Notes on Train Manufacturing

Manufacturing model trains has always required some concessions along the way. The early days of every new model railroad product line are filled with concessions, especially because of the fact that no matter how serious the buyer may be, the manufacturer is still in the toy business.

The self-annointed experts already expect perfection in an imperfect world, but there are a number of unseen issues that they never consider.  Copyright issues are one such matter, one that has been increasing in importance in recent years.  No matter how attractive a particular tank car might be, if the owner of those tank cars objects to your use of their logos, then the tank car owner wins.  In my personal collection are two examples of tank cars that were manufactured, once.

Likewise, the self-annointed are quick to complain about the thickness of handrails without considering that if the handrails were manufactured to the exact proportion, they would be so fragile that they could not be easily manufactured.  Or shipped. Or used on a model railroad before they broke.

Manufacturing things is always a balancing act, for an item needs to be first manufactured at a realistic price, then shipped to dealers and in turn taken home and used by model railroaders. Some items have been so fragile that they require special instructions for removing them from their product box.

If an item is not realistic enough, the market will move toward items that are. If an item is extremely realistic, but it is costly and fragile, then many will not sell.  In some cases, items produced are made by “boutique” manufacturers who never intend to sell many; these are the items which you see that sell for thousands of dollars. But a mass manufacturer such is always faced with certain choices, and many such manufacturers cling to the old tooling until it is  impossible to ignore the declining sales figures.

One of the model railroad brands on this site, Rokal, has come and gone. The collector’s market remains.  In another case, Arnold, the company has been sold and bought twice since the family originally founded their toy company. Another family business, Märklin, is currently manufacturing but operating in bankruptcy after the family decided to sell.

Most model railroaders just see the trains themselves and how they fit into their lives, but behind the scene, it is another world.  A world that I was fortunate to work in.  As I write this, I am not working for another manufacturer; these pages are my current model railroad occupation.  Will I go back to the business side of the model railroad world? Maybe, but even if I don’t, my perspective about model railroading is forever changed.

I’ve had some fascinating projects.  As I look around my office, there are a few trains sitting on the shelves that I had a direct hand in the research that led to the manufacturing.  I’ve made some interesting friendships through the model train business.  There have been a lot of good times and a few bad times, which is as it should be.

It is a fascinating business.

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