Since there’s been a lot of talk online about my latest Observations column, I’ve decided to post it here for those who don’t get the magazine or have not received their copy yet.
We will be selling a Digital Edition (DE) of the magazine starting with the May/June issue. See the announcement at the bottom of page 39 for more details.
OST Modelers Network
If you have not registered online for the OST Modelers Network, take a moment and do it now. It’s free. You will have access to our discussion forums, photo galleries and can stay in touch with other O Scale modelers like yourself. Visit the OST Blog at www.oscalemag.com and click on the Register link.
The State Of O Scale
Not long ago an acquaintance sent me a letter saying he was getting out of O Scale after just getting started less than a year earlier. His reason was that it was too hard to find the things he wanted or needed to build his railroad. I’d seen this happen before several times and I am sure it will happen again in the future. This newcomer’s negative reaction to O Scale can be attributed to several factors.
First and foremost, O Scale does not conform to a prototypically correct track gauge. O Scale standard gauge was set in the U.S. at 1.25” (five feet wide) long ago in antiquity and the developed inertia against changing this is enormous. This wide gauge has led to a host of corrective measures over time, none of which have caught on with a majority of O Scale modelers or manufacturers, but has left O Scale 2-rail with a legacy of multiple scale ratios around the world: 1:43.5, 1:48, and 1:45.
O Scale is big, relatively speaking, and when smaller scales, like HO, N and Z, were offered to the hobbyist, migration to the smaller scales took place at the expense of O Scale. What was once the “King of all Scales” is now a minority scale with less than 5% of the total model railroad market. Indeed, some dealers and hobby shops don’t even know that O 2-rail still exists.
What little O Scale development there is goes primarily to the 3-rail O Gauge market. There are definitely more hobbyists using 3-rail than 2-rail. So, manufacturers tend to listen to and cater to the 3-rail market first. We’ve seen the kind of mayhem this can lead to with 140 smph top speeds, poor low speed performance and compromised fidelity to scale in order to operate on tight curves.
Unlike other scales, O Scale “suffers” from a multitude of competing control systems. HO and N Scale drive the overall model railroad marketplace and those scales have settled on DC and DCC as the two main control systems. Virtually every new locomotive in HO and N comes factory-equipped with dual-mode DCC with sound. O Scale control systems include DC, DCS from MTH, TMCC from Lionel, and DCC. Only Atlas O offers dual-mode DCC as a factory-installed option. MTH is now offering their DCC-compatible Proto3 system in its newest locomotives but only in diesels so far. Importers that cater to both 2-rail and three rail offer Lionel-licensed TMCC command systems in 3-rail models but only simple DC for 2-rail models.
All of model railroading has suffered from a loss of kits, particularly rolling stock and locomotives. In the smaller scales, there are enough buyers to accommodate the production of the most obscure equipment. Not so in O Scale. At present there is one producer of locomotive kits in O Scale: Stevenson Preservation Lines. The kits offered by Bob Stevenson are essentially updated Lobaugh kits from the 1940s and 1950s. The Varney/General Models/All Nation/Babbitt locomotive kits have found a new home with Bill Wade at BTS but the last Babbitt 4-6-0 kit I bought (2009) was hopelessly mired in the 1940s. There has been no U.S. development of a new O Scale locomotive kit since the 1950s. Mike Calvert in the U.K. has five white metal kits of U.S. diesels but that’s about it.
Ted Schnepf (Rails Unlimited) and Jon Cagle (Southern Car and Foundry) make cast resin kits, while Glenn Guerra (Mullet River Model Works) makes laser-cut and etched rolling stock kits. All three manufacturer’s kits are considered craftsman quality which means there are no entry level rolling stock kits for modelers to learn skills.
The state of scale turnouts in O Scale currently is dismal. There is one provider of ready-to-lay turnouts, Atlas O. Atlas O makes three types in 2-rail, a #5, a #7-1/2 and a #5 Wye. Contrast that to the 10 types Atlas O makes in 3-rail and the 27 3-rail turnouts offered by Ross Custom Switches.
The final stake through the heart of O Scale is the complete lack of 1:48 vehicles. You would have thought that by now someone would have capitalized on the lack of vehicles and filled that void. Uh-uh.
Many newcomers to O Scale come from either smaller scales (like my acquaintance) or the 3-rail side of the house where they are used to having virtually anything they want in an easy-to-open, ready-to-run box; where a locomotive from Athearn will easily double-head with one from Bachmann; and where they have a choice of scale couplers all of which are compatible. When they learn that in O Scale 2-rail if you want something you will likely have to build it yourself from scratch or bash it from something else, that most O Scale couplers (Kadees included) are oversized, that Atlas O truck frames are too wide, or that DCC for O Scale is immature, they leave. I watched one newcomer get berated for “whining” about O Scale on the OST Forum and then he left, for good.
I have very mixed emotions about all of the above. O Scale 2-rail is the last bastion of the scratchbuilder. I believe it builds useful life-skills when you don’t have everything handed to you ready-to-run. As one long-time O Scaler put it: “If O Scale was easy I wouldn’t be in it.”
On the other hand, O Scale 2-rail needs fresh blood and fresh ideas. That will only come from a younger demographic which will want to model in O Scale 2-rail. The niche where I see both youth and new ideas happening is Proto48. I think that Proto48 has plenty of room to grow and eventually become the defacto O Scale it should have been from the beginning.
Category: General News