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K-Line Trains

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K-Line #3180-0913S Pennsylvania A5 Steam Loco in 'O' gauge K-Line Electric Trains was a brand name of 'O' gauge, 'S' gauge, and 'G' gauge model railway locomotives, rolling stock, and buildings. Formerly the brand name under which Chapel Hill, North Carolina-based MDK Inc., sold its products.

K-Line Kennecott Copper Corporation MP-15 Diesel Engine in 'O' gauge MDK was founded in 1975 by Maury D. Klein. Maury Klein began his career in toy trains at age four, while watching a battery powered train circle a loop of track. He was puzzled and unsatisfied. At age six, he received a Lionel train set. He was no longer puzzled.

K-Line Black Jack #K2780-4935 GG-1 Pennsylvania Loco in 'O' gauge Maury's train collection began to grow, and by 1974 he was repairing and selling model trains through a small mail order business while attending classes at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. The more he sold the more he realized that there was room for his own train company in the tinplate marketplace. Soon, on a plot of land near Chapel Hill, NC, Maury constructed a building for his mail order business. Shortly thereafter, in 1979, with the help of his father, Mark Klein, Maury and friends began building O27 and 'O' gauge track under the name MDK K-Line.

K-Line by Lionel Milwaukee Road aluminum passenger car in 'O' gauge Like competitor MTH Electric Trains, MDK was a large Lionel dealer, and its mail-order ads appeared in magazines such as Model Railroader in the late 1970's. MDK first used the K-Line name on a line of aftermarket Lionel-compatible tubular track as well as a copy of the A.C. Gilbert American Flyer line of two-rail 'S' gauge track which Maury Klein acquired at Gilbert's demise.

K-Line Great Northern Empire Builder passenger car circa 1999 in 'O' gauge Louis Marx and Company's final demise in 1978 led to MDK increasing the K-Line product line. In 1980, MDK purchased the tooling for Marx's Plasticville-like Marxville buildings and accessories for train sets at bankruptcy. In 1981, K-Line began turning out 'O' gauge scale buildings as K-LineVille. K-Line was also able to recover additional Marx tooling by scavenging through old factories and warehouses. In an oft-repeated story, Maury Klein and his plant manager, Brent Chambers, found the molds for the Marx 1947 model #333 Pacific and #1829 4-6-2 Hudson locomotives in a dilapidated Fisher-Price warehouse near Buffalo, New York in 1984. The warehouse was unlighted, unheated, and was missing part of its roof. Snow was actually coming through the hole in the roof, as they scavenged the molds.

K-Line UP Challenger 'O' gauge scale detailed loco circa 2004 The next acquisition was a collection of Kusan rolling stock dies. Kusan Model Trains (KMT) Corporation built 'O' gauge plastic toy trains using dies made by Auburn Model Trains (American Model Trains in an earlier life). In 1961, KMT bailed from toy train manufacturing and the dies were snapped up by Andy Kriswalus for his Kris Model Trains Company. Kris sank in the early 1980's, however, and Jerry Williams bought many of the dies for his Williams Reproductions. Williams used some of the molds for his own models before selling them to MDK K-Line in 1986. By 1986, K-Line was producing O27 locomotives, cars, and figures from former Marx and Kusan tooling, and, with minor changes, began marketing them under the K-Line brand, competing with Lionel at the low end of the market. The dies mostly remained unchanged, with only the branding changing--for example, "Marxville" plastic buildings became "K-Lineville". K-Line changed the couplers on the Marx-derived trains to make the cars compatible with Lionel, and, eventually, improved the graphics.

K-Line #766-1059 ATSF Express Service Reefer, and 2 variations of the #641-1492A Rio Grande Boxcar in 'O' gauge K-Line's 1986 catalog featured track, buildings and rolling stock at very affordable prices. Meanwhile, two KMT diesel locomotive molds for an Alco FA-12 and an MP-15, were being reworked and updated by K-Line's research and development team.

K-Line Alco FA Diesel made from Kusan dies in 1987 During the 1980's, K-Line filled much the same role that Marx had in the model railroading arena, supplying similar trains at a lower price than Lionel, but with less prestige. Because K-Line's budget offerings remained almost unchanged from the old Marx designs, Marx collectors would sometimes source spare parts from K-Line.

Maury Klein's 1987 catalog opened to reveal train sets, track, and accessories that threatened to catapault the company into the industry's upper echelon, alongside Lionel, Williams, MTH, and Weaver. But while Klein offered quality products at low prices, he was a step away from the premium grade models of the competition. K-Line continued to inch forward. One 1987 item that aided greatly in that effort was the brand new MK-15 'O' gauge diesel switcher that was powered by dual Mabuchi DC can motors mounted in the trucks. It was an outstanding product. It was available in New York Central's green or black, Chessie, Santa Fe blue and yellow, K-Line MKT Texas Special Alco ABA made in 1995 from original Kusan dies Great Northern, CSX, Norfolk Southern, and Southern Pacific paint schemes. 1989 saw the release of heavyweight passenger cars, SP Overnight Classic box cars in 4 pack sets, and a B&O Budd RDC 3-car set. The Budd cars were made from original Marx tooling. The 1993 K-Line catalog was 68 pages and touted the very colorful Circus Train with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey markings on the tender and all cars. The set was headed by a blue and red 4-6-2 steam loco with whistling tender. By 1995 K-Line had upgraded the original Kusan dies to produce an Alco ABA version of the MKT Texas Special with considerable detail added. The company continued to produce a series of complete ready to run train sets headed by the Alco engine, and decorated in several other road names, pulling new highly detailed plastic injection molded streamlined passenger cars. Licensing deals were made with several major corporations such as Hershey's and Coca-Cola resulting in sets being issued in the highly recognizable color schemes and branding from these companies.

