Kits for the Modern Era – Interview with Rail Yard Model’s Gene Fusco

At the Amherst Railroad Hobby Show, I bought my first Rail Yard Model kits. I am working on a Penn Central X58 box car right now and really enjoy putting it together. This is largely due to the detailed 60-page instruction manual with numerous photographs and a 14-page documentation of the history of the car – all provided in PDF format on a mini CD-ROM. I wanted to find out who’s behind these extraordinary kits and interviewed Rail Yard Model’s Gene Fusco.

Johannes: How and when did Rail Yard Models get started and why the focus on the modern era?

Gene: I started Rail Yard Models in the spring of 2002. Before that, I worked in the hi-tech world as a software developer for almost 16 years. I was laid off in a 25% corporate reduction in force and decided it was time to do something different. At the time this all happened, I was in the process of building patterns for the X79 Kellogg’s box car for my own personal modeling use. As a Penn Central fan, I had long wanted some of these cars for my collection. When I decided that I was going to try to run a business making craftsman kits, I was already most of the way to completion.

My focus on the modern era is multi-faceted. There was a hole in the niche market of special interest “modern” freight cars. (Modern is in quotes there, mostly because the 60’s are 40+ years ago now!) There were already several craftsman kit manufacturers that had the 1920’s to the 1950’s quite well covered. So, as far as a business is concerned, I saw a market segment that wasn’t being satisfied.

Another aspect of the time period selection was pure personal interest. It’s the time period I model and am most familiar with. Finally, there is the availablilty of data. Large amounts of hard data are still readily available for cars in this time period. This includes data such as builder’s drawings, roster information, builder’s and fan photos. And finally, if all that fails, the actual cars are still around which can make it possible for field measurements to be made.

Johannes: How do decide which prototypes you model?

Gene: Again, a complex answer with many factors. The primary consideration is if good data is available to make high quality patterns and decal artwork. Simple line drawings in that back issue of your favorite railroad magazine just don’t cut it in today’s modeling environment.

The next hurdle to clear is the engineering: is the model manufactureable? This requires some mental analysis of the prototype to decompose the big picture into the individual parts and decide what can and can’t be done with the materials and technology available to me.

The next consideration is the possibility of the model being produced by one of the “big guys” in the hobby. This isn’t limited to exact duplication of a specific car, but includes cars that are close or similar in appearance. If a ready to run version of one of my kits becomes available it would essentially kill market demand for that kit. There are a number of people that would still buy the kit based solely on their desire to build models themselves, but not enough to support a profitable product line.

Johannes: Do you work from original drawings when designing the models or do you take measurements from the cars yourself?

Gene: When possible, I try to work from copies of original builder’s drawings. This proves to be a two edged sword on many occasions, since there is often a big difference between “As designed” and “As built.”  Careful observation of prototype photos is essential to pick out these differences. In some cases, the differences amount to substantial “phases” that can be represented in the model. For instance, the PD3000 model represents two distinct body weld seam arrangements that were only seen through prototype photo research. The builder’s drawings only showed one of the patterns.

PD3000 in NAHX original paint scheme on Phase Ia body.

Phase Ib Penn Central H58 with a different weld seam pattern.

When drawings are not available, field measurements are used. The Mo-Pac SBW was designed in this manner, since Union Pacific was kind enough to keep one of these parked on a local siding for a year or so. The risks with field measurements are that the car you may have access to is an oddball and not representative of the others in the production run. Again, a great deal of research is required to ensure a realistic model is produced.

Johannes: You put a lot of effort in the documentation of the prototype history supplied in your kits, which I find very helpful. How do you compile this detailed information?

Gene: This tends to be the most time consuming aspect of the design process. A great deal of the history data is actually collected while doing the research for the decal artwork. During this phase of product design, I solicit images from some of the better known photo and slide collectors as well as searching the Internet for photos of the car.

Keep in mind that all data collected through public means is classified as “Reference Only” until I can contact the original owner of the images and secure reproduction rights. Very often, the people that supply the drawings will also have access to associated historical data and are great resources to tap when assembling the car history.

Johannes: Will you offer kits with the nicely detailed Exactrail Barber S-2 trucks in the future?

Gene: I can’t make any promises at this time. As with this specific product or any other third party component I include in my kits, there are a number of business and design issues that must be resolved before a decision is made.

Johannes: Are you at liberty to tell me what new releases are you working on?

Gene: The simple and quick answer is no. Since I started Rail Yard Models, I have kept a policy of announcing a product once it is very near to full production. The primary reason for this is to avoid the perpetual problem of announcing a product, then having customers endure delays while the unforeseen, but always present problems are worked out.

Johannes: Thanks for taking the time to talk to me.

Gene: You’re very welcome!

Find out more

More information about the excellent range of Rail Yard Model kits is available at www.railyardmodels.com.

Are you a prototype modeler and interested in being featured on this blog? Contact me at blog@eisenbahnstudio.com.

Images courtesy of Gene Fusco. Used with permission. Eisenbahnstudio.com is not affiliated with the manufacturers of the products mentioned on this site and did not receive payment or samples for review.

Update: Rail Yard Models has ceased operation. You may still be able to find kits on eBay.

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