By TIM BLACKWELL/Cowcatcher Magazine
WEST ALLIS, WI – About 10 minutes after the doors opened Saturday to Trainfest, a crowd began to form outside the curtain-enclosed ScaleTrains.com booth. The buzz about what the new model railroad manufacturer was about to unveil had already started the afternoon before as vendors set up for this year’s show.
As the curtains slowly opened, ScaleTrains.com President Shane Wilson welcomed visitors amid the flashes of cameras. People nudged forward to see what was inside, and got a close-up view of the industry’s biggest secret in recent months.The company’s debut highlighted opening day at the two-day show, billed as America’s Largest Operating Model Railroad Show hosted every year at the Wisconsin Exposition Center at Wisconsin State Fair Park.
ScaleTrains.com, formed by four experienced model railroad manufacturers and 18 months in the making, had HO pre-production samples of its Union Pacific GTEL 8,500-horsepower “Big Blow” Turbine, UP steam excursion post-2006 water tender set, Evans 5100 RBL 8’ Double-Plug-Door Boxcar and Trinity 31K Crude Oil Tank Car with head shields. ScaleTrains.com is producing four HO- and N-scale product lines with varying price points that range from museum quality models to easy-to-assemble kits.
“We’re a new company,” Wilson said. “You get one chance to make a first impression. And that’s us.”
The company is striving for a balance of models that reach a level of detail like none other in the industry for hobby purists and also meet the needs of those who are less finicky.
At a Friday night preview party, ScaleTrains.com unveiled a deco sample of the belle of the ball, its highly-detailed Museum Quality “Big Blow” Turbine. The model, which will be out in 2016, will feature details down to the sound of wheels squealing against the rail going around a curve and frog clank sounds to a spinning turbine fan blade visible inside the exhaust.Museum Quality is ScaleTrain.com’s top of the line and comes in a leather-like box with a magnifying glass so the owner can see the detail. The “Big Blow” will go big at $724.99 with its expected arrival in April. It will also be available in the company’s Rivet Counter line, which features less detail for a few hundred bucks less.
“We’re trying to achieve a level of detail that hasn’t been available in the classic modeling market,” said Mike Hopkin, vice president of product development.
At the same time, the company will offer kits for under $20. A sample – a special edition ScaleTrains Evans boxcar kit decorated with the company’s logo – was given to guests at the kickoff event. The kit, which can be assembled in a few minutes with a screw driver, includes a pre-painted boxcar shell, frame, couplers, coupler box lids and screws.
ScaleTrains.com also will offer its Operator line, which will afford operations-focused modelers with well-detailed models at a lower cost to encourage fleet building.
All models, which feature Tru-Color Paint, will be available direct to the public and also from select distributors and retailers, Wilson said. ScaleTrains.com is still building its distributor network, but Spring Creek Model Trains of Deshler, NE, has already signed.
At Saturday’s show, crowds were brisk and steady, families packed a large area designated for children. Although attendance totals were not available, Trainfest chairman Ken Jaglinski said the turnout appeared better on the first day this year than on opening day last year.
The show spilled into a second hall – the Trolley Barn – about a block away, where mostly club modular layouts ran trains. Several clubs participated in in the show’s Junior Engineer program and allowed kids to operate trains. Among them was the Overland Western Lines HO-scale layout from Random Lake, WI.
“A lot of kids seem to like it,” said Greg Drewiske. “We’re getting a lot of them coming over here because we’re right next to the front door.”
In addition to ScaleTrains.com’s debut, many other manufacturers had new announcements or pre-production samples on hand.
Athearn announced runs of HO-scale Electro-Motive Division SD39 and SD70MAC diesels.The SD39s will be produced in Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe; Southern Pacific; Illinois Terminal; Norfolk & Western and Minneapolis, Northfield & Southern. DC models will go for $134.98; DCC with sound for $194.98.
The 70MACS will have three road numbers per scheme, due in September. Roads including Burlington Northern, BNSF, CSX, Kansas City Southern, Conrail and Paducah & Louisville. BNSF, Conrail, CSX and Kansas City Southern models will be produced in multiple phases. DC models with 8- and 9-pin connectors for DCC decoders will sell for $198.98. DCC models will be $298.98.
Kato U.S.A. announced upcoming production of an Amtrak SDP40F diesel locomotive based on the Type 1 carbody in two paint schemes. Two road numbers will be available per scheme when models are released in April or May. Price will be $125.
Bluford Shops announced new tooling for N-scale 30’6” 2-bay panel side hoppers in six roads. The cars first appeared in the 1930s as some early USRA design hoppers came due for heavy maintenance. The ready-to-run models will be produced in single-, two- and three-packs in Central Vermont (single-car and two-pack only), Missouri Pacific, New York Central, Delaware & Hudson, Rock Island, and Wabash. Delivery is expected during summer 2016.
InterMountain Railway Co. had pre-production samples of its HO-scale GP10 Paducah locomotives. Through the 1970s, the Paducah shops of Illinois Central rebuilt worn out EMD GP7 & GP9 diesels into the GP10.
InterMountain is producing models in Illinois Central, Conrail, Illinois Central Gulf, Iowa Interstate, Chicago
Central & Pacific, ADMX, MidSouth and Arkansas-Oklahoma in DC, DCC and DCC with sound. Each will have prototype-specific details and Kadee couplers. Models are expected to ship in the second half of 2016.
NCE had samples of its new line of wiring kits. The company is producing kits for layout wiring, locomotive wiring, pre-cut drop wires, bus wire, track bus taps and LED lighting. Some kits include connectors. NCE officials said the new line offers modelers a one-stop shop for everything needed for model railroading.
Rapido Trains was also on hand for the first time at Trainfest, touting its latest locomotive releases and upcoming product.
Others on display included Walthers, Atlas, Bachmann, Kadee, MTH Trains, Broadway Limited, Scenic Express, Azatrax, Accurail, Digitrax, Hornby America, Marklin, Lionel, Model Rectifier Corp., Soundtraxx, Richmond Controls, Tangent Scale Models, Woodland Scenics and Fox Valley Models.