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Sunday morning musings on the state of O scale

Robert KjellanIn true railroad terms, “old heads” will tell you O Scale is dying off, there is little available, it’s too expensive and woe is us.

Bull shipments!

I’ve heard those complaints since I changed to O scale at the age of 24 back in the early 1980s. We need to rethink the present by reflecting on the past. Oh, the future will be as good as we make it.

Atlas F9

Shown here is a 1970-vintage Atlas F9 and a 1985-era Weaver FA2. The first lesson is simple. O Scale isn’t completely like its younger and smaller scale siblings. Around 1970, Atlas (and AHM) introduced low-priced locomotives, rolling stock, and track. Think of entry level train sets. The product lines were not well accepted by existing O scalers who grumbled about plastic bodies and lightweight drives. New hobbyists confused them with 3-rail. But overall, the models themselves were exceptional in detail and they are still to be found today at train meets.

Weaver FA

“Train set” products have not been effective in growing O scale, either through attracting new hobbyists or those changing scales. One could argue the time is ripe for Atlas to consider marketing an entry level set at a price point that works.

Following Atlas, Weaver got it right a decade later with the affordable RS3/FA2/GP38 locomotives with better drive components and an amazing variety of cars that looked and felt like HO. Weaver made it easy to start in - or switch to - O scale.

These locomotives originally sold for prices approaching $200, later discounted to $125. Today? Used ones can be found for under $100.

This brings us to the second lesson. Atlas reintroduced O scale in the late 1990s with a much different approach. These models are more robust, accurate, and detailed. When introduced, a Trainman RSD5 retailed for $240. That may seem expensive for some, yet look at the price of HO and N scale locomotive models.

Relative to other scales, O is just as affordable and available (although not stocked at as many hobby shops). Well-detailed O scale flextrack has increased little in the past 20 years. This is not as true for HO. The smaller scales have scaled up their prices (and to be fair, their detail and quality).

And let’s give a nod to Red Caboose Geeps of the 1990s and the O scale items from MTH and Lionel and Golden Gate and Woodland Scenic that have come to us more recently. Add in Pecos River and P&D. There are plenty of past and present manufacturers‘ products at hand. Whatever period you want, rolling stock is available.

It’s been said that O Scale is actually less expensive per square foot than HO and N scale. I believe that to be true, unless you are into collecting brass locomotives.

For those who want O scale to be just like HO and N -think ready to run train sets - it doesn’t work that way. Yet today O Scale is easier to appreciate and enjoy than ever before. Like old school Athearn O scale kits? Cool. Most every one made is still out there. Prefer plastic InterMountain kits? Ditto. And all at prices really no higher than HO or N.

The arguments about space requirements, minimum radius and other comparative arguments are equally easy to offset in a rational evaluation.

Does O scale have a future? Yes. Has there ever been a better time to model in O scale? No. Need proof? Go to a regional O scale-only event, such as the March Meet in Chicago. While there, talk to the people who are immersed in buying, selling, smiling, and chatting. It’s a collaborative and cooperative scale.

O scale most likely will grow through modelers switching over from smaller scales. Let’s make sure we welcome them with honest insights and advice and encouragement. It’s that easy.

Bob Kjelland, Northern Colorado

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