Issue #67 of O Scale Trains Magazine contains a fine editorial by Joe Giannovario.* In his “Observations” column, he outlines the situation brewing around the current and likely future of various O scale freight and passenger car trucks.

It seems that Chinese manufacturers are no longer interested in doing short-run, marginally profitable products. This includes many hobby items we take for granted, like trucks. As the Chinese market for consumer goods grows, Chinese factories can run at capacity in satisfying demand for their own population. In the global supply chain we now have, this has numerous consequences, which I won’t go into here.

After reading Joe’s thoughts, I had two reactions. First, was disgust due to the entirely predictable reaction of doom and gloom that is certain to come from the O scale community. There will be cries, moaning and groaning, along with wailing and gnashing of teeth, all over the end of the hobby as we’ve  known it and God intended it. There will also probably be a run on trucks at the March Meet.

My second thought was: here’s a golden opportunity.

Trucks are us
Frankly I’m surprised no one has ever formed a company to produce trucks and only trucks, all manner of trucks. You want a Dalman two level truck in P48? Done. Some obscure PRR design from October 1903? Done. Symmington or National B-1? Done. Need them in five-foot gauge, On3, On2, O-Whatever; want 40, 50, 70, 100, 125 ton? Done, done and done. Fox trucks? How many do you want? With current digital capabilities, this is completely feasible now and the possibilities will only get better in the future.

I’ve heard all the criticism about 3D printing technology, mainly from people deeply invested in steel molds and styrene injection machines. Most of it is centered on the thought that it isn’t ready in terms of quality. Maybe, but do people honestly think this technology is going to remain static? I don’t think so. It’s improving daily and in a very short span of time, it will have the quality we expect. Maybe I’m just a damned fool who doesn’t know squat about manufacturing (true on both counts); but if I had hundreds of thousands of dollars tied up in old technology, I’d be critical too, and worried.

It’s time to move forward.
For better or worse, O scale is mired in the past: in terms of mindset, technology, outdated legacy standards, and the sense that the scale has no idea what it wants to be when it grows up. The opportunity I see around O scale and P48 trucks centers on CAD technology for the design, 3D printing, and lean manufacturing practices that can embrace much smaller inventories at profitable margins. In short, moving the scale into the 21st Century and leaving the hobby of the 1930s, ’40s, ’50s where it belongs – to the historians. Crying foul are you? Okay. Thanks for sharing.

The P48 community, which has been long ignored and underserved by manufacturers, should be cheering and welcoming this digital revolution with open arms. My guess is they are more terrified than anybody about the loss of Chinese manufacturing resources because they will feel it the quickest and the most severely. This is why I keep advocating for modelers to develop their own skill sets. We’ve very likely reached the end of the line for cheap imported products, from China or anywhere else.

It’s time to take responsibility for your own hobby.
There are a growing number of modelers who are taking these things into their own hands using modern digital tools. People are designing and fabricating their own track details like tieplates and joint bars. People are fabricating parts to replace cheesy three-rail designed body bolsters and non-existent draft gear extensions on commercial rolling stock. People are fabricating their own sideframes and truck bolsters for unique prototypes that no commercial producer will ever touch. Further, more and more modelers are producing their own cars using digital technology that allows them to have multiple pieces of rolling stock that would have required scratchbuilding individually ten years ago.

I thought you were a hardliner for craftsmanship?
Somebody will take me to task over how this squares with my rabid emphasis on craftsman skills. Sorry, I don’t see a conflict here. Such skills will become more important. The advent of resin casting didn’t eliminate the need for such skills and neither will the new forms I’m discussing here. 3D printing is nothing more than a natural progression beyond the casting techniques that have been part of the scratchbuilder’s tool box for decades.

You can’t grow by remaining static.
A proverb from the Good Book says that without vision, the people perish. If you want to see what a lack of vision has done to the hobby, look no farther than O scale. The three-rail toy train segment rules this scale, dictating the products and their design, for the two and three rail markets alike. P48 only thinks of itself as a tiny subset of O scale rather than the separate discipline that it actually is. The stagnant five-foot legacy gauge just limps along like nothing is wrong with the world. Okay, fine, to each their own. I get it, and I still maintain that this is a hobby of individual choice. So go do your own thing however you want to do it. That doesn’t mean I have to agree with all of the choices out there, anymore than I expect everyone to agree with my views.

There’s a closed, protectionist mentality to O scale that does not serve anyone well. I’m no longer convinced that the entrenched interests of this scale really want meaningful growth as much as the maintenance of the status quo. Genuine growth for this scale requires a clearly articulated vision of what true quarter-inch scale modeling could be, along with a vision of how modern technology could revolutionize the products it needs and their availability. The pieces are beginning to come together. What image do we want to see once the jigsaw puzzle is complete?

Regards,
Mike

*Full disclosure: Joe and I are partners in OST Publications Inc.