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How healthy is our hobby? (check the stuff that's healthy)

  • Locomotives

    Votes: 14 40.0%
  • Rolling stock

    Votes: 15 42.9%
  • Structures

    Votes: 9 25.7%
  • Track & Switches

    Votes: 11 31.4%
  • Electronics

    Votes: 20 57.1%
  • Manufacturing means

    Votes: 7 20.0%
  • Literature / info

    Votes: 12 34.3%
  • Community / communications

    Votes: 21 60.0%
  • Tools

    Votes: 16 45.7%
  • Materials

    Votes: 14 40.0%
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Super Moderator
4,970 Posts
I think the hobby will always be there for the modeler--the person who sees what he/she wants, then has the ability to use whatever resources are available to build it. I think if the mainstream manufacturing were to completely dry up tomorrow, there is enough old stock out on the market to keep those folks well-supplied with the core materials for quite some time to come. The emergence of 3D printing and CNC machining will make it easier for those folks to fabricate complex pieces, also.

Having said that, I don't foresee mainstream manufacturing drying up any time soon, but I do see a shift in how things get produced. We are, to an extent, a victim of our own success. I model 3' narrow gauge, set c. 1910. I have a pretty decent array of models which allow me to model that without so much as lifting a screwdriver. Forty years ago, that wasn't the case. (Heck, even 30 years ago, we only had two true "US" prototype locomotives; Kalamazoo's 4-4-0 and LGB's mogul.) The hobby has grown tremendously in those 40 years, but at the same time, it's become segmented, so the number of people modeling any one given genre/era of railroading is probably on par with what it was as a whole all those years ago. So while we might look at something like the ubiquitous LGB mogul or Bachmann 4-6-0 and say "Gee, they sold hundreds of thousands of those," they came out at a time when there wasn't much else to choose from. We bought them because they were something different. Now, we choose what we buy based on our specific interests, so the potential for volume sales isn't there as it used to be.

I think the days of 100K production runs of locomotives with street prices of $200 are well behind us, at least in terms of new models. Those locomotives for which the tooling already exists will still continue to hit the market at those lower prices (which we definitely need), but I think the production costs and smaller market share for any given prototype will mean we're going to see smaller runs at higher prices, and far less frequently to boot.

I don't necessarily see that as a bad thing, though. I think manufacturers know the prices will be higher, and while people will pay it, they're going to expect there to be considerable value for the dollar, so we will end up with better product. (I'm writing this sitting next to my Bachmann C-19, which I think embodies this sentiment well.)

One other thing this does is it invites people to look at other aspects of the hobby besides just buying fleets of locomotives and rolling stock. I've heard many people tell me they don't bother with sound systems in their locos because they'd rather just buy another loco. Fair enough when $200 will buy you another loco. When you're spending $700 for a locomotive, you're less inclined to buy two, but you may be more inclined to install a sound system in the one you do buy. As has been said by others, aftermarket control and sound electronics I don't think has even begun to peak yet. There are just so many possibilities out there. When you combine the price of a new locomotive with the notion that most manufacturers are making it increasingly simple to install these electronics in the locomotives, I think that's ultimately a good thing for the hobby. When you factor in the sheer amount of space it takes to store our toys, "quality over quantity" might not be a bad mantra to adopt.


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