Monday, January 27, 2020

Post-Springfield Project Update

We saw a lot of people who were very excited about the project and our approach and we hope to see a good bump in the funding. The info about the models is all on the IndieGoGo page, but what seemed to interest people the most is how we're doing this and why.

I started working toward this project a couple of years ago, but it really moved forward once I found a partner who shared the same enthusiasm in what is perhaps an unusual approach to a company, and was willing to jump in with both feet.

For those of you who read my blog (or my buddy Chris Adams') then it isn't really a surprise that I (and John) are the sort of people who are "all in" when going to a show like Springfield. As reflected in our blogs and modeling we look forward to this every year.

But it's not for the shopping, or the deals, or even for the new announcements. All of that is great, and it really helps us get moving on our projects too. But ultimately it's about the people. We have friends from all over that come to the show, and while we get to see them at the show, we also make sure that we maximize the time we can spend together. 

My layout wasn't ready to operate this year, but Chris had an ops session on Thursday for folks from out-of-town and they had a blast. Chris and I hosted our annual dinner in the parlor car at the Steaming Tender on Saturday (well, Chris. I wasn't much help this year). Then another annual dinner on Sunday at the Student Prince in Springfield. A common thread among all these was laughter and fun. Trains too, but most of all, laughter and fun.

It's amazing to be part of an all in community. Model railroading isn't the only community like this. Sports is a great example of a base of fans where a certain percent are all in.  For most of us it's fun to go to a game every once in a while, but the superfans make it an event of a lifetime. Every. Time. 

But what I find different about model railroading, is that it's not just something you participate in from the sidelines. You are part of the team. It's not just about building my railroad and having a bunch of "fans" to come see it. It's about building all of our railroads. I think our modeling is even better when are part of that team. 

Sure, you can participate by watching videos, reading magazines, and stuff on the web. You can go a step further and join some forums. But I think that as people, we really thrive the most when we're all in. We work on each others layouts, I'm always on the lookout for things any of my train buddies need, we get together for ops session, work, sessions, and shows when we can. We often make models that will be on each others' layouts, etc. And Springfield is one of those really special occasions where we can get together in a larger group. Anybody who has been to one of the Prototype Modelers Meets will tell you the same thing - it's really about the people and the fun we have doing what we love to do to have fun.

That's the model for Prototype Junction.

Sure, we have some models we want to make. And it might seem like we're just another company that is looking to get pre-orders so we can make the models we want. Or maybe you want to participate by buying a model once they are released. You might not want to participate in this project at all, or you might be super excited that we're doing a car you've wanted for decades.

All of that is wonderful, and it's easy to see us and what we're doing in that way. But it's not really how we see it. 

It's about a new community

To us, it's about expanding that community. There are plenty of companies making great models, and we want more from them, and more companies too. But there are a lot of models that they aren't making. They can only make so many. In some cases, like the New Haven Railroad Historical and Technical Association, there is a community already in place, with a board that is willing to help fund projects that otherwise wouldn't be done.

We want to build a new community. Actually, several overlapping communities. For example, there are HO scale modelers that are building layouts set in the pre-depression era. Some are focused sometime in the '30s, or WWII. Of course, there are post-war modelers, '50s, etc. There are also communities centered around specific railroads, of course.

But there are freight cars that are needed for many of these smaller communities. The cars in our first project were built in 1929, and many ran into the '70s. They are heavily represented through the '50s, and the number of variations increased between 1940 and 1960. 

So it looks like a good starting point for a new community, and hopefully the first of many. We're looking for a community of 2,000 or more people who share our passion for modeling and are that type of all in modeler. That want to be part of the process itself, in getting the models made that we want. Just like we share our expertise on our modeling buddies layouts, we want to share our access and expertise with this new community.

While we've selected this as the initial project because we think it makes sense, our hope is that our Backers will want to participate and choose the next project. It really becomes very simple -  what's the next group of models we want? As a group.

Parts of a project don't have to be related

A project doesn't have to be something that John or I want for our layout. It can be anything. A boxcar built in 2013. In S-scale. Oh, wait, you can only sell a couple hundred? 

