (As opposed to the two of every animal that Noah took on the Ark... look it up!)


1. What's the most popular release ever?
That would be very hard to say, since popularity is mostly a personal opinion. If you count by different metrics, you'd have different answers to consider.

In terms of number of releases, you'd have to put the 20090 Southern Pacific "Overnights" boxcar in as #1 since it's been released in 26 road numbers-- that's 26 cars in total with that paint scheme counted several multi-packs and a Runner Pack as of January 2015 and they've always sold out quickly. Not bad considering that technically that's not even the right boxcar on which to paint that scheme.

In terms of number of releases for a specific body style, the far and away leader is the 20000 PS-1 boxcar series, which is the one with which Micro-Trains started in 1972. There have been so many releases that MTL ran out of catalog numbers under its standard numbering convention back in 1990! And they may run out of catalog numbers again using their modified system before too long. As of July 2003 there were more than 400 different releases on more than 200 different paint schemes through 2014. Which body style is in second place depends on how you count.

In terms of measuring popularity by how fast something sells out, I have a few ideas, including the original run of the 93040 Sclair® Center Flow® covered hopper, the 21320 Illinois State Car, and several of the early Burlington Northern "Fallen Flag" sets. But I'd have to mention that sellout speed is a factor of both production run size and appeal to dealers (as a proxy for appeal to their customers). We don't know much about the actual run sizes of MTL releases, but we do know with reasonable certainty that they're not of equal quantities across all cars.

By the way, I don't think I could pin myself down to just one "favorite" release.

2. When did MTL start painting door detail on its refrigerator cars?
The first car to receive this treatment was the 49350 Puritan Malt 40 foot wood refrigerator car with vertical brake wheel, issued October 1991.

3. What's this about freight car kits?

For a time in the 1980's and 1990's, first Kadee and then MTL offered many of their new and reprint releases in easy to assemble kit form. For box cars and refrigerator cars, it was pretty much put the trucks on the underframe, snap the underframe into the body shell, and enjoy. Hoppers and tank cars were more of a challenge. Putting the drop ends into gondolas could frazzle impatient nerves as well.

In March, 1992, all releases became ready to run only according to "The Short Line" for that month. That means that the final kit releases for MTL were from February 1992:
20096, Florida East Coast 40 foot single door box car
22010, Burlington Northern 40 foot plug and sliding door box car (reprint)
38130, Triangle Pacific 50 foot plug door box car (reprint)
42030, Muncie and Western/Ball Glass Jars 40 foot wood boxcar (reprint)
46320, Conrail gondola, fishbelly sides drop ends
65310, Chicago Great Western tank car (the green one)

It took a number of years for all of MTL's kit stock to sell out; in fact I don't think the last one left the factory until the late 1990's. While it's relatively rare to see MTL cars in kit form in hobby stores these days, it's still not out of the question. Kits are great purchases for the accumulator since most collectors aren't interested in them.

4. What's the rarest Micro-Trains car?

No one actually knows the answer to this question as far as regular release cars are concerned. That's because first, the production runs of all MTL regular run cars are kept secret, or simply unknown in the case of early productions. Second, although not as marked as with say, silver coins, no one knows how many of the production are actually left in collectible or at least runnable condtion. There are several nominees, though:

What I consider to be the rarest of the regular release cars is the 47180 "Oregon and Nationwide" wood refrigerator car. It is not done for a prototype railroad at all, but a modeller's own line, and it's widely been reported (but never actually confirmed) that there were only several hundred pieces made. It regularly goes for $500-plus on the collector's circuit and quite a bit less as a runner but still a non-trivial amount of money.

Then there's the 20370 West India Fruit box car in brown and white-- not to be confused with the other WIF box car releases from the 1990's. The story on this one is that it was issued in low numbers in 1983, when Kadee was generally doing shorter runs. It's topped out at over $600 as a new in box, and to be honest, I've never seen a runner sold or auctioned. Unlike the Oregon and Nationwide, there are other West India Fruit Micro-Trains cars to choose from, so runners need not be terribly concerned.

A third candidate--and by no means does this exhaust the list-- is road number 180199 of catalog 20047, a plain old New York Central 40 foot single door box car. Its numbers are supposedly so few that I can't decide whether it really was intended to be a regular run release-- and since the 1970's era records of Kadee weren't that detailed, I don't know whether they could ever tell us either. That car has garnered right around $2000 (!) in past auction action, but again, there are plenty of other road numbers available to the accumulator, not the least of which is the more accurate March 1998 reprint.

All of the above counts only for regular issue cars, not production samples, mistakes and other oddities that have gotten out of the factory over the years; that's a whole 'nother question. Special runs, which generally have known production quantities of at least 300 or so, don't count here either.

5. What are "rib-back wheels" and why should I care?
Rib-back wheels are the term given to the first type of wheels that were used in MTL trucks and freight cars. They have a spirial pattern on the back of each wheel (the side that doesn't face outward). These were modeled after some prototype wheels which carry this pattern as well. They are important to collectors because they came as original equipment on Micro-Trains releases for at least the first fifteen years or so, therefore their presence means at least that the cars have "original equipment" wheels. That doesn't mean that they haven't been replaced, of course, since, without an electron microscope or such, it would not be possible to tell whether the wheels are "the wheels" (more on this below).

