Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Where Are We Headed?


With the advancements in the level of detail of the ready to run market in both locomotives and rollingstock, one could certainly not be blamed for wondering just where we are going and where this development will all end up.  Surely, what I am about to post will polarize modellers and certainly alienate some...but since my earliest recollection of receiving my first Triang RTR model was sometime in 1964 and being continuously and actively involved in the hobby since that time...if nothing else I think I have earned an opinion at least.

I have just received a twin pack of ready to run LHG vans and upon opening the box and examining the contents...the first thing that struck me was the fidelity and the obvious detail that is what we have come to expect from today's models...what tainted that initial delight was the 11 items of detail that had somehow found their way to the bottom of the box and only became visible when the models were removed.  It must be stated at the outset that this phenomena was not limited to this particular purchase or manufacturer and is now sadly an all too common finding right across the spectrum...either upon arrival or shortly after the item has entered service.

How much detail is too much detail?.  I think this feeling is growing amongst fellow modellers and is certainly worthy of discussion.  Have we created this progression due to our own perpetual hunger and push for realism...or have the manufacturers "self adopted" the belief  that this is what we demand and anything less is to be seen as a self imposed failure on their part and a cause for possible belittling by other manufacturers?...in essence an ego thing...

A casual perusal of Australian model rail forum sites would certainly support the theory that our uncompromising level of detail demand and the merciless criticising of most item releases has had a large input.  As much as these forums are a cross section of people's opinions, have we lost the plot on detail expectation and price point v's practicality and quality....in other words do we want our cake and eat it as well?.  We could then equally focus the spotlight on the manufacturers and ask why it is that the level of the detail in general is now approaching museum quality but basic ( and long ago perfected ) items such as couplers and bogies have in some instances diminished in quality.

From my own perspective...it would be a lot easier if I was a "collector" and just made purchases that ended up in a glass fronted case to be just admired...but I do purchase rollingstock with the intention of weathering and then running on my layout...so some level of durability is important as is the need to be able to have a modicum of running quality with the ability for the item to reliably stay coupled to other rollingstock I have purchased.  Also to be regularly presented with a grab bag of detail items that have fallen off purchased items in transit or have been shed due to manufacturing deficiencies is certainly disappointing.  I guess that I first noticed this "detail race" with the arrival of the BWH wheat hoppers with the nifty but totally senseless spring loaded bottom discharge doors...was this an attempt at humour?...or was it an ego trip of "see what I can do"?...I readily confess that at the end of the day, they were a brilliant running wagon that had an adequate amount of detail and were relatively robust, tracked well and had reliable couplers...so I am a happy owner!

So what is the answer...

To be honest I have no one-statement panacea to this issue.  It may be that we have reached the technological limit of detail inclusion and the "detail race" may have reached it's limit.  It may be that any further detail items will be packaged separately and the onus is on the buyer to add these items should they wish.  Maybe we as modellers need to strike a balance between reliability, robustness and inclusions in our hobby demands and be more objective when we offer personal views and unsolicited reviews of products on forums?...Presently it just seems that some of these forum posts revert into a "pick the prototypical fault" competition which in turn then just slides into a "I know more than you do challenge" with little regard as to whether the item is a fair and reasonable facsimile that is value for money and will perform to a reasonable expectation. 

From the manufacturers perspective...I guess they have to be mindful of when an item has reached a balance between prototypical appearance and dimension, detail inclusion, manufacturing soundness, ongoing reliability and whether it is of merchantable quality...and to illustrate this point I add an analogy that while not totally comparing apples to apples...it does offer some similarities as to what an average consumer expects.

You arrive at the Holden dealer to pick up your new car...when you get in the driver's seat, you notice that all the control buttons and detail items have fallen off and are sitting in a neat pile on the passenger seat...the towbar has been fitted and will not reliably "couple up" with any commercially available trailer or caravan...and when you take it for a spin the wheels wobble...  I am not sure that you would be a happy person...and a comparison with any consumer product would illicit the same response...

In closing...I certainly am thankful of the almost limitless supply of Australian RTR items to choose from and the days of scratchbuilding and kit building of wagon rakes and locos is now but a memory ( apart from if one chooses ) ....but just hope that the above factors will balance out...and a happy and sensible medium can be reached.

I can't wait to unleash the air brush on these pair of LHGs...




  1. Hi Rod,

    Layout is looking good. Models look so much better in a landscape.

    I personally like more detail but find the plastic detail parts very fragile. I guess when we used to super detail models, brass wire and metal odds and ends were often used. This method of construction was/is quite a bit more robust than what is offered by the Chinese manufactures today. I am not sure, but it seems that many of the parts on these new detailed models are simply interference press fitted together. I think its kind of funny that a RTR model leaves China and turns its self into a kit along the path to the consumer.

