About The Steam Era Freightcars Blog

This blog discusses all aspects of North American freight cars of the steam era, from the dawn of railroading through 1960.
It is intended to support the efforts of model railroaders who wish to produce the most prototypically accurate freight cars possible.
Prototype modelers are encouraged to participate in this blog. Please consider sending photos of prototypes and your efforts to model them, reviews of kits, books and other products, “articles” about your modeling efforts – with or without photos. The nature of blogging means the material can be "real time," and in-process models can be shared. These are not only welcomed, but appreciated as we all love to see a model develop over time.
Also welcome is information about upcoming prototype meets, shows, and other events.
Information submitted for this blog is considered gratis. Also, all submissions must include your name and contact email.
For more information or to submit information email steamfreightcar@gmail.com.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Crowd Funding HO scale models

The traditional method of producing an injection-molded model of a typical freight car goes something like this - 
1. A prototype is identified (usually through suggestions from dealers and/or hobbyists) as a likely "good" project by a manufacturer.
2. Inquiries are made, usually to unpaid "consultants" - most often hobbyists themselves - to obtain the information, drawings, and photos needed to develop a list of components such as doors, ends, roofs and the like, as well as paint schemes. 
3. At some point the economic reality of producing the model rears its ugly head, and it becomes obvious it's impractical to produce each possible version of the "basic" car - especially in an initial run. Most often, the goal is to recoup the R&D costs with the first run - perhaps with a small amount of profit, with the real money to follow with subsequent runs.
The cost, and time, to develop the tooling is the Achilles heal in the process. Of course, unique and low production models have been, and are continuing to be made in resin. But in the case of a factory assembled, decorated injection molded car the tooling cost can easily reach $250,000.00. Some cost even more. And on top of the tooling cost you still have a per unit manufacturing costs. For the manufacturer the risk for many otherwise appealing prototypes is too great to justify the expense. So choices are made. Often those choices mean we as modelers don't get all the models we want. 
Some manufacturers get around these limitations by producing generic cars, others use a business model that limits the model to only those details and paint schemes that are accurate. The vast majority seem to fall somewhere between the two extremes. They'll produce an accurate model for one railroad, for example, but paint and letter that same model for other railroads. Each of these "others" reflect varying degrees of accuracy. 

Crowd-sourcing a boxcar?
The folks at Prototype Junction are attempting an approach that has worked in other hobbies, primarily gaming, with some success. They are starting a crowd-funded approach to produce a model of an AT&SF Bx-11 & 12 series boxcar. It turns out other roads, including the C&O, CGW, L&N and Pere Marquette, had similar cars (with different details or components). I won't dwell on the specifics, since you can find a rather detailed set of parameters for this project HERE. 

How this works
If you're unfamiliar with crowd-funding - here's how it works. Someone establishes a project with a funding goal and time limit to achieve that goal. Each contribution (called a pledge) is a small percentage of the total dollar value of the goal (in this case the money needed to get the tooling cut, the parts molded, assembled, decorated, and packaged). 
The link above for outlines the various pledge (funding) levels. Your card is charged at that moment you make the reservation. The money goes to no further than indiegogo, into what amounts to an escrow account. In the event the total project funding isn't reached, the project is canceled and you get your money refunded.  
If the funding goal is reached (in this case $250,000.00) then the money will go to Prototype Junction and they will proceed to produce the model. Ideally, in about a year you'll get your finished model(s). 

Some thoughts
I think this is an interesting approach to getting models produced. I think where it would work the best would be with higher dollar value, truly esoteric and unusual prototypes (MofW equipment leaps to mind, or the ever popular "battleship gun flats." Truly odd things like that. Frankly, I'm not certain a boxcar, of any flavor, is truly esoteric enough to garner enough pledges to push a project like this over the finish line. 
And for any project, this really represents a considerable change in the way model railroad production has always worked. The manufacturers have taken all the risk to this point. I don't know of any who require prepayment for something like a boxcar model. This approach is asking the modeler to take on the (admittedly relatively small dollar amount) risk - and wait for the model to be produced. 
I will say this - I have no doubt about Randy's integrity and desire to get this project off the ground and deliver a nicely detailed model to the folks who step up and sponsor this project. 
If you've ever wanted to get a somewhat unusual model produced in injection molded plastic, factory assembled and decorated (although kits, and parts are also options here) this is an interesting approach. I wish Prototype Junction the best of luck!


  1. The crowd funding of model trains has been successful in the UK, with currently 3 companies doing it as their method of business - Revolution Trains, Cavelex, and KR Models.

    Of the 3 the only one to really be doing esoteric would be the latest to arrive, KR Models, who went with the GT3 Gas Turbine for his first project and is proposing the Fell as a second item.

    On the other hand Revolution Trains started out 5 years ago with the Virgin Trains Pendolino in N scale (where they partnered up with Rapido Trains) and they have since moved on and done a number of successful projects in both N and occasionally OO. Not always necessarily mainstream enough perhaps for the big RTR manufacturers to do the project, but not exactly strange or unique either.

    The big factor in their success though appears to be not limiting themselves to 30 days to get funding.

    1. To add to this, for some of the esoteric models mentioned there is now another option other than injection-molded RTR and that is 3D printed RTR.

      The UK model train retailer Rails of Sheffield in partnership with Dapol last year offered a SECR Box Van that was sold as a RTR product but was produced using 3D printing. Slight price premium over China produced, but much smaller production quantities make a lot of prototypes now viable in a form of RTR.

  2. Expecting to raise a quarter of a million dollars in 30 days -- which equates to selling a whopping 5000 cars at an average of $50 each -- shows the people behind Project Junction to be awfully out of touch with reality.

    1. Currently this project is showing 6% funded with a week left. Anything could happen, but indications are this one might not work.
      My tendency is to agree with you that while this is a viable approach, to fund such a large project in 30 days seems like a bridge too far.
      The model railroad movie that was produced a couple of years ago had $30,000 goal, a lot longer time period, and was barely funded until the eleventh hour when one backer made a $5,000 pledge.

    2. Actually, thanks to the discounts and perks, it is actually 6,000 cars they need to sell.

      In fairness to them, until somebody makes the first attempt you don't know what will happen. These sorts of things are successful outside of the model railway hobby.

      But I suspect their biggest problem is getting the word out - it is hard to reach all the prospective customers in this day and age - and that really is where the 30 day issue comes up.

    3. 6000 cars is bonkers. There's no way near that market in the whole world for these products. For an SD40-2, maybe. But not an "old steam era boxcar".

    4. Except it isn't just one model, like your SD40-2 example, but rather 5 or more. Given time and a few other things there likely is a market - 6000 may seem a lot but there are a lot of modelers in the US.

  3. Well, about the 6000 cars, Joe Fugate recently commented about the market trend. They found out transition era is far from dying out as older folks die. In fact, it is still the most popular era even with younger generation, meaning there is a market for this. How to reach that market is another thing which this fundraising campaign seems to be discovering these days, but the market is there.

  4. A typical first run of a new car when I was at Intermountain was between 1200-2400 cars. Follow on runs were almost always 800 cars for a repeat paint scheme, 1200 for a "new" scheme on previous tooling. 6,000 just seems like a ridiculously high quantity to me - even with the variations creating 5 or 6 "unique" models.