Category Archives: Opinion

Are Model Trains Getting Even More Expensive?

Model railroading has always been an expensive hobby. Recently, it seems that price increases on engines and especially freight cars have accelerated a bit and that despite the fact that most tooling and production is done in China.

A few weeks ago, I got an email from Rapido Trains, Inc. alerting me to the fact that more price increases are looming ahead. Labor costs are rising even in China and thus the costs of manufacturing model trains.

Manufacturers will have to think about whether it makes sense to bring production back or moving to another off-shore location where labor costs are more favorable. I do commend Rapido for openly communicating this development to their customers. In the age of social media, transparency is king.

One way of keeping the cost of the hobby down is of course limiting the number of purchases. This is what I have resorted to even though the reason is not an economical one. Since I modify and detail most of my models, there are a few projects in the queue and usually I can resist the temptation to add even more to my list.

Got an opinion on the development of model train prices? Share it in the comments below.

Interesting Rapido Trains Ad on Custom Runs of Cars

The other day, I noticed an interesting ad by Rapido Trains Inc. in the July issue of Railroad Model Craftsman. It was advertising custom runs of a car with different paint schemes and showed an example of their nice HO scale Wide-Vision Caboose with custom lettering for the CSX Great Lakes Division Mechanical Department.

I find the ad interesting because custom runs make a lot of sense for large clubs like FREMO. If you get an order big enough (Rapido indicates a 300 piece minimum which is really not that much), you can easily get a run of a cars with no number, which would make unique renumbering for club operation much easier. Instead of trying to carefully remove the original road number, which sometimes damages paint and surface, one could just apply a custom decal, apply dull clear coat, weather the car and be done with it. Leaving a number off instead of making a whole custom scheme should also be a lot cheaper.

Maybe it’s time that European train manufacturers such as BRAWA are starting to openly advertise similar services or at least offer cars with no lettering so one can do the whole thing from scratch.

By the way, I do like this Rapido caboose. They just released new paint schemes and the one I want is among them. But more on that another time…

The First 100 Years of the Pennsylvania Railroad

Currently, I am in the process of reading books about the Pennsylvania Railroad and its successors from my local library. A couple months ago, I found The Pennsylvania Railroad: A pictorial history by Edwin Alexander. The book is from 1947 and chronicles the first 100 years of the Pennsy. The name pictorial history is a bit of a misnomer by today’s standards because there just aren’t that many pictures in the 250-page volume.

More interesting than the pictures are Alexander’s accounts of the PRR’s history, which he lays out very thoroughly from its origins to its development and construction. Further, he describes passenger, freight service, and covers locomotive development extensively from steam all the way to electrics. He closes with a chapter of vivid description of incidents on the railroad including the Pittsburgh Riots of 1877, the Johnstown Flood and the Broad Street Station fire.

I found it a great introduction to the railroad and I was amazed at how many technical advancements were first introduced by the company. The book is out of print but maybe you can still find it at your local library or buy it used on Amazon.

Which Train Websites Inspire Your Modeling?

A few days ago, my friend Andy from graduate school sent me a nice message on Facebook. He reported that a visit to inspired him to pick up an old hobby. As a kid, he enjoyed building model airplanes and reading my humble blog inspired him to get a few kits at a Munich toy store.

I am very grateful to Andy for letting me know about his old new hobby and I thought that this is a nice ocassion to give a quick shout-out to the blogs and websites that inspire me.

In no particular order, here are the sites and a brief explanation of why I like them. A few of them are in German but I hope that the images and videos speak for themselves.

  • I have been following Frank Forsten for a few years and always like to return to his website Forsten Online, which chronicles the pogress of his layout centered around a steel mill in the German Ruhr area. In late January 2010, Frank started his YouTube Channel Stahlbahn featuring how-tos and and video portraits of the layout.
  • Marc Heckmann’s website Heckmann Modellbahn contains a number of articles on detailing, kit-bashing and weathering with nicely scenicked photographs. Click on Publikationen to get to the reports.
  • Jörg Chocholaty’s website Modellbau-Chocholaty features a number of intricately detailed scenes in the Dioramen section of the site. His superior modeling skills are complemented by his wonderful photography.
  • Lance Mindheim’s website Lance Mindheim Dot Com contains a series of awesome photographs of his Miami’s Downtown Spur and East Rail District. Especially fascinating is his technique of using real photographs as facades of model structures.
  • Wooden laser kits and parts have become mainstream. Stefan Teichert takes laser modeling to a new level with lasered cardboard in N scale. Check out what’s possible in the Laserschnitt section of Stefan’s Eisenbahnseiten.
  • The Model Railways of Chris Nevard features a number of highly detailed British fine scale exhibition layouts. For regular updates follow his blog.
  • A more recent discovery is Big Al Mayo YouTube Channel Monster Railroad featuring a funny video blog with hands-on tips for weathering rolling stock and reports on his Union Pacific layout.

Which Websites Inspire Your Modeling?

Want to add anything to the list? Share your favorite inspirations in the comments below.

Building that PROTO Layout

In last week’s post, I suggested that more modelers build PROTO layouts. Today, I want to explore two ways to build that layout.

Building a model train layout is a big task to begin with and something that’s never really finished – at least in my experience. There are always things to add, improve or change.

Building a PROTO layout is an even bigger task, because PROTO modelers love details and have to build many parts from scratch. Just converting and supering a car or engine can turn into a major undertaking. Thus, the building process takes much longer.

So how am I supposed to build an entire layout in PROTO:87?

Going micro

Over the last few weeks, I have been following The Protocrastinator blog and love his musings about building a PROTO:87 micro layout. I think this is the perfect approach to fine scale modeling: Choose a scene that is manageable in size and tell a story.

When we first moved to Manhattan last year, I was thinking about building a micro layout, too. I did some research and found Carl Arendt’s Micro/Small Layouts for Model Railroads website, which contains over 1,500 ideas, track plans and photos on micro layouts. Whether you are looking for an Inglenook or Timesaver, single level or multi level, a track plan with or without switches – Carl’s got you covered.

Going micro is definitely a good plan, but for me it seems somewhat limiting and that’s not because of the size. What I am missing the most is context. Micro layouts are great for operating alone or with a buddy and are certainly terrific as exhibition layouts to show off your craft. But at the end of the day, you are confined to your scene on a two by four.

Going modular

When you turn your micro layout into a module that connects to other modules with matching end plates, you are literally able to connect to the great wide world. Your scene is now one of many along a (model) railroad line with a new story to tell every time it is set up. Your short story suddenly turned into a novel – now here is the context I was looking for.

If PROTO modeling is supposed to gain more traction in the U.S. (which I hope it will), I firmly believe that starting a modular PROTO:87 group is the way to go.

This not only allows you to connect to other modules. More importantly, it connects you to like-minded modelers who pursue a common goal. Individuals can further develop their specialties and help out fellow modelers in areas where they may lack expertise and vice versa. It’s a win-win situation.

Your turn

Interested in starting a PROTO:87 modular group? Want to take the Free-mo or the FREMO-USA route?

Leave a comment below. I look forward to hearing from you.