Letters (and Numbers) from America

B&O I-12 Caboose B&O I-12 Caboose

Many of us will be familiar with iconic American F series diesels, the streamlined nose, Santa Fe ‘Warbonnet’, Union Pacific, or Canadian National ‘Pacman’ or ‘Wet Noodle’ color schemes, as UK modellers we may not know what they are, but we often recognise them when we see them. I’d had a similar thing for the B&O caboose, the pictures I’d seen showed a very different design to the traditional cupola or extended vision cabooses the average uk modeller may be familiar with. I’d started to get rid of some of the small collection of US HO scale items I have, the items were incompatible in eras and liveries. I get Model Railroader as a subscription and in there an announcement caught my eye, for these iconic B&O I-12 ‘wagontop’ cabooses. My interest had been re-kindled last year in Canada and by receiving a couple of HO Rapido coaches from a good friend over there.

B&O I-12 Caboose B&O I-12 Caboose

Well temptation got the better of me, and seeing these cabooses got me ordering a couple for my preffered era early 60’s through to 67’ish’. They were limited editions too, and not cheap but the quality was clearly very good, so my US/Canadian short line idea has come a step forward. With my liking for B&O and Canadian National somewhere in the Buffalo New York area is the most plausible, (sort of), in terms of route network, though theres a good deal of research, or ‘making it up’ to be done yet.

B&O I-12 Caboose B&O I-12 Caboose

With all the foam that that has been generated by recent news that Hornby is going to reduce fitted components to their models I took a comparison look between the I-12 and a recent release from Bachmann UK, the Southern 25 ton brake van. There are manufacturing differences between these two products, the Bachmann model is mass market ready to run and the I-12 firmly in the ‘finescale’ limited edition camp. I still think its worth looking at them together though. Why haven’t I chose a Hornby model? well I’ve bought very few recently to be honest, they’re not making many items which float my boat. The cost of the SMD I-12 (£37) is a little over twice that of the Bachmann Pill Box (£14 RRP), and the I-12 is a limited edition. Neither of these have previously been available as an accurate ready to run model, so do you get twice the value from the US product?

4mm (OO) scale SR 25 Ton Pill Box Brake Van & 3.5mm (HO) scale B&O I-12 Caboose 4mm (OO) scale SR 25 Ton Pill Box Brake Van & 3.5mm (HO) scale B&O I-12 Caboose

Much as I like Bachmann products and this particular van, in my opinion in this case I think the US product is better value. In terms of construction the Bachmann van has very few components and you get a few brake gear details in a bag to fit yourself. Handrails are wire which is a nice touch for the UK market, but lamp irons are moulded on to the body or relatively thick plastic details. The foot boards are seperately moulded in plastic which has allowed the brake shoes to allign with the wheel treads, which hasn’t been the case in previous brake van releases. For a few dollars more some of these details could be changed to metal components giving a vastly improved appearance. The paint finish is excellent across all the livery variants, with a few errors, eg this grey version should normally have a black panel behind the lettering. Overall, dimensionally the van is good, but there are a few detail errors, eg the stove chimney is incorrectly located.

4mm (OO) scale SR 25 Ton Pill Box Brake Van & 3.5mm (HO) scale B&O I-12 Caboose 4mm (OO) scale SR 25 Ton Pill Box Brake Van & 3.5mm (HO) scale B&O I-12 Caboose

By comparison the I-12 has many separate components plastic, etches and wire. Detail differences are noticeable across the range of liveries carried from the first introductions of the 1940’s through to the Chessie System 1980’s livery version. Detail differences are many and significant on the four liveries produced so far. Things like toilet vents, handrail shapes, roof vents, roof walkways, window shapes are all included in these differences. The things which impressed me were the add on details, lamps, handrails etc and the quality of the paint finish of them. The Bachmann model could easily step up to Premier league with similar additions, it would be very intertesting to see what price difference it would make. Thoughtfully the I-12 also has extra weight to allow it to be pushed against when banking a train on a layout, I do a similar thing with car wheel balance weights with my brake vans.

B&O I-12 'Wagontop' Caboose B&O I-12 ‘Wagontop’ Caboose

Clearly such additional details and paint cost money to provide, in terms of tooling and assembly costs in the simplest overview. The model has pretty much sold out however, and indications are that other more mainstream cabooses new to market, and at a similar price point are pre-ordering well. Theres been a huge amount of froth and foam about Hornby’s ‘design clever’ stance and what it actually means. With the I-12 ‘design clever’ can be seen to work very effectively at premium prices. Choose your prototype well, make an accurate model at a reasonable price for that premium quality, and they will sell. Fast. There have been new model commissions made by retailers in the UK market, not all of them however have been premium products, with faults in fidelity and some perculiar chassis designs. However with one soon to be released UK model, these issues have been taken on board, and pre-production samples are absolutely stunning. The US and Canadian market embraces this production methodology and has done for a good number of years, as well as the normal and ‘train set’ ranges. It’ll soon be time to see if the UK will accept this style too.

Spring Mills Depot are here >> http://www.smd.cc/

The future for Albion Yard?? The future for Albion Yard??

Not long after its appearance in Railway Modeller and at Model Rail Live 2012 I was asked what was going to happen to Albion Yard as it will be disposed of one way or another. Rather than immediately chopping it up at year end, I’m seriously considering giving it a re-vamp into a US or Canadian prototype, in effect converting it to HO gauge. That’ll give me an opportunity to play with my North American toys, so is this the future above?, I’ll let you know later in the year …

Not Everyone
Works For Peanuts …
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4 Responses to Letters (and Numbers) from America

  1. Phil says:

    Your US model may be better (and I admit that I’ve never seen one but really like the look of it) but since it’s twice the price, the UK modeller wouldn’t buy it. They would prefer to froth on the interweb about the terrible price.

    To be fair, the market it’s aimed at is bigger and I suspect that contains enough buyers to sell out a limited run. Whether that could be done in the UK is open to question. In 4mm, I doubt it but maybe I’m wrong.

    • bawdsey says:

      I think it could be done, but it’d need someone to be really clever with the subject, liveries and variations. They’d need a comfortable bank balance too! You’re absolutely right regarding market size too. To get the best return it’d probably be pre-group that lasted to BR transition, and worked over a wide area. The I-12 is a sort of crossover in that the B&O was big, but the cabooses didn’t often stray off company lines eg you wouldn’t see one in San Diego.

  2. Paul C says:

    Price of RTR is a real issue. I’ve started to get back into the hobby (albeit from the comfort of my armchair for now) after a 20-odd year break caused by going to uni and then being young, free and single. Whilst I’d admit that the quality of RTR has improved vastly in that time, so too has the cost. Personally, I’d quite happily pay less for a model with fewer details (I’d even go for an unpainted model, for which I’ve always thought there must be a market!) and then add my own. At the price of modern RTR, I’d almost be afraid to modify anything!

    FWIW – Albion Yard has been really inspirational for me, a standard of modelling to aspire to. I’d love to see it in the flesh at a show before you break it up.

    • bawdsey says:

      Thanks Paul. Modern RTR is undoubtedly more expensive, but if you’re prepared to do work yourself all credit to you. Regardless of if a model is Hornby Railroad or ‘Finescale’ I always see them as just a start point. Once you are happy with having built a skillset, the RTR item will probably just end up as a ‘starting block’ regardless of cost. If you cock up a cheap one, you’ve still cocked it up! :0)

      There will be three exhibitions this year (mid to back end) and possibly one further in the future. The details will be put up once confirmed on the exhibition page

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