A visit from Oliver and David

Today, I hosted Oliver and David Clubine – the father and son team behind Ridgehill Scale Models, which produced the CNR Fowler boxcar and CNR cabooses that I use on my layout.

What an absolute treat to have these two in the layout room!

David is planning an S scale CNR layout featuring Port Dover, Simcoe and Port Rowan. Oliver has been working on an S scale model of the Port Rowan station – he’s been busy modifying Grandt Line windows. Both know a fair bit about the Port Rowan branch and seemed to enjoy their visit to my layout. It’s always nice to show off the layout to people who know the area I’m trying to model.

David and I ran a freight extra to Port Rowan, with four cars to set off and three to lift. Things well reasonably well, although the tender on locomotive 1560 derailed a few times. Either the change in weather is having its way with trackwork or I need to fiddle with something in the drawbar area. I’ll do some tests and fix the problem.

We talked a lot about the market for resin kits in S, since the Clubines market resin models. I am, frankly, surprised that modellers working in S, in general, do not “celebrate the differences” in rolling stock to the same degree as our cousins in HO. It seems to me that S scalers are far more willing to accept a model as prototypically accurate because the paint scheme is correct – nevermind issues like gussets, underframe arrangements, end details, and so on. I know many modellers working in HO who buy multiples of available resin kits to cover the variants in a given car type – not only road-specific variants, but also variants introduced over the life of the prototype. That doesn’t seen to happen as much in S, which is a shame because S is such a builder’s scale: It’s enough bigger than HO that the details really leap out, and at 1:64 it’s a natural for scratch-building because measurements are easy to convert from the protoype (most Imperial rulers are marked with 1/64 inches, so each tick mark equals an inch on the prototype).

So, the question becomes, why aren’t S scale modellers demanding – and then buying – resin kits that celebrate these differences? I don’t know the answer.

But I do know that when I visit layouts like the one my friend Pierre Oliver is building, I’m always struck by the wonderful variety of rolling stock. Even boxcars are unique. A string of house cars will present to the viewer a riot of roof heights and roof-panel treatments – something that one just doesn’t see in S scale.

That’s a question to ponder another day. For now, I’m really glad Oliver and David made the trip and seemed pleased with what they saw. It was great to run a train, and talk about the state of S scale and future plans for the layout. I will address the derailing issue – possibly caused by a sticky drawbar, and possibly by seasonal shifts in trackwork.

And I look forward to the next visit by the Clubines!

14 thoughts on “A visit from Oliver and David

  1. Is it conceivable that S scale, like O is still primarily driven by legacy thinking and the toy train roots of the scale? The exceptions in both scales of course, being the finescale and proto-scale segments.

    Mike

    • Hi Mike:
      That could be part of the issue, yes. As is the case in O scale vs. O 3-rail, the number of people working in Scale S (as opposed to American Flyer) is quite small. That means the number of manufacturers doing resin or mixed media kits is similarly small.

      Often, a modeller working in 1:64 has become a manufacturer simply because they want something in S that isn’t otherwise available, and feel others might too. The manufacturers in the S Scale Workshop are good examples of that: They wanted specific equipment (such as CNR steam locomotives, cabooses and passenger equipment) and becoming a manufacturer was a way to make that happen. So, resin kits tend to reflect the interests of the manufacturers.

      And since there are so few offerings, chances are just about every scale S layout will have representatives of each manufacturer’s line – in part, because the S community is really good at supporting those who make an effort. That’s why, for example, my obscure branch line in southern Ontario has a Central of Georgia ventilated boxcar and will, at some point, have a Southern gondola: Jim King made the kits, they build into really nice models that’ll add variety to my fleet, and I’m happy to reward him for that.

      What we’re not seeing, though, is a manufacturer that’s determined to become the Scale S equivalent of Sunshine or Westerfield – pumping out a variety of kits each year, often in several variants. I expect the market isn’t there so I don’t blame anybody for not doing that. The conditions need to be right first.

      What’s that going to take? For a start, I think, more people moving to S from other scales, especially from HO. I know a number of guys who love building rolling stock from resin kits who also love the little bit of extra size that S offers over their HO projects. But they’re not about to sacrifice the variety they currently enjoy to work in a scale that reminds them of where HO was back in the day when Athearn Blue Box cars were state of the art.

      That said, the fact that there’s so much available for the CNR means a number of people have made the switch to S from HO – so it can be done. Maybe the scale will build some momentum as more product is introduced – just as the whole Freight Car Movement blossomed as companies like Sunshine and Westerfield fed more grist into the mill.

