The Future of N Scale

C&O_MountainMan Jan 23, 2023

  1. C&O_MountainMan

    C&O_MountainMan TrainBoard Member

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    (This post has been spurred by the Kato and BLI Big Boy threads.)

    I’ve always been surprised by the post count of the N Scale forum here at Trainboard, and how it dwarfs the post count of the other forum scales, and it always prompted me to wonder if that was reflective of N’s popularity, or if simply a higher fraction of a limited N Scale community coincidentally coalesced here.

    Well, late last spring I was ordering some rolling stock from a shop in the US Southwest, and it was one of those where the web page said first-timers had to call, so I did. I had the pleasure of an extended conversation with the owner, on brands, road name availability, the health of the hobby, scale, etc.

    They told me that N scale was the only scale that was growing. The other major scales (HO, O) were slowly “dying.” Their word. (Didn’t ask about Z)

    It surprised me; I’ve always thought N was something of a redheaded stepchild.

    What do you guys think? True? Plausible?

    Do you see evidence in support of this in your own railroad modeling endeavors?

    If so, what are the drivers? Unit price? “World size” per square foot? N scale gear coming into its own in detail and running quality?
     
  2. in2tech

    in2tech TrainBoard Member

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    For me, all about the space, and the price, having a 2'x4' and two bases if I want to make an L. Of course the people that really know are the retailers, I would guess, meaning the online ones mostly. Most everything in this hobby is expensive really, like most hobbies are. Having said that I think at Christmas time HO is king, everyone sells them at that time of year, also not sure a small child would be impressed with N Scale at first, they play with the HO for a bit, and usually store them away for who knows how long. But they are introduced to the hobby, which is a plus!

    Even in N Scale it's about the amount of space you have. Even a lot of N Scale layouts are in non climate controlled areas, garages, attics, etc... I would guess from seeing post here?

    Like real estate, location, location, location!

    N Scale, space, space, space!

    IMHO!
     
  3. Metro Red Line

    Metro Red Line TrainBoard Member

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    I was an HO scaler for some 25 years. My last HO layout, which I started in 1988, was a 4x12' modern-era (for its time) Southern Pacific layout. I had always had a stray eye to N scale whenever I'd go to hobby shops, but I just can't get over the fact that the N scale trains at the time were: a) Too toylike (pizza cutter wheels, ugly Rapido couplers, ridiculously high ride height), b) Very limited in selection and c) Very expensive (compared to HO). Back then I could buy an Athearn HO blue box kit for $4 or $5. But an N scale rolling stock would be $8-$12. Forget that!

    But by the mid-1990s, my HO empire was largely gathering dust. Mainly because of college/career/other interests, but specifically because my HO layout had 18" radius curves, which are like 9 3/4" radius curves in N scale. I could not run the long 89' autoracks and flatcars I wanted to. I was very unhappy as an HO scaler.

    In 2006, I decided to dismantle layout and sell my HO trains and start anew in N scale. I took a second look at N and things were a lot better than my first impression. Micro-Trains and similar knuckle couplers were the norm, low-profile metal wheelsets were starting to emerge and modern intermodal in N wasn't very hard to find thanks to companies at the time like Deluxe Innovations. And the price of N and HO had reached parity, and even some trains were cheaper in N than in HO (i.e. Atlas Thrall articulated autorack car)! All of my concerns were addressed, so it was time to make the leap! Even longtime HO institution Athearn had started making N scale just a few years prior.

    Thanks to newer technology to design and manufacture models, 21st century companies like BLMA, ExactRail, Rapido Trains, ScaleTrains, Jacksonville Terminal Company and others emerged and changed the N scale game forever. Even longtime N scale veterans like Micro-Trains were influenced by the New School N Scale manufacturers and started making trains of the same quality (The 60' double door high cube Railbox car).

    Basically speaking, N is the new HO.

    N is more portable, most of the modular clubs in my part of the country (Southern California) are N scale (N-Trak/T-Trak/Free-Mo), so N is more visible than HO is in the local train shows. People are just used to smaller things these days - compare an iPhone to a Cordless phone from the '80s, or a micro-SD card to a 5" floppy disk, for example. It's a well-known fact that N is king in Japan due to the smaller-sized houses/apartments, but newer houses, especially in urban areas, in the US are smaller as well. Even for those who can buy a large house, moving is a common phenomenon and even if one had the space for a large layout, dismantling and starting over again can get time-consuming and expensive. So why not built a modular/semi-modular layout in N scale you can easily take with you when you move? You hear about more HO scalers converting to N scale than vice-versa. And unlike 40-50 years ago when a Tyco, Bachmann, Life-Like or AHM HO train set was the "gateway drug" to the hobby, none of those really exist today but a Kato N scale starter set is often found at many hobby shops.

    Also as the Lionel Generation becomes extinct in the coming decades, O/O27 will lose its nostalgia appeal and collectability with less people to carry the torch. Those who want large trains are more attracted by LGB layouts in the backyard, so that scale is growing somewhat (though not to the same factor as N). In 30 years, I can see the major scales in the hobby become N, HO and G, in that order.
     
  4. Metro Red Line

    Metro Red Line TrainBoard Member

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    Is that really true? I know 40 years ago it definitely was - TYCO used to run commercials for train sets during Saturday morning cartoons. AHM would sell train sets by sending in proofs of purchase from breakfast cereals. But those days are gone. I'm sure Bachmann is still making train sets, but I don't see them marketing them. Used to be you could buy a Bachmann/TYCO/AHM/Life-Like train set at Toys R Us or other toy stores. But they're not around anymore either. So where are people buying their train sets from now?
     
