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Ready To Run

“I am a steadfast believer in the increased quality of life that comes from creating something by hand. While buying ‘stuff’ may give a short term high, much like a candy bar buzz, it quickly wears off leaving you where you started. The satisfaction that comes from creating something, however, is long lasting and therapeutic.” – Lance Mindheim

My good friend Harry Wong is building a relatively simple shelf layout. Encouraging me to do the same, Harry’s turned me onto the Lance Mindheim’s blog. For those not familiar, Lance is a commercial model railroad layout designer and builder, and has written many articles and books on layout design and construction.

This quote from his blog really grabbed my attention. While the context was in regard to layout design and structure selection, it really strikes a chord with me with the proliferation of Ready-To-Run rolling stock we have today, and the lack of kits. I have a saying I use when speaking to Athearn and Intermountain regarding the demise of kits in our hobby:

“You’re letting the Chinese have all the fun!”

It seems that if you want to be a model builder, your best bet is to move to China, and work for one of the manufacturers. “Our industry is currently tied to Chinese production, as southern China has developed the special skill set required to produce model trains.” (Jason Shron, President, Rapido Trains) If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

But I buck the trend. To Intermountain’s credit, they do offer kits. They’re just hard to find. Most hobby shops deal with Walthers as their distributor. Most have reluctantly included Horizon Hobbies to continue to offer Athearn products (which is distributed only by Horizon, thier owner). But Intermountain has become a distributor of sorts as well, selling Tichy, Red Caboose, and others, and is no longer using Walthers as a distributor. They didn’t just cut out the middle man – they replaced him! You have to order direct, and they don’t have an on-line store. You have to order the old-fashioned way – by phone.

But it’s the theraputic element that Lance explains that appeals to me. I guess I could just as well be a model airplane or model car guy, but trains appeal to me more, and always have. It’s just that the opportunities to actually build models is evaporating, and for that, yes, I’m a little bitter. Comparing a R-T-R models to a candy bar makes a lot of sense. High cost, low nutritional value, encourages lazy eating habbits, and malnourishment. Is that really were we want our hobby headed?

Back to my workbench – I obviously need the therapy.


  1. Mike Coen wrote:

    Excellent point. I have many, many RTR units, but my favorites are the ones I’ve built. Building a large layout leaves little time for constructing rolling stock, and I have far too many projects sitting in plastic drawers waiting to be finished. In fact, I’ve run out of plastic drawers. But every once in a while, I get the bit in my mouth to finish something. Case in point: I recently finished a model of Sacramento Northern GP7 712. It started out as an Atlas GP7 in ATSF zebra stipe paint. A replaced the handrails with wire and added the detail parts and wired up a decoder with LED lights It’s not contest quality, but I hace gotten compliments on it. This unit has special meaning to me because a friend of mine was instrumental in saving the prototype locomotive. I’ve got a unique engine that will likely never be available commercially. I also get a sense of satisfaction modifying RTR to match a specific engine. I got an excellent deal on a Genesis Cotton Belt F7 in red and gray. The paint on the unit is far better than I could ever do myself. I then converted it SP by removing the lettering, installing the correct nose door, and adding other details based on a photo I found online of an SP F7 with a M3 horn taken in Tracy, CA in 1968. It’s another unique loco that I can be truly proud of.

    Monday, March 11, 2013 at 21:19 | Permalink
  2. Arved wrote:

    Good point, Mike. The thing is, you have other things giving you “the increased quality of life that comes from creating something by hand.” That bloody nose scheme on the F-unit, like the Black widow scheme that preceded it, is a lot of work – the true test of one’s masking skills. Harry brought up another point about our models being the actors on a stage, and the “extras” don’t need as much attention as the “stars.” R-T-R models give us some very good “extras,” but you can’t make a full production out of just “extras,” and the “stars” deserve to be doted upon.

    Monday, March 11, 2013 at 21:33 | Permalink
  3. George Corral wrote:

    Thanks, Arved! My sentiments exactly.

    R-T-R models are nice if you can afford them or need an instantaneous fleet or don’t have the ability or time to build your own.

    Although I’m relatively new to railroad modeling, I love to research and build steam era freight cars as accurately as I can and since I don’t have a layout, I can spend more time researching and building my SP fleet of cars circa 1953. Unfortunately, many of the projects described and elaborated on in past magazine articles and current blogs I can’t build simply because most of the model kits used as the basis of the build are no longer in production or decals are not available.

    I have a long list of builds I’d love to be able to try but have to wait to see if this company or that one will ever decided to produce the kits I need. My hope is that the companies that produced these kits that are still in business realize the still existing market for kits.

    I really enjoy the Shake-N-Take builds the last two years and the efforts Greg Martin and others are making.

    Again, thanks!

    George Corral
    La Grange,KY

    Friday, April 12, 2013 at 16:27 | Permalink
  4. Arved wrote:

    Thanks, George! I appreciate your comments. 1953 seems to be a popular year to model. I should write on why I’ve chosen that year (among others) sometime soon, and I’d like to get your thoughts.

    Friday, April 12, 2013 at 17:14 | Permalink
  5. George Corral wrote:

    It’s my pleasure. I’m lucky to have people such as yourself publish information useful to others like me. Believe me when I say the learning curve is very steep when you’re my age and you have to catch up in a hurry.

    As to why I chose 1953, I had no special reason. Just seemed to be a good year and close to the end of the steam era. I was 9 years old in 1953 and my dad was still working for the SP at the L.A. Shops. Besides, if it’s good enough for Thompson, it’s good enough for me too. LOL

    I do have a few questions but I’ll ask off line.


    Saturday, April 13, 2013 at 22:03 | Permalink

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