We designed the first project to offer as many options as we could, specifically because we didn't think any one of them would sell enough on their own. For example, it's quite unlikely that we'd be able to sell 3,000 units of the singled sheathed auto cars we've included in this project. They only share a few parts with the ATSF and RI car and would normally be considered as a separate project. But because we don't really care if each car pays for itself, by combining multiple projects together, we can make them viable. 

In this project, we don't have to sell 3,000 single sheathed auto cars. We just need to sell an average of fewer than 400 cars per prototype. That could be 4 CGW cars, 127 L&N cars, 712 PM cars, and 357 C&O cars, etc. 

So another approach would be to consider making that 2013-built box car, and producing it in N-, HO-, S- and O-scale. It's all about finding creative ways to combine multiple projects in a way that it builds a community large enough to support the project, not one specific car.

I've done this before. When at TLT and we produced the CP Minibox, Gene Green was looking for somebody to produce Klasing brake wheels. Why not? So I told Darren I wanted to add it to the tooling for the Minibox. As long as it fit on the sprue it wouldn't add anything to the cost of production, and it was irrelevant that it wouldn't be used on the Minibox.

As it turned out, the factory decided it would be better to make the wheel out of etched metal. So it did cost some money, but Darren was willing to try rolling it into the cost of the project to see how it worked.

For the first couple of months, he was right. We sold maybe two packs. We sold a bunch at Springfield that year, but then my buddy Ted Culotta mentioned them on his blog. We sold out in about a week. It took me a little while to find where the bump came from, because I didn't know Ted was going to post it either.

Another thing we've learned is that the factory often prefers to cut new tooling, rather than pull partial tooling from another project. This isn't to make more money, it's just simpler. For example, may detail parts like brake appliances can be used on multiple projects. And while they could make a mold that could be used on multiple projects, it's easier to just use the same CAD and fit the parts into the sprues for the new project, rather than pull a palette of steel dies out and find the one from an earlier project.

But each sprue is designed around a certain cavity size that can be filled in the tooling. And in many cases, there is a lot of unused space. Space that can be used to add parts for something that's not related to the current project.

This is why the most of the cost of this project is tied up in the ATSF cars. We can do 4 or 5 pair of ends on one sprue. So if we reduce the number of models, we just have fewer ends on that sprue, but don't really save any tooling costs because we still need that sprue for the ends we'll still use. The ends for the Auto Cars don't fit the ATSF cars, but they are cast on the same sprues.

It's really about the possibilities

So sure, you can look at this as just another freight car to buy for your layout. And we hope to have lots and lots of folks that it's all they want. There is nothing wrong with not wanting to be part of  choosing how much texture should be on the side of a model of a single sheathed car, or whether wire or plastic grab irons are a better choice, or even what prototypes to produce. We all have our own idea of what's fun in model railroading, and that's kind of the point.

But we are also looking for the people that see the bigger picture. We think we can build a community to creatively leverage the process and advancements in technology to make what you and we want, not just what I or John want.

We love the other manufacturers, and there's a list on our page so you can see what they're making too. We don't want to compete with them, we are not saying or even implying they are bad. What we want to do is fill in the gaps. Do the things they don't. 

Project #1 is just the beginning. Join our community of Backers so we can do what you want. 

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Springfield Day 2

Waiting for day 2 of the Amherst Railroad Hobby Show in Springfield to start. Outside it's warm and clear, so we're hoping for another great turnout.

For me, this is really what it's all about. 20,000+ people who love model railroading. There are few things in life that I find people are as passionate about as they are about their hobbies. Something I've always found interesting is that when you meet somebody and ask what they do, they almost always tell you what their job is. 

I'm a musician, a role-playing gamer, and a model railroader, in no particular order. I recently realized that stuff that I love to do the most, and that really are part of what makes me who am, I had discovered and was doing by 3rd grade. Of course, in life we have to do many other things besides what we love, and often that takes precedence. Here at the show, there's no question about what fires people up.

