Is N-Scale Brass A Thing Of The Past?

WM183 Nov 25, 2018

  1. WM183

    WM183 TrainBoard Member

    307
    273
    6
    Hello all.

    I've been lucky enough to acquire some lovely Key brass Mikes (an H-10 and an H-6) for my NYC fleet, but it got me to wondering, and to once again be a bit jealous of the HO scale folks. The brass offerings in N scale, even for as popular a road as the mighty New York Central, have always been fairly slim; a USRA Mike, a Hudson, a Niagara, an H10, and an L4, and none of them made within the last 25 or so years. Is brass for N scale a thing of the past? It's a shame really; there is NO comparison between the Key/Yulim light USRA Mike and the Model Power one, as far as looks go. It isn't even a contest.

    Have their been any notable brass offerings in N in the past few years?

    Musing about golden metal,

    Amanda
     
  2. DCESharkman

    DCESharkman TrainBoard Member

    3,293
    297
    44
    Brass has left N Scale several years ago when Key Imports went out of business and Overland stopped everything in N Scale.
     
  3. WM183

    WM183 TrainBoard Member

    307
    273
    6
    I was afraid of that =(
     
  4. bill pearce

    bill pearce TrainBoard Member

    243
    56
    10
    One big problem was the poor to nonexistent running qualities of brass locomotives. A great solution was the Hallmark attempt, where a brass shell was put atop a Kato mechanism. Great prototype fidelity with great running qualities.

    Another knife in the brass heart was the willingness of the plastic manufacturers to make various prototype accurate versions of the same loco.
     
  5. Calzephyr

    Calzephyr TrainBoard Supporter

    3,406
    142
    50
    At one time the only way an N scaler could get steam locomotives was via the few brass manufacturers willing to do them. Once certain manufactures, Kato specifically, began to make steam engines (Heavy Mike), Model Power (Light Mike, Heavy Pacific), Bachmann (Consolidation, Heavy & Light Mountains and others), LifeLike Y2b Mallet and finally Athearn (Big Boy and Challenger) there wasn't much for the brass makers to sell. They were cut-off from most diesels once Atlas and Kato ramped up production of different models and as more manufacturers entered N scale only the most road specific models were viable for brass importers... and with a limited market... high prices and questionable reliability... they were pretty much done.
     
  6. WM183

    WM183 TrainBoard Member

    307
    273
    6
    I suppose so. I always though brass' niche was making more prototypical models for those that sought them, such as my aforementioned H10, which no existing non-brass model is even close to, and my H6 that is simply 10x better looking than Model Power's with those molded-on handrails and such.

    I wouldn't be above putting a brass shell on a better mech if mine werent good runners. I keep hoping 3D printing will be the salvation of N scale steam modelers, but so far, it's a bit sparse yet, and I lack the skills to create the designs myself. I'd like to learn but... no idea what TO learn. Corel Draw, or Adobe Illustrator, or what?
     
  7. Calzephyr

    Calzephyr TrainBoard Supporter

    3,406
    142
    50
    Essentially the steam mechanisms are so unique that they are virtually 'one-ofs' for each model type. Different drivers sizes, valve gear, boiler length & diameter, firebox and associated accessories which are basically all over the place. The USRA types at least got some uniformity for several roads... but the custom made or custom modified steam engines are too difficult to mass produce.
     
  8. Tony Burzio

    Tony Burzio TrainBoard Supporter

    2,315
    6
    37
    I have quite a few brass locomotives. A few can pull themselves around the layout. Lots of electrical problems, usually shorts to the body shell.

    I gave up and do diesels in N Scale, and bought a coal fired live steam engine I ride on to get my steam fix...
     
  9. BoxcabE50

    BoxcabE50 Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

    58,259
    3,256
    599
    Too many of the offerings of motive power looked very good, but needed help with performance. Cost. Yikes.

    The original OMI run of MILW ribside cabooses retailed at $64.95 each. Their proposed second run had an MSRP of $220! YIKES! YIKES! That alone killed it. Not long thereafter, plastic of fine detail came along at MSRP of $34.95 each. Brass? Bye, bye!!!!!
     
