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. 

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