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The Key to Model Railroad Heaven: A Review of the "Walthers 2013 H.O. Reference Book"

Updated on November 4, 2012

© 2012 by Aurelio Locsin.

Like all model railroaders, I relish the day when my train layout is fully realized with beautiful scenery, miniature structures, hordes of inch-high figures and of course, railcars. As with most of my brethren (and alas, sistren, are almost non-existent in the hobby), my aspirations are repressed by lack of skill, time and money. So I lock my dreams away in the same box that holds my yearnings to communicate with extraterrestrials or become a pteranadon, and get on with daily life.

5 stars for Walthers 2013 H.O. Reference


But then the Walthers 2013 H.O. Reference Book appears and opens my imagination chest to keep the dream alive. Because this paperback, with its exactly 1,000, mostly color pages, describes the 1/87th-scale pieces that can make my imaginings real.

As with previous years, the catalog is sized at 8-1/2 x 11 inches, with each page tabbed in a different color to make sections easier to find. A Table of Contents in the front, and a 15-page, 6-column-per-page Index in the back make it easy to locate goodies of interest. These location aids prove nearly superfluous. At least when I first bought the tome, I read it from first page to last, engrossed in its page as if it revealed the secrets of life.



The catalog, produced by the largest distributor of model railroading equipment, boasts a cornucopia of all things trains. Complete sets, locomotives, passenger cars, freight cars, structures, figures, vehicles, tools, scratch building supplies, books and videos are just some of the main sections in the Table of Contents. Most items have a color or back-and-white picture, a brief description, name and price.

Typical for the book is The Magic of Model Railroading, which consist of 45 pages of inspirational photographs of beautiful H.O. layouts, some having won awards. One shows a horse-drawn buggy parked in front of the schoolhouse at Walnut Grove from TV’s “Little House on the Prairies.” Another has a steamer chugging by a herd of sheep in 1920s Colorado. And a third shows a 44-ton diesel switcher pulling supplies at the 1940s Port Weston Harbor.

New for the year is a 12-month full color wall calendar, which unfortunately crams two months in each 7-1/2 x 11-inch page. Some of the days sport descriptions of important model railroading days, such as the beginning of the NMRA National Convention on July 14. Each month has a full-color model railroading picture to one side.



The last two versions of the catalog lavished at least five full pages on new structures that Walthers had created, something I’d always looked forward to. The company specializes in American prototype buildings, somewhat rare in an industry dominated by European prototypes. The current version has no such advantage. In fact, the only new structure is a drive-in restaurant that is lumped with railcars and vehicles to three pages of “What’s New” near the front of the catalog.


Bottom Line

If you’re into H.O.-scale model railroading, then you need this catalog. Nothing else out there even comes close. This reference also allows ordering. But heed one tip: check the item first on the Walthers website, which frequently has products on sale. Then place your order with your nearest hobby shop. It may take a week for it to arrive and you’ll need to pick your package up at the shop, but most merchants will not charge you shipping. The only additional thing you pay is your sales tax.


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    • bn9900 profile image

      Clayton Hartford 4 years ago from Alger WA

      Wonderful hub, very informative, however, might I touch on your disappointment section. With the economy as sluggish as it has been the last 4 years Walthers has to scale back as the little people might not have the extra cash to splash out on a hobby. To that end, they are just putting out what they have in their stock instead of creating new molds and other things. Hopefully they will put out more as the economy improves. I call the Walthers Catalog, the Model Railroad Bible, a must flip through for the newbie and oldie alike.

    • bn9900 profile image

      Clayton Hartford 5 years ago from Alger WA

      I have used this catalog (Walthers) over the past 25 years and I've always referred to it as the HO Bible.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 5 years ago

      My husband loves model railroads and sets. We used to have several years ago, now I only have the videos left to watch on occasion. They are so fascinating.

    • alocsin profile image

      alocsin 5 years ago from Orange County, CA

      I love wireless sets, rfmoran. I am, in fact, saving money to buy one, and will write a review as soon as I get it.

    • rfmoran profile image

      Russ Moran 5 years ago from Long Island, New York

      This is a hub for people who never quite grew up (like me). Great treatment of a model railroad resource. I see from your other hubs that you are quite an enthusiast. I am a dabbler with HO setups over the years. Big question, if I may: What are your thoughts on WIRELESS sets? Perhaps you should write a hub about that. Stringing wires is tough on an aging Boomer's body.