A common discussion I see online is, "the hobby has gotten so expensive." While I find that an interested topic of discussion, what I also find interesting about it is that for the people who are really passionate about whatever it is they are doing, the price really doesn't enter into it. In fact, that's probably a better measure than almost anything as to what somebody really values. You see it on eBay all the time. Like a $50 or $75 plastic caboose that sells for $270. 

But seeing hundreds of people who just want to come over and talk trains for two days is an amazing way to start off the new year and makes me excited to get moving on my projects and get prepared to host some operating sessions and open houses for the NE Prototype Meet May 29 and 30 this year. 

I've got dozens of "show friends" that I pretty much only see at shows, we catch up on our projects, and figure out what each of us can do to help the other with what they are building. Then we do the same thing at the next show we see each other.

There are some lone wolves out there, and of course plenty of casual modelers too. But I just love the community of those who are really passionate about what they do and love to share it with others. The "crazy" people like me that will spend hours discussing the fine points of track construction, freight cars, or the differences between an I-4-e and I-4-f locomotive.

Two things I look forward to, almost more than the show itself, is our annual dinner in the parlor car at the Steaming Tender, and Sunday dinner at the Student Prince. While there's a little overlap, it's really two different groups of friends having a beer and a great dinner and talking about trains. 

See you at the shows, and if you're going to be in CT and want to come see the layout, just let me know.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Cocoa Beach...and we're off!

Don't forget to go here to join Project #1

Cocoa Beach

I had a great time in Cocoa Beach. Each Prototype Meet has its own feel and character, and this one is a lot of fun. I've been trying to get there for years, and next year we'll make sure John can make it too.

"What about the launch," you ask?

I think it went really well. The response was quite positive, and as I expected there were some great question and ideas for the project. Many of these are things that we should be able to include.

But Sales are Slow

We have had enough visitors to the site in the first week to fully fund the project already, even if the only option selected was $47, but very few are choosing to participate. But why?

Here's some thoughts as to why:

1. Unknown quality of models

That's fair, as we have no way of displaying our models yet. But stupid me didn't think of putting up examples of the work that this factory has produced in the past. Until I was trying to sell an extra model I had a Cocoa Beach.

This project was injection molded, with lots of etched parts as well.

The factory we are using cut the tooling, and produced these as RTR models and undec kits as well. The box and auto cars won't be this complex, but the quality of the tooling will be the same.

2. A new approach with potential risk

We've addressed this already, but I think it bears repeating. This is a new approach, but one that has been used successfully in many industries and hobbies. The biggest risks fort the Backers in a manufacturing project like this are:

Lack of expertise in the Project owner
Raising insufficient funds

As you can see, we've been involved in creating complex injection-molded models in the past. In addition, we are using a factory that we have worked with before, to ensure that the process is as predictable and routine as possible.

Lack of cash flow is among the biggest reasons why projects like this fail, crowd funded or not. We know what it will cost to produce this, and will not move forward unless we raise the full funding required to produce the project. Not just to cover the cost of tooling, but to cover the actual production, packaging, shipping from China, credit card processing fees, etc.

Remember, we aren't drawing a paycheck during this process, and won't realize any profit until after the models are delivered to you.

3. Can you make only one of the variations if you don't reach your funding?

Not really.

The car that we felt will be the best seller is the 12" raised roof version of the Bx-12. The difference between that and the as-built version of the cars is a new roof and ends. Because we can tool 4-5 pair of ends on a single sprue, doing that one car or the delivery of the Bx-11, -12, and -13 cars, plus the RI car is roughly the same amount of tooling, and the same cost. It goes up incrementally since it now requires 3 different trucks, rather than one, but that accounts for a very small amount of the total cost of tooling. There are additional costs such as packaging, painting and lettering, shipping from China, samples, credit card processing, and other fees, etc. As the cost of the project increases, the number of units required does too. 

To do the only the ATSF cars it ends up as a $200,000 project and a minimum of 4,000 to 5,000 units depending on the actual average sale price after discounts.

