Monday, February 23, 2015

The Future of O Gauge?

This past Summer, I bought a "new" Williams locomotive via Choochooauctions. It was several years old and had never been run. Someone had opened the box and looked at it, but did not even remove the cardboard packing by the trucks. I paid chump change for it. Even by the standards of the days when Williams was still making his own trains, this was dirt cheap.

When I belonged to a train club over ten years back, there was a Williams dealer among the membership. I got some great bargains on locomotives I wanted. Williams made the locomotive types in the road names I preferred. Price and quality made me a repeat customer.

K-Line also had a lot of really nice trains at reasonable prices.

By the end of 2004, I had all the trains I wanted. There were specific locomotives and favorite liveries and the various freight cars I had liked since childhood. My only purchases since then were a Marx set with shiny 6" passenger cars, a Monsters Inc animated boxcar to run at the Ocean Grove show, and the Williams F7AA this past summer. I had not looked at catalogs in a few years. When I took a look recently, it was a bit overwhelming. Prices were sky high for Lionel and MTH, but that was to be expected. What really surprised me were the prices for Williams by Bachmann.

We were told that the train makers moved production to China to cut costs. That is no longer the case. Chinese made goods have gotten quite expensive. At the same time, manufacturers who moved there are stuck with China. The Chinese government would make it difficult if not impossible to move their tooling elsewhere.

Another issue I hear with trains of recent manufacture are quality problems. Bad gears are among the complaints. Another is the failure rate of expensive locomotives from Lionel and MTH. These are the things that add to the cost. But the height of absurdity is a list price over $800 for a modern version of a popular old transformer. On the used train market, the original that inspired it goes for under $150 nowadays.

This hobby’s future depends on attracting new people. That means younger people who may not remember Lionel’s glory days. (For anyone under 40, the Lionel name is going to have a lot less allure than it does for those who grew up prior to the 1970s.) We really need a train maker who can make his wares at a reasonable price that is attractive to newcomers and old. timers. They do not need the same fancy things that one finds in the expensive trains these days. Simpler, fewer features, but sturdy quality would be enough for a start. Louis Marx did it for half a century. If someone does not do it now, the ranks of O gaugers will shrink until there are not enough to support the manufacture of new trains. All that will be left are the buying, selling and trading of old trains.

Now is the time to attract new O gauge railroaders.

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