    I would personally like to see the basic model produced very accurately. Accurate bogies, and fine true to scale mouldings. As for the under frame and fine detail parts I am more than happy to add these parts my self. I can only blame myself for them falling off that way!

    I have heard that it does not cost that much extra to manufacture the model with the extra detail. I don't know if that's true but if so why not stick it on there I guess. If it falls off and you don't care about the detail level you won't have to stick it back on.

    Hope your doing well over there in Goulburn.


  2. This has been a bit of a hobby horse of mine as well. Seems though that things with the China factories these days have changed, as some years back now they charged more for all the added detail, & such things as underfloor detail, that is timber joints for the floorboards cost extra & importers said it was too much. These days I understand its different, as the detail does not cost more when its included in the original drawings & I guess the agreed prices.

    I for one, believe in scale fidelity, that is accurate dimensions, although in some cases some areas of tolerance is required owing to the needs of a wide variation in modelling skills in the layout building along with track radius limitations & the like.

    Detail is nice IF, its strong but when the advertising of "xxx number of separately applied detail items" on a model is pretty pointless if they fall off, & you cannot glue them back on, the use of ABS & Delrin type plastics is all but impossible to glue bits back on when it comes off.

    The flimsy plastic underfloor detail is worse still, besides how much of it simply hangs down, & drops off on the track, a lot of my latest purchases have been like that, the part though that I wonder about is do we really need it if, in the main we cannot see the detail when looking downwards on the model. BUT more importantly the items continually fall off, owing to the aspect that they are not securely fitted, rather in the case of the recent high detailed 4 wheel wagons, the thin plastic Y bar brake pull rods simply sit in a nitch in the floor & sort of meant to clip into other brake rods, lost count of the amount that I have found lying between the rails or on the track side.

    I would much prefer, robust models, with decent couplers eg Kadee, rather than imitations, that still fail, & not that easy to replace on the full detailed models either. How much extra would it really cost to have wire in place of ultra thin plastic rod?

  3. Rod,

    Sorry no controversy or disagreement here.

    Thanks for your piece and I too believe that probably the quest for detail has gone too far. When all is said and done most of us model in HO scale and my eyes are now struggling to see some of the detail on the models. Certainly, if the detail is not visible from a reasonable viewing distance OR angle then perhaps it is not necessary.

    I believe that the cost of the more detailed kits has increased well beyond inflation as the detail 'arms race' continues. Personally, I am resisting purchases of these highly detailed wagons unless I have a definite gap that I need to fill. The practice of only selling them in packages of two, three of four wagons with a significantly higher capital outlay also serves as a further disincentive.

    These days I get more enjoyment from purchasing a basic kit and adding the detail that I feel is sufficient using more robust materials, which probably means that I'm 20 years behind the times.

    By the way, you're one up on me, I didn't even realise that the hopper doors on the BWHs opened until you mentioned it is your post. Yes, a very good example.

    cheers Phil

  4. Many years ago a brass 50cl was debunked in an AMRM review as it had an opening smokebox door showing all the internal detail, while I was in the opposite camp, for the simple reason that when steam was had their firse dropped for repairs & even over a weekend the doors were opened when stabled, leaving the detail to be seen, also helped when relighting the engines as the doors had to be opened to stop sweating of the boiler.

    Thus for me, if you have a depot on a layout, it was a nice piece to see with the open door, added realism.

    The TOR Hoppers also had spinning hand brake spindles which were also not needed, but one thing with both the doors & spindles they did not fall off or break, all of mine are intact anyway. Not something I can say for a lot of the other models around though.

    Still, like Phil says, I am examining kits rather than some of the RTR models more these days, trouble is at times the kits do not save much either.

  5. G'day Rod.

    All valid points that you've raised!

    For me, dimensional accuracy is the critical point - how is it that it takes 30-40 years to get an S truck right?

    (Big assumption that the 'Ultimate S truck' will be right....still waiting for mine to turn up and the ACX on order better be right too....) or why in this era of CAD and with most drawings existing or in fact with preserved locomotives and rollingstock to crosscheck the dimensioned drawings to that we still get things like roof profiles wrong - HUB sets for example.....or log cabin wood grain.... or T&G siding with grooves like drainage channels....etc., etc., etc.

    If the prediction of Chinese wages doubling in the next few years is correct, surely a more cost effective solution is to (intentionally) provide a CKD kit with fully decorated body, in lieu of the unintentional CKD LHG that you received.....at least that maintains some level of kitbuilding skill and allows easier kitbashing. We just need the ABS/POM glueing conundrum to be resolved.