  10. WM183

    WM183 TrainBoard Member

    307
    273
    6
    The cost was definitely a factor... however new plastic steamers the BLI PRR 4-8-2 sell for far more than I would like to ever pay. Admittedly those come with DCC and sound, but... they're a mass produced, styrene model. 300$ each? That... hurts. Some plastic N scale freight and passenger cars now are breaking 50 USD each. I do hope that the price trend doesnt continue. I have a very hard time spending more than 15-20 on a single car, or perhaps 75-100 on a locomotive, unless it REALLY fills a niche i need or it is a cut above the baseline.

    As of today, in N scale, we have precious few prototype specific models of Steam - we don't even have most USRA types in production. If my choice is nothing or brass, I guess I'd rather have brass. I think I need to figure them new-fangled 3D printers out.
     
    MK and mtntrainman like this.
  11. brokemoto

    brokemoto TrainBoard Member

    1,332
    107
    29
    There are several factors, most of which have been cited. The price for those things was high. Even the retailers with the best prices could not offer you too much off list as the profit margin on brass is low. As others have mentioned, they had runnability and electrical problems. Their exacting prototype fidelity did not allow for the flaws in mediocre track work, either. Even those who wanted the particular model were unwilling to pay hundreds of dollars for a Yard Queen or Siding Queen.

    The manufacturers are finding that road specific prototypes do sell, so they are doing more in plastic and cheap metal.

    Advances made since even the 1990s have made recent offerings in plastic or cheap metal far better runners than the brass of even the early 2000s at far lower a price.

    Much of the plastic or cheap metal freight power will run at very low speeds, while more than a little of the brass cogs at anything below thirty five SMPH.

    I did buy one brass diesel in the 1990s, I swore never again and I got one of the better ones, for the time, at least. I had a Hallmark Torpedo Boat GP-9. Spookshow rated it a "C". Mine was allright, but, for the money, it just was not worth it. Once better plastic and cheap metal steam became available, I changed eras, so it went back into its box, as its paint scheme was out of my era. It must have been unpopular, because I recently sold it on FeePay and did not get even close to what I was hoping to get for it. I got more for some plastic diesels than I did for the brass.

    If someone did do a decently operating P&LE A-2a, vestibule cab H-10 or a K-6b, I would consider it. It would have to be very good, though, to get my money.
     
  12. JMaurer1

    JMaurer1 TrainBoard Member

    1,479
    266
    22
    Back in the day (1980's) when I was modeling in HO I had more than a few engines. HO brass, even OLD HO brass, had usable drive trains (but usually bad open frame motors) that you could make work by replacing the motor with a can motor. When I got out of HO, I did get a few N scale brass engines but the problem with N scale brass has always been the same: we didn't have a good running steam engine mech until the Kato Mikado. HO had the room to include good gears and bearings so adding a can motor and flywheel wasn't that hard, N scale didn't have that. I still have my N scale brass (still engines that are not made in N...SP AC-4, MT-4 and other assorted SP engines) but I wish it ran better (and I didn't have to worry about it getting stolen when we run for the public).

    N scale brass may be gone, but soon you will have N scale 3D printed engines...its coming, just not all the way here yet.
     
    WM183 likes this.
  13. Espeeman

    Espeeman TrainBoard Member

    1,020
    53
    29
    Some of the plastic models I've seen people customize on this board are every bit as detailed as any brass loco I've seen. Given that the price of brass versus a plastic one is so great you could buy several plastic models, learn how to customize them (even if it meant botching several of them) and in the end still not spend as much as you would on a brass model, PLUS, it would run much better than most brass. Every time a brass SP steamer of significance shows up on Fleabay it usually sells for over $1200 (2-10-2, 2-8-8-4 AC9, etc). Also, some mfg's, like Kato, make the driving wheels move side to side so they can negotiate much tighter curves than brass could ever dream of! Think Kato's GS4, which can negotiate at least 11" curves. I just received the BLI T1 4-4-4-4 and it is so gorgeous I cannot imagine needing to add any detail. My fleet of MP and Bachmann steam I would have no problems trying to super-detail. If I mess them up I can buy another at a fraction of the price it would cost to buy brass and I would learn another wonderful aspect of the hobby and have models that I would truly be proud to display, knowing I did them!
     
    mtntrainman likes this.
  14. WM183

    WM183 TrainBoard Member

    307
    273
    6
    I am not at all above detailing and kitbashing locomotives; I have made a C&O K3 from a Kato heavy mike, and I am currently redoing the shell of a Bachmann H4 to have the right steam and sand domes. However, there has to be a good mechanism to use, as I am not skilled enough to build a frame and all, and it must be mod friendly. The Bachmann 2-8-0 is very mod friendly, for instance. The Kato mike... so-so. I have heard that MP engines are decidedly not. I need to simply get one and see.

