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Until recently I was never much of a freight car fan. I preferred to focus on scenery and layout building and I was happy with rolling stock as it came from the box. That began to change after I switched to P48.

People look at this scale and see the potential for amazing detail. What’s less obvious is the amount of work in getting there, thanks to the 3-rail influence on the mass market. As a member of the P48 Facebook group recently observed, there is no common standard in this scale like there is in HO or N. My frustration with this has finally come to a boiling point. I’ve had enough of trying to work around mass-market compromises that make no sense on a scale model.

In a post like this it’s easy to sound whiney and complaining. That really isn’t the case. The cars you see in my photos are commercial kits or ready-to-run stuff from a box. In general AtlasO and other products are good and make a solid foundation to build on if that’s your choice but it’s important to understand the mass market has a different set of standards.

I also hasten to add that there are some very good products in quarter-inch scale, like the new state-of-the-art resin kits developed by scale modelers Ross Dando and Bill Yancey that are excellent in every way. Let’s also not forget the gold standard brass imports from Protocraft that show what’s possible with quarter-inch modeling.

As I think about my future with this craft, I want more of the realism and consistency that P48 offers and yes, the differences I’m thinking of matter, at least to me. What tipped my thinking over the edge is the economics of this scale and the impact it has on model building. I gave little thought to the cost of HO kits but have to think hard about the costs involved in quarter-inch scale.

In full disclosure, I didn’t pay for my Trinity hopper. It was submitted for a product review when I worked for O Scale Trains Magazine and Joe didn’t want the car, so he offered it to me. If I recall, at that time they were running around 70 bucks.

A recent check of the AtlasO website confirmed a price of $104.95 for the 2-rail version (all sold out on their end) and the 3-rail version is $99.95. Now I’m confident you can find the cars for less than that but it’s a steep hill to climb, if you want them in any quantity. Here’s the punch line though, you may recall from a previous post that I stripped nearly all the details off my car. All I left intact were the running board and roof hatches; everything else went away because it is incorrect or crude.

It feels like an irrational waste to spend a hundred bucks for a model that I’m going to discard 70-90 percent of, plus, I will spend nearly the same amount of money to replace the trucks and couplers with something decent for P48. Those numbers don’t make sense for me any longer.

I’m not opposed to spending that kind of money but not for products that are so compromised that I have to rebuild them to such a degree. I prefer to put the money toward quality materials like Protocraft trucks or resources like reference books and better quality tools that will improve my knowledge and expand my capacity as a modeler. I see this as a true investment in the craft that will pay dividends for a long time.

So, here’s the question I asked and answered for myself: If I’m going to essentially rebuild a commercial model to my standards, why not scratchbuild it in the first place and skip some bean counter’s ideas of compromise?

Given my objectives, it’s a choice that makes sense. However, I wouldn’t for one minute suggest it’s for everyone. Clearly, it isn’t but for me, scratchbuilding reflects the values I want to bring to the work and the ways in which I enjoy it. I prefer to spend my time on the things that truly make a difference for me. Wouldn’t you do the same?

In the next post, I discuss the lessons I’m learning from two test models, where my goal shifted from producing a finished model to understanding why the errors I made are happening and how to prevent them in the first place.