So we have a prototype that probably won't sell 4,000 units, what are our options? By putting a little more into additional tooling, we can add two distinctly different options - the steel-side rebuilds and auto cars. This increases the funding required by only 25%, but we think it greatly increases the possibility of success. Modelers from 1929 to the '60s can reasonably be expected to want at least two cars from this project. With the major variations/road names we need less than 500 units on average per prototype to make this work. That looks much, much better.

Another consideration is that not all of those pledging want the same models.

We considered a common approach with what are called "Stretch Goals," where we start with one model at a lower funding goal, then add additional prototypes if we reach additional funding goals. We felt this was a poor choice for model railroading, because many modelers might be pledging because they want one of the Stretch Goals, and it's possible that that model wouldn't be produced in the end.

No, we felt it was more honest and a better approach to simply require that we fund for all of the prototypes we're offering up front, so you know that as long as we fund the project we will be making the car you want.

4. Somebody else will do it, and I won't have to help fund it

Of course that's possible too. But the numbers I provided above are in the ballpark of every project I've been involved in over the last decade or so. Somebody with in-house expertise for cutting their own tooling, etc.,  rather than at the factory may be able to reduce the cost. But those companies also have their staff to pay for and other expenses we don't. In particular the need for each project to help fund the next project. We are selecting "niche" products precisely because we think these models are very unlikely to be produced using the traditional approach. Because the risk is too high for the manufacturer. So we think it is unlikely that anybody else will produce these models in plastic.

5. You don't know us

For many of you, that's true. Although I've been blogging about my modeling for over a decade (, and if you ask on the Steam Era Freight Car lists, and others, there are certainly a lot of well-known modelers that know at least one of us, and in many cases have been friends for years. 

But that's also one of the reasons we are requiring a fully funded project. With some crowd funding approaches, only some of the funding is raised, and the Creators expect to fund the rest. That seems very risky to us, and we want to make sure that we all know whether this project is a go or not. Either we choose, as a community, to make this models happen, or we don't.

If you have any questions at all, please contact us. Even if it's just to tell us why you won't participate.

While it looks like we're a long way away today, the reality is that we don't need that many more people to join us. We've had enough visitors to the site to fund this project several times over. We know that it's a small segment of the market that is going to help fund this. But we're also confident there are enough of you to do so.

Join Us!

We've selected a group of prototypes that nearly ever modeler for the 1929-1960s could use at least two, and probably more.

We will be at Springfield at the Better Living Center, 25-G. Come see us in person and we'll answer all your questions.

Pledge Early

One of the things we can't tell is whether people are holding off to see if others pledge. This sort of thing is a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. If a lot of people pledge, and pledge early, then others join too. If they don't, then others don't.

IndieGoGo holds the money and we don't have access unless we fully fund. So there is really no reason to wait to pledge. If you want the cars, then pledge early, and spread the word. We know people are interested in the cars, but they need to see that others are too.

Join our community of Backers today and let's make some models - together.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

We're live and officially open for business!

Randy's at Cocoa Beach for Prototype Rails, and this is the day!

When and how do I get the models?

You can order them starting today, and delivery is expected early 2021. But the process is a bit different than the normal approach.

We're crowd funding this project at IndieGoGo, because we believe there is a strong community of modelers that are excited about finding new ways to produce models that otherwise probably wouldn't be made.

All of the details on what's available and how to participate are on the site. But I wanted to highlight a few things that aren't noted there.


One of the main reasons we are crowd funding this is that we can be more responsive and make exactly what you want us to make.

We have a lot of ideas of what we think you want. Obviously we know that ready-to-run plastic models of less numerous prototypes is a good start. It's clear from everything we've heard so far that you are interested in these cars. And there are a lot of other cars like these we want to do.

We also know that there are a lot of people out there that still prefer kits. Some of them want decorated, some undecorated. We can do that. The same thing applies with parts. It doesn't really matter how many orders we receive for a specific car, because we'll be building them entirely to order.

Wait. There's more?


The initial funding makes the project viable. But if the funding exceeds that, we can add more.

Some numbers of Bx-11 and -12 cars received cylindrical hatches for cement and possibly borax service. If we surpass the funding goal by a decent amount, then we can add that variation.

What about the Transco sided cars?