    However, I also am excited about the opportunities that 3D printing offers! I'd love to be able to get ready-made cabs, boilers, and what have you from Shapeways. I shall try and be patient.
     
  15. DCESharkman

    DCESharkman TrainBoard Member

    3,293
    297
    44
    Well I will have to say that I have had several Hallmark Northerns and a Texas Type that pull like crazy. I had one 4-8-4 that pulled a 90 car train as smooth as can be. I divested from most of them because I could not bear to cut them up to install DCC and sound.
     
    WM183 likes this.
  16. jdcolombo

    jdcolombo TrainBoard Member

    1,105
    174
    25
    My Key brass Berkshire (NKP 779) looks terrific, runs smoothly, and will pull a 50-car train. But it is an exception; most brass steam locos were awful runners. When you see models like the Athearn Challenger and Big Boy, the BLI Pennsy M1 and recently released T1, the Bachmann EM-1 Yellowstone-type, the Bachmann 2-8-0, the Atlas Shay; etc., you can see why brass is dead. Modern injection molding and Delrin plastic detailing gets you locomotives that are as detailed as brass, but (as others have noted) actually run exceptionally well. What we DO need is more N-scale steam, both big steam (a C&O 2-10-4 T1 and the related "Texas" type; a C&O Allegheny; a top-notch 4-8-4 beyond Kato's FEF and GS4; 2-10-0's, a variety of articulateds, etc.), medium (where is the NYC Hudson?) and small (resurrect the 0-8-0 switcher, for example). But all these can be done in plastic with better mechanisms than anything ever produced from the brass makers.

    We also need consistent availability. I'd buy 4 more MRC/Model Power Mikes if I could find undec ones or even ones with standard tenders that I could repaint for the NKP, but they just aren't available. Maybe Atlas will re-release the LL Berkshire, only with traction tires so that it can actually pull a consist. Bachmann could re-release a bunch of stuff: the J is gone; the EM-1 could be turned into a DMIR Yellowstone; they could release an updated 4-8-4 with better shell detailing; upgrade the 4-8-2; keep the 2-8-0's and 4-6-0's coming, etc.

    I don't mourn the passing of brass; I do wish for more N scale steam.

    John C.
     
    WM183, badlandnp and Hardcoaler like this.
  17. gatrhumpy

    gatrhumpy TrainBoard Member

    615
    63
    14
    I can superdetail anything in plastic the same or better than anything in brass for a MUCH better price.
     
    WM183 likes this.
  18. bill pearce

    bill pearce TrainBoard Member

    243
    56
    10
    I took several brass diesels and modified them to fit on a Kato or Atlas s[lit mechanism. Ran like a dream and were great. I lost them in a divorce despite a court order, but when I found out they were gone, it was too late to do anything. If you want to make a conversion I can give you what you need to know. It's not that hard.
     
    WM183 likes this.
  19. WM183

    WM183 TrainBoard Member

    307
    273
    6
    I admit I have debated putting my brass shells on different mechanisms for better low speed running. But yes, indeed - we need more steam in N! I'd love to see a Spectrum USRA Mike and Pacific, for example, and would also love to see the LL 0-8-0 again - I'd buy several of all three.
     
  20. Kurt Moose

    Kurt Moose TrainBoard Member

    4,388
    1,758
    73
    Ever since I was a kid back in the 70's, Brass was THE ultimate in model railroading! Now that I'm older, (and have money!), I'm slowly collecting brass in N-scale. Some don't run, or have some slight damage, but I just have them displayed.

    I look at them and it makes me smile......:)
     
    badlandnp and WM183 like this.

Share This Page