      Cheers!

      • Have to say that I agree with your analysis, Trevor: it would indeed be pleasant to have a wide variety of boxcar kits available; like you, I am a keen supporter of Jim King – luckily for me, he seems to be favouring my sphere of interest, too.

        As for S being a – or possibly, the – builders’ scale, I agree. However, this presents us with some interesting challenges.

        If a manufacturer wishes to get the most out of investment in injection moulded plastic, they variations in paint schemes is a very likely outcome. This does not mean that detail changes cannot be made – for example, different doors to suit different railroad companies (and castings for different ends, maybe, in the “after market” field) – but the essential shape of the products will remain pretty much the same. In some areas, this may not be a problem: boxcars may be assigned to a specified service, e.g. paper from a mill to a port, staying on a single system, e.g. MEC. For the rest of us, operating “common carrier” lines, a bit more care and selection is needed, and to be honest, if your interests incline to the smaller and lightweight, this is less of an issue as only a limited amount of rolling stock is required. If you like big yards and long trains, then I suppose it may become a more difficult problem.

        As for batch production, that is an interesting solution. However, it also carries some down sides.

        Let’s say that I wish to model a specific freight car, and that based on photographic evidence, I need three of them. It is probably worthwhile for me to put a lot of effort into producing a single body, and to have a batch of resin castings produced. But – and this is a big but – if I wish to have them cast, I may need to produce separate parts, and to design them to fit together in a simple manner which also aligns the pieces. Do I produce a single piece, e.g. for a gondola, do I produce two pieces, e.g. the gondola body with floor, plus an additional pattern for the “under carriage”? Do I produce several pieces: a side, an end, a floor which maybe include the underside, a roof and doors for a box car? What do I do about the smaller details? Do I rely on other supplies, e.g. SHS trucks? BTS brake castings? Do I buy these in in bulk, to include with the kit, or provide a list? What happens if these products become unavailable? Do I cast the body pieces myself, or contract them out to a professional firm? What about decals?

        These are all solvable questions, of course, and I am not trying to put anyone off entering into the field, but they do involve an investment of time and money (if the casting is to be contracted out, and other parts bought-in) but the result would be very rewarding:
        This is “putting something back” into the hobby;
        You get the pleasure of having helped other people;
        You get the pleasure of seeing your work on other people’s layouts;
        You get the pleasure of being respected by others;
        You get the pleasure of funding the next project;
        You get the pleasure of increasing your knowledge and skill base – so the next project is better;
        You get the pleasure of having more stock yourself!

        For the person prepared to put the effort into this (and it need not be a chore) then the opportunity is out there.

        It is also ideal for a modeller who does not have a large space available – to make patterns in styrene does not require a large toolchest, just clean, accurate workmanship – and as well as building up a personal stock of kits and completed vehicles, if you get the prototypes right, and run limited batches of say 40 – 50 kits – the sales will be enough to fund the next project, pay for your own personal supply and also to make a little bit towards buying other people’s products.

        A friend has done this for UK outline S scale wagon (freight car) bodies: he makes a single body, has a batch of about 40 cast commercially, keeps half a dozen or so for himself, and sells the rest at a cost calculated to cover the total production cost. He gets variety in his rolling stock, and so do others – but he has not involved himself in the supply of additional parts, as these are all available via the S Scale Model Railway Society.

        Just my 2 denarii – but there is a possibility there, if the supply of detail and extra components can be secured.

        Simon

        • Hi Simon:

          Your 2 denarii is much appreciated. Very good points (although I wouldn’t go so far as to say S is the scale for builders – but it is definitely one that’s easy for builders to work in.)

          I wasn’t thinking of injection moulded cars – the market for some of the more common cars will support plastic, and has. But we’re not going to see the same variety of ready to run in S as we do in HO, simply because the market is much smaller – even if we include those running American Flyer, which make up the majority in 1:64 here in North America.

          I’m thinking more along the lines of what you call “batch processing” (and what I’ll call “resin kits”).

          Scale S (as opposed to American Flyer) is a very small group. But even still, I think there’s opportunity for more resin offerings – especially if the manufacturer does not limit themselves to S, but also offers product (not necessarily the same product) in HO and even O. The number of kits one has to sell in order to make it worthwhile is up to individual manufacturers, but I’ve spoken to some working in HO who are happy with sales as small as 50 kits. Are there enough modellers in scale S who are doing steam-era, North American prototypes to justify producing a run of 50 kits? That’s a good question.