K-Line Pacific type 4-6-2 loco built in 1993 using re-worked original Marx #333 dies In the 1990's, K-Line was able to purchase more disused tooling from other manufacturers, and to develop some of their own new tooling, allowing the company to offer full-size 'O' gauge for the first time, which it supplemented with pricier 'O' gauge locomotives and rolling stock of its own design, shifting its emphasis away from its budget offerings. The first edition of the K-Line 1999 catalog announced the introduction of a series of new extruded aluminum passenger cars available in 15", 18" and 21" lengths. The cars were made in a variety of liveries identifying most major railroads such as Pennsylvania, Canadian Pacific, Lackawanna, and NYC. In 2001 K-Line produced their 'O' gauge version of the Southern Pacific GS-4 Daylight steam locomotive. The model was well received by hobbyists, and featured sophisticated electronics combined with a permanent magnet DC motor, rubber traction tires, and improvements in die-casting techniques. In 2004 K-Line released their detailed 1:48 scale die-cast Mikado 2-8-2 steam locomotive.

K-Line 'S' gauge boxcars circa 2003- Missouri Pacific Eagle, MKT Katy & New York Central K-Line's 'S' gauge offerings were a later entry, providing budget-priced cars as well as the already produced track compatible with American Flyer-brand trains. Unlike its line of 'O' gauge products, K-Line's marketing on its 'S' gauge cars centered its price advantage over the competition. Most of the 'S' gauge products were made from old Marx O27 molds, with 'S' gauge trucks replacing the 'O' trucks. The K-Line 'S' gauge repurposed Marx box car was a near perfect fit for the prototype dimensional standards of mid-195O's and later railroading. The K-line 'S' gauge repurposed Marx 3-dome tank car was less prototypical, but acceptable. These cars were far more prototypical than the stamped metal cars A. C. Gilbert produced in 1953 and 1954 for its most inexpensive American Flyer sets. The freight car's $20.00 price tag included sprung metal trucks and operating knuckle couplers.

In order to compete in a marketplace dominated by the likes of Lionel and MTH, K-Line began to offer its more expensive engines at a loss. They also hired a former Lionel engineer to help them innovate and develop products that incorporated new technologies. K-Line and Lionel were known to criticize one another's offerings in print advertisements, and the two companies challenged one another in court as well. Lionel discovered someone in K-Line's employ had knowledge of Lionel trade secrets based on the CW-80 Transformer and others dealing with Cruise Control for Toy Trains. The two companies settled a lawsuit on August 10, 2005 with K-Line agreeing to withdraw infringing products by January 31, 2006 and paying a royalty to Lionel in the interim. K-Line also licensed some of its technology to Lionel, and reimbursed $700,000 K-line B&O Pacific Steam Engine made 1999 using re-worked original Marx #333 dies of legal costs. Shortly thereafter the settlement fell apart and on August 23, 2005, MDK filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. On October 27, K-Line and Lionel reached a new settlement, including a permanent injunction against manufacturing products containing the disputed technology, a $2 million damage claim in its bankruptcy case, and royalty-free access to several K-Line patents.

K-Line's 2005 bankruptcy petition stated that its annual sales were between $7 and $8 million.

K-Line US Army GP Diesel in 'G' gauge made 2004 Over the next few months, K-Line's operations slowed and there were numerous layoffs and rumors of potential purchasers, which were highly publicized among hobbyists. On February 16, 2006, Lionel announced it had purchased K-Line. Since Lionel was also in bankruptcy, the deal, which actually involved the purchase of K-Line by Sanda Kan, its Chinese subcontractor, followed by Sanda Kan's licensing of the trademarks and intellectual property to Lionel, took several weeks to become final. The deal was finalized on April 18, 2006, and Lionel made the announcement the following day. K-Line was now owned by Sanda Kan, the Chinese toy manufacturer that formerly acted as K-Line's subcontractor. Sanda Kan licensed the use of the K-Line brand and intellectual property to Lionel Trains LLC.

K-Line by Lionel 'O' gauge Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey circus train flat cars with loads Prior to the 2005 legal action, the relationship between Lionel and K-Line had generally been more amicable than Lionel's relationship with MTH. Lionel had licensed TMCC to K-Line, and K-Line produced a number of repair manuals for postwar-era Lionel. K-Line had also produced commemorative cars celebrating some of Lionel's significant anniversaries, which has sometimes caused confusion among collectors.

K-line 'O' gauge Pennsylvania Smoking Wood-Sided Caboose circa 2002 From 2006 to 2010 Lionel continued a limited run of K-Line trains called K-Line by Lionel. They also issued separate K-Line by Lionel catalogs until 2010. Missing were the extravagant passenger trains which had competed directly with Lionel's premium products. In a twist of fate, Lionel gained possession of the rights to produce American Flyer track, which until then was missing from its American Flyer train line. When the Lionel license expired, Sandra Kan sold the K-Line dies to several other companies, with some going to each of Atlas, Bachmann, and Ready Made Toys (RMT).

Many 'O' gauge train operators considered K-Line's 1:48 scale heavyweight passenger cars and 21" extruded aluminum passenger cars to be highly collectable, and the K-Line licensed Ringling Bros. Circus cars are prized by 3-rail model railroad collectors and operators world wide. Since K-Line trains are no longer produced, their collectability has increased substantially.

Link to Legacy K-Line Trains Web Site where you can find an on-line catalog of products made between 1999-2005.

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