Stock cars anybody?

The initial funding goal just makes the project as a whole viable. But additional funding opens up more possibilities.

It's about building a community

The point is simple. This isn't just about making models. At least not the normal way. It's about creating a community of backers excited about models. Who want more models.

You as a backer have the opportunity to help shape the project. Whether it's information that only you have, ideas about what might make a good project. What options would appeal the most to the backers? Perhaps lettered but unnumbered cars with decals. We should probably do that anyway. What should we be considering for our next project? If we can add additional variations, which ones should we do first? Or if we can't do all of them, which ones should we do?

Of course, it's up to you as to how much you want to participate.

We also want to give you credit for help making this happen. When you pledge, you'll have an option to have your name listed to our page of backers. We hope you'll want to be included.

Getting Started

This is part of our vision. But have to get over the first hurdle, which is funding this first project.

Check out Project #1, choose a Perk, and let's make some models!

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

It's almost time...

Randy's on the way to Florida in the morning for Prototype Rails and getting ready for the launch!

January, 9th

6:00 pm Eastern

There will be a limited number of special deals available until the show ends on Saturday evening.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Project #1 - CGW, L&N, and PM/C&O Auto Cars

When the ATSF and others were building increased capacity single sheathed box cars based on the ARA XM-1 Standard boxcar design, some roads were doing the same with 40' double-door auto cars. Although noted as automobile cars, they were also used for many commodities that were easier to load with their 12' door openings, such as furniture.

CGW 80000-80978

CGW 80556. Courtesy Ray Breyer

Built in 1929, they feature 3/3/3 Dreadnaught ends, with bottom-supported Youngstown corrugated steel doors and a radial roof.

L&N 46000-46399

L&N 46250 Blackstone, NY 11/4/51. Courtesy Bob's Photos

Built in 1929, the L&N cars featured 4/5 Dreadnaught ends, bottom-supported Youngstown corrugated steel double-doors over a 12' door opening, and a Murphy Outside Metal roof

PM 89350-90349

 PM 89399 Builder's Photo

The Pere Marquette had built Auto cars based on the ARA Standard XM-1 box car in 1926. Those cars had a 9'2" interior height and 10' door openings with 1 1/2 Camel (wood) doors and 4 rib Hutchins ends.

For this group of cars built in 1929, they increased the interior height to 10'0", requiring an additional panel with a narrower rib on their preferred Hutchins ends. They also featured a full 12' door opening, and double bottom-supported Youngstown corrugated steel doors.

C&O 254921 rebuilt as box car (ex PM auto car). Fort Bragg, NC 10/10/51.
Courtesy Bob's Photos.

Starting in 1941, the PM started rebuilding many of the cars as single-door box cars. To do so, they removed the left door, and installed an additional diagonal in its place, closely resembling a tall ARA Standard XM-1 singles sheathed box car. Both the double-door auto cars and the single-door box cars lasted into the C&O era after that road acquired the PM in 1947, and many were relettered and renumbered for the C&O.

Project #1 includes all of these cars:
  1. ATSF 124000-125999 Bx-11 class
  2. ATSF 126000-129499 Bx-12 class
  3. ATSF 135000-135999 Bx-13 class
  4. RI 141000-142999 series tall Pratt truss box cars
  5. ATSF Bx-11/12 classes with 8" extended roof
  6. ATSF Bx-11/12 classes with 12" extended roof
  7. ATSF Bx-11/12/13 classes rebuilt with steel sides
  8. CGW 80000-80978 series Pratt truss auto cars
  9. L&N 46000-46399 series Pratt truss auto cars
  10. PM 89350-90349 series tall Pratt truss auto cars
  11. C&O 289450-290349 series tall Pratt truss auto cars
  12. PM 89350-90349 series Pratt truss box cars (converted from auto cars)
  13. C&O 289350-290349 series Pratt truss box cars (converted from auto cars)
Don't forget, these will be injection-molded plastic models, available RTR or as kits with era specific details and lettering. Parts too.

What's next? Prototype Rails! We'll see you there! All of the details for the project will be posted next Thursday for our launch there at the show.