          The answer is, it depends on the model. I spoke with one manufacturer in scale S that has sold more than 100 resin kits for one of the cars they offer. But it’s a car that was a very common prototype that was seen all over the continent, and there’s nothing close available in S from other sources. That seems like a good place to start figuring out what’s missing – so maybe the place to look is the Essential Freight Cars series by Ted Culotta in Railroad Model Craftsman magazine.

          Ted modelled all of the cars in this series in HO. Many started as resin kits. They came from all across the continent – and the series covered boxcars, hopper cars, gondolas, tank cars, and more. But every car shared one characteristic in common: they were built and fielded in the thousands and were used in common carrier service. Some examples:

          – Union Pacific ACR boxcars (#44 – February 2009 RMC): More than 14,000 were in service.
          – ARA 1932 40-foot steel boxcars (#23 – September 2005 RMC): The MP, SAL and WM each rostered more than 1,000 of these.
          – XM-25/XM-26 boxcars (#10 – February 2004 RMC): The Burlington Route had more than 3,000.

          Beyond this, there are USRA rebuilds… war emergency boxcars… all kinds of unique equipment from the Pennsylvania, which had a giant fleet… single sheathed automobile boxcars with loading doors on the “A” end… and, given how well Southern Pacific steam locomotives seem to sell in S, just about anything SP.

          (Some SP single-sheathed boxcars would be good place to start, I think. Here’s are some photos of Chooch O scale models: The B50-15 with Murphy Ends and Roof, and the steel-sheathed version. And since I’m trolling the Chooch website, how about the ATSF Bx56 boxcar?)

          So, there are some ideas. Ideas are a dime a dozen of course. So I’m talking to some friends in the resin business to see how I can make some of this happen. I have a couple of projects in mind, but will have to juggle them with the layout and other commitments so don’t hold your breath!

          • Hi Trevor,

            This debate could go on and on…

            I am much more interested in the small production runs of 50 or so myself. Knowing that for example, Jim King will produce various kits over time means I can get on with modelling knowing that over time my fleet of cars will grow and be varied. Not everything produced will be bought by me, obviously, but more of these would be great.

            I think you are spot on with respect to getting the right subjects, but I think there is a market, and that it will grow. As it grows we will hopefully see more variety appearing.

            I already have more than enough rolling stock and kits for my needs, but the plan is to upgrade the RTR where so desired, and to replace some items with kit built models.

            However, this is all well and good for those who are reasonably well established in S scale, but someone getting into the “scratchbuilder’s scale” as we sometimes refer to S over here might be disappointed to find a lot of models are no longer in production. However, there are two (if not more) solutions to this.

            Firstly, although moulds have a limited life in terms of number of castings, new moulds can be created from the patterns, so it is possible for a “waiting list” to be created, much as Jim King does for new models, so that once there is sufficient interest for an extra production run, a new batch can be produced.
            Secondly, rail modellers are notorious hoarders, so why not turn this to an advantage and order one more kit than you really need, on the basis that a few extra orders may push the model into production, and you can always sell an unmade kit at some future date, if someone says that they’re looking for one. I don’t suggest doing this as an investment in the future – the easiest way to make a small fortune in th hobby is to start with a large one – in terms of making a gain on the price of the kit, but it is an investment oh the future in terms of making sure the supply of kits keeps flowing.

            The only other requirement is that people know about the kits: the web is our friend here, but only if models are advertised on it, and can be ordered on it. (Nothing complicated – an email address and a PayPal account suffice.)

            Glad you sorted out the derailment!

            Simon

            PS: I have tried H0, 00, 0 scale standard and narrow gauge, 1:32 and 16mm and 7/8″ narrow gauge as well as S. in my opinion (not humble – if it was, it wouldn’t be proffered!) S is the scale for the serious builder, being the largest of the small scales (scales suitable for meaningful layouts in a reasonable space), and also the smallest of the large scales (scales where you can see the detail). I am unabashed I thinking it to be the best!

            Because it is.

          • Hi Simon:

            All well said. I know a few modellers of Canadian National in S who do buy more than they need, on the theory that they might not be able to get it later – and, as you say, that they can swap with someone else for something they do need in the future. Also, I know more than a few modellers in S who buy a kit to support a manufacturer who is making an effort. Again, it gets the kit made, and they’re confident they can sell their unwanted kit later on. I benefitted from that with the two CNR combines I have: Friends purchased the kits from Andy Malette at MLW Services, then didn’t get around to building the kits. One realized it was too long for the curves on his layout. The other realized he wanted to work in a larger scale. When I decided I wanted combines, they were happy to sell the kits to me at the price they paid for them.

