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End of an Era: Half a Century Of Blue Box Kits

October 16, 2009

50 years of Athearn Kits

Athearn announced this Morning that they decided to discontinue the manufacture of their iconic “blue box” kits….this is truly a sad day for HO modelers everywhere. Some may shun them for their detail, but we all know they all reinforced our love of the hobby to some degree. I can honestly point to them specifically for holding my interest in the hobby from toy trains to scale modeling during my teen years. Getting my first blue box locomotive a Union Pacific SW7 (which I still have) is a memory I shant forget. Read the announcement for yourself.

Athearn Discontinues Manufacture of Blue Box Kits

Affordability and Selection were their strong points without a doubt, an average middle class kid could build a roster of freight cars and locomotives in a fun and regular manner $5 and $25 at a time instead of saving up for a $30 pre-built car or $150 RTR locomotive. For those who love seeing a sea of freight cars in their yard, perhaps this will be somewhat harder now and undoubtedly more expensive.

For those learning, impatient or unskilled it was satisfying to build a kit with nothing but a small flathead screwdriver and seldomly some model glue and have it look nice and complete. It’s always been a good entry-level modeling project for beginners, and actually how some of the older modelers among us started; not with a train set, but with an individual model freight car kit. On the kitchen table, working those stamped steel sides, ends and wooden floor onto some sprung metal trucks was an accomplishment! For the younger modelers, the injection molded plastic with sharp lettering provided a satisfying 10 minute assembly and hours of fun running it around your small layout behind your trainset equipment. There was practically something for everyone too, between the MDC roundhouse and the blue box kits, from 1860’s to 1990’s equipment, you could practically model any era.

The Diesels, even with their quirks (like the widebody hood units) were still reliable, powerful locomotives that could outpull practically anything and do so with that classic gear growl that sounded very diesel like…who needs sound? Their flickering cab light and the bevy of blue sparks coming from their cast steel wheels as they yanked a colorful consist of “shake the (blue) box” kits bobbed behind them is still an iconic scene of the hobby.

So, I bid Adeiu to the staple of our HO scale hobby and perhaps the most influencial million pieces of plastic to turn thousands of hobbyists into model railroaders.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 16, 2009 6:30 pm

    Wow, that’s too bad that they are doing away with the Blue Box kits.

    As with you my first locomotive I ever bought was a Blue Box DRGW GP40-2. I remember that after the newness of it wore off a bit, I finally got brave and painted the metal handrails to match the prototype. Then I added a plow and a few other minor details. Then my second was another Blue Box, a SP SD40T-2.

    Those were great times.

    Also all of my first rolling stock was Blue Box kits as well, because as you said, it was the best could afford.

  2. January 3, 2010 1:53 am

    i still have a dozen of these that i have yet to assemble and dozens that have already been assembled. they were sometimes challenging to get road worthy, but with little effort and adjusting they did the job. In the meantine, i have bagan purchasing the Accurail kits as a welcomed alternative – but the BB kits will be sorely missed….there is a show in my city soon. ill be sure to snatch up as many as i can afford. before long they will be going for $100.00 a pop on ebay – then again, maybe not…

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