The molding for the rib-backed wheels broke in July 1987 and was never fixed. Micro-Trains went to the current version of its wheels, called "smooth backed" to distinguish them from the "rib backed" predecessors. However, as there was a large supply of rib-backed wheels still available at the factory, a number of MTL cars issued from September 1987 still may have come with rib-backed wheels. Or they may have come with smooth-backed wheels. No one knows exactly when the last rib-backed wheel was used on a factory-issued MTL car, but I think it's a safe bet to say that they were gone by the time the Kadee/Micro-Trains split occurred in 1990.

Meanwhile, remember that Micro-Trains also sold trucks and wheels separately. I still find the occassional old package of trucks with rib-backed wheels at hobby shops and swap meets, more than fifteen years after they were last manufactured!

6. What is/was the "Class of '72"?
The "Class of 72" is the name that I've given to the first series of Micro-Trains boxcar releases that Kadee produced. They were first offered in November and December 1972, hence the nickname I've given them. I call the 20018/20010 Grand Trunk Western "Car One" because it happens to be the first catalog number, but technically all the November '72 cars were released together.

For the record, they are as follows: November, 20018/20010 Grand Trunk Western, 20058 Rock Island, 20089/20070 Union Pacific, 20093/20080 Southern Pacific; December, 20029 New Haven (NYNH&H), 20039 Norfolk and Western, 20047 New York Central, 20062 Southern, 20072 Santa Fe (AT&SF). The 20000 Undecorated was also released in November 1972 but that's not really a roadname, eh? The online Micro-Trains database on their site has more details including exact road numbers by release.

Note that many of these cars were not great sellers at first. Many of them hung on for years and numerous price increases from the original $3.00 and $3.25 in fact. Several of them were offered under the "new" catalog number system as well; those are the ones with the two numbers before the roadname (the first catalog number is the original one which was to denote the roadname in the fourth and fifth digits). "Car One" GTW took perhaps the longest time of all to sell out. You can see it in the Micro-Story "Car One" elsewhere on the site.


1. How did this get started?
Good question. Maybe "why did this get started?" is another one. But what has become the UMTRR began as a simple listing of the monthly releases on the old Prodigy Bulletin Board. (Remember that?) After I traded in Prodigy for my current ISP, I began to post the MT releases on the Usenet newsgroup rec.models.railroad. For a while it was just the releases, but starting around the middle of 1995, I couldn't resist adding my own commentary. That commentary became longer and more involved, and gradually grew into the bytes I now distribute every month. In 1997, I decided to move the distribution of the main column from rec.models.railroad to e-mail, where it's stayed since. In January 2010 the column changed from plain text to a PDF format which allowed me to add images and much better formatting (well, actually any formatting at all).

By the way, the exact date of the first posting to Prodigy or r.m.r, or the "birth" of what's become the UMTRR, isn't known-- I never bothered to keep track, since I didn't expect that it would continue for more than a few months. (Fortunately, my kids' and my wife's birthday are better committed to memory.) Therefore, I've selected January 1996 as the "official" start of the "unofficial" reports. The first column actually titled "The Unofficial Micro-Trains Release Report" was the January 1997 edition, and I started numbering the issues in July 2002 (Issue #67). The milestone 100th issue was in April 2005 and the 200th issue was "published" in August 2013.

2. OK, I'll bite. Why did this get started?
Better question. The official answer is, "It combines my interest in trains with my interest in writing." I think it fits. I've come to realize that I like to tell stories, and the monthly MTL releases give me that opportunity every month plus the discipline of a deadline to get something out the door. I think that's the key to why it's gradually become longer since 1996.

3. How many readers do you have?
That's a closely guarded secret. But to offer a tantalizing hint, if the UMTRR Community were a Railroad Historical Society, it would be one of the largest if not the largest! Readers aren't limited to the e-mail distribution and the shy folks (like you?) who visit the website; there are a number of model railroad clubs and other organizations that distribute hard copies of the column or relevant pieces of it to their members. I've been to hobby shops where it's literally posted on the bulletin board (somewhat embarrassing... but much appreciated!). And of course my Dad read it every month via snail mail until his passing in April 2013.

4. What does Micro-Trains think of the UMTRR?
They have been very accepting of my coverage, whether the UMTRR is complementary or critical of their offerings. I've met the principals at Micro-Trains Line, including Keith and Coral Edwards and MTL CEO Eric Smith. In fact, I've interviewed Eric Smith several times for The N Scale Collector / N Scale Enthusiast magazine, including specials on the occasion of the 25th Anniversary and the 30th Anniversary of the first Micro-Trains freight car release.

5. How about other magazines? Aren't you competition for their product reviews?
I suppose so... well, maybe not. I do have formal training as a journalist, and given that, I tend to think of the UMTRR as more like a newspaper than a magazine anyway. As such it's more like two different genres. Although I do find it amusing when MTL products are reviewed and pictured in model railroad publications a month or two after they've already been discontinued!

6. How long do you expect to continue writing the UMTRR?
Short answer, paraphrased from a commercial advertising program: "You keep readin', I'll keep writin'." But seriously, on balance the UMTRR is a lot of fun and I will keep at it as long as I feel I can continue to provide a quality output. I had said I would shoot for the Tenth Anniversary Edition in January 2007, but it appears I could mark the Twentieth Anniversary in January 2017. Stay tuned...

Have any questions you'd like to see answered? Send them in!