            As for the size of kit runs, well… if a manufacturer can produce 50-80 kits and feel they’ve achieved their return on investment, then even if they never produce another kit from those patterns the hobby is that much richer. Yes, an extra production run can be scheduled if demand warrants. But if it doesn’t, they can always move on to another prototype and add more variety to the offerings out there. It works in HO…

            And you’re right about online ordering. Some S scale suppliers are on top of e-commerce. Others, not so much. It might be that a third party needs to get involved, managing the online store for those who can’t. That might drive up the prices a bit – or the increased sales might cover that cost. (I know that getting the online store right has contributed to the success of companies such as Fast Tracks. It’s an excellent system for building hand-laid track, but would have remained a niche product if owner Tim Warris hadn’t done such a fantastic job of education (at shows) and customer service (online). In the HO resin business, Martin Lofton at Sunshine Models, which does not have a web site (although an information site can be found here), worked out that hosting a convention was a good way to sell kits. That effort turned into Naperville – arguably the most important Railroad Prototype Modelers meet in North America.)

            Cheers!

  2. UPDATE: The derailment appears to have been caused by a bit of both. The drawbar was slightly twisted – some careful bending fixed that. And I found a bit of tight gauge near the trestle caused by some rails shifting. I’ve added a few more spikes to address that problem.

  3. I would love to know a bit more about Ridgehill Scale models: timespan for the prototypes, how to order, cost and availability, etc. Not being in North America, I really need the web!

  4. Hi Trevor,

    just wanted to say thanks for the reference to Jim King’s site, he does a great job of explaining what go on when he makes a kit.

    Interesting that he now uses CAD and 3D printing, or Rapid Prototyping as it is often now known to make his kit masters. This means that master patterns no longer need craft skills and/or specialist techniques to manufacture, and it also means that many modellers who are more proficient in computer drawing and or graphics could contribute to master patterns.

    3D printers and Rapid Prototyping used to be a rather specialist area, but are now becoming common place, and quite often units having this facility will operate as a “bureau”, ie turn up with a CAD drawing on disk and they will print it for you. One has just opened in the next village to me in rural Shropshire in the UK.

    One of my friends in the UK Slim Gauge Circle is having his special On30 trucks printed out by a local bureau that uses otherwise spare space that would be wasted in commercial projects as the printer takes the same time to operate.

    Terry

    • “This means that master patterns no longer need craft skills and/or specialist techniques to manufacture, and it also means that many modellers who are more proficient in computer drawing and or graphics could contribute to master patterns.”

      That is still a skill – but not, maybe, a craft skill. I worry – possibly too much – that people will lose the joy of making something with their own hands, and also of conducting research, and ultimately instead of finding out about the real thing, we will simply download a CAD file, and take it to our local 3D printers.
      Of course, the better designers will those informed by their personal experience of assembling things, possibly the hard way,
      I say “possibly too much” as the vast majority of railway modellers are perfectly happy with RTR and ready to play, so maybe it is nothing more than an opportunity to reach out to a wider audience with intelligently designed kits?
      Let’s hope so.

      -Mr Curmudgeon.

  5. Hi Trevor,

    Firstly I wanted to thank you for sharing your railroad through you blog. It has given me a lot of inspiration as I re enter the hobby. As well as give me a lot of food for thought as I plan a freelanced short line based in Vermont.

    This particular post raised a question for me. I wanted to ask you if you could point me in the right direction for reference material for rail car variants for manufacturers as well as road variants so I can model the prototype cars accurately.

    Thank you for you time and this great blog

    James

    • Hi James:
      Thanks for the kind words, and welcome back to the hobby!
      That’s a big question – the answer depends a lot on things like era and railroad. Certainly, if you’re interested in the steam era there are Yahoo groups like Steam Era Freight Cars. I’m sure there’s an equivalent for more modern rolling stock too.
      The best advice? Find out if there’s a Railroad Prototype Modeler (RPM) meet in your area. If you’re doing New England there’s a great one every year in Collinsville CT with a focus on New England subjects.
      I’ll think on this and post more – probably in a new post so that others can see it and chime in with ideas too.
      Cheers!

  6. Thank you for the prompt reply Trevor. I figured it might be a broad topic. Just wasn’t sure if there were books on the subject or if it would be more railroad specific than manufacturer. I will be modeling late eighties early nineties drawing inspiration from SMS Lines and Green Mountain.

    Thank you again for your time

    James

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