  5. in2tech

    in2tech TrainBoard Member

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    Once again, only the retailers know for sure, ONLY place I have seen train sets are Hobby Lobby and at Christmas they will have 3 HO sets and one N Scale set, and way more HO track, although not a lot, I think all are Bachmann's? I don't think Michael's sell's any train stuff in my local stores anymore? And of course actual toys stores, Toys-R-Us are gone, as is Sears, now for the most part. And my local hobby shop, only one left in my area, I think sell's more HO at Christmas time, I will ask next time I am there. And I think they are cheaper online at Christmas time, Bachmann sets, etc.. but really have no clue! I would think Walmart sells a few during the holidays?

    Surely there is some info online about sales of each somewhere? Now I have to look around the internet!

    And of course the bottom line is I have no clue about any of this. So there is that :)
     
    Last edited: Jan 23, 2023
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  6. mtntrainman

    mtntrainman TrainBoard Supporter

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    Availability...Quality...Convenience...

    Back in the day you where lucky to have maybe 3 Brick and Mortar hobby stores near you. And most of those didn't carry much if any N scale trains. HO was king back then. Today...with the advent of online sales...the sky is the limit. Those 3 B&M stores really didn't have to compete. You bought at 1 or had to spend all day going to the other 2. I have about 12 go to Etailers in my bookmarks. If I can't find what I want at the price I want at one I just open a new browser or tab on my browser and I can find it. "Google is your Friend" is a fav cliché. Not having to get dressed...clean the snow off the car...shovel the driveway and be out on the road with all the idiots out there is a definate PLUS !

    The quality of N scale trains is mind blowing ! Details that seemed impossible just a few years ago are common place now. Manufactures are competing with each other more then ever. DC to DCC has made the hobby more enjoyable. Prices are more competitive. You can stay with a lesser detailed model or you can go whole hog on the holy grail. Rule #1 is another fav cliché.

    Customer service is a must. A company lives or dies by how it treats their customers. in the relative short time I have been in the hobby I have seen a handful of company vanish from existence and most where the fault of bad customer service. I have one etailer whose wife jots down a personal thank you note on every receipt. Nice little touch. One that doesn't go unnoticed or appreciated. Etailers and by extension B&M hobby stores live or die by their customer service as well as pricing.

    Impulse buying is a curse !! The N scale hobby is at your finger tips. Just type it in a search engine. Just be sure to have your Credit Card next to your keyboard when you do...LOL.
    .
     
  7. Shortround

    Shortround TrainBoard Member

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    I believe it's for the reasons given but also some that can't be discussed. When I moved to the Milwaukee, WI area there was the big show, many smaller swap meets for all things and hobby shops. For reasons I moved 28 miles west to Eagle were most was gone except I stayed in O and start playing with the TOYS known as N. Then I had to move 160 miles north were that's all gone and all we have is mail order.
    And N has improved greatly. My DCC HO just sits there now.
     
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  8. Calzephyr

    Calzephyr TrainBoard Supporter

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    I 'liked' all prior posts because each one had some relevant information to the subject.
    My thoughts about model railroading are more broad and go back to 1999 where I feel a quantum leap occured pushing N scale to the forefront of the hobby.

    The internet was a nascent technology with no direction for making money. No Google, Facebook, Twitter... etc. In fact, the dotcom bubble burst and put doubt in the future of the internet for business.

    Meanwhile most model railroaders were doing their purchases at their local hobby shops... face to face... and HO was king. If you wanted N scale... it was by being on a mailing list to receive news on sales and new items.
    Thankfully in 1989 N Scale magazine was launched which provided some news about mail order vendors. Problem was that a bi-monthly publication was already 2 months behind... and mail order vendors sold out of the best stuff. So back to the LHS as most reliable source... usually for HO... not N.

    Once lowly N scale manufacturer LifeLike stepped up the quality of their products to use split-frame mechanisms and sold them for less than $20.00 discounted at mail order vendors.

    When the internet found it's way in the early 2000's... it was Google and other search engines which began tracking cookies to feed potential buyers Information on what they searched before. N scale suddenly becomes more visible to all model railroaders.

    Price inflation actually began in the early 2000's... not such a recent phenomenon. The parity of HO verses N in both price and quality makes 'space challenged' model railroaders consider switching.

    The policy of several manufacturers to 'build to pre-orders' creates potential short runs (didn't actually happen). This was another scare tactic that put doubts model railroaders mind and may have had a worse effect of O and HO than N scale. Basically... some modelers may have had to buy at full MSRP.

    China wants to get paid... meaning... no longer paying 'pennies by the piece'. Prices start increasing and manufacturers have to merge into fewer factories (basically Kadar/Bachmann) with fewer production 'slots'. This caused larger scales to increase at a higher rate than N scale. This goes on for several years... including the great recession. Some manufacturers deeply discounted excess inventories... but that ended in a few months. Back to inflationary spiral.

    Covid... major supply chain destruction. Definitely worse for HO. Some N scale manufacturers (BLI in particular) find a way around this debacle to continue supplying new models every few months.
    Bachmann was seemingly unaffected by the Covid supply chain issues. HMMM??
    The microchip shortages didn't seem to affect either Kadar/Bachmann or BLI (strange bedfellows?).

    Now all the eyes turn to smaller space requirements for N scale and better models being created... which were all the 'likes' I posted to before.

    N scale will be on par with HO... but I don't know that they will surpass that scale. O scale and S scales will shrink and become the 'Elitist scales'... cost will be artificially inflated like artwork... it will be like a non model railroaders scales. No clue how Z scale will fare... just not significantly enough different from N scale.
     
    Last edited: Jan 23, 2023
  9. BoxcabE50

    BoxcabE50 HOn30 & N Scales Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

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    With many folks downsizing in retirement, and others downsizing due to housing costs, these could be signficant factors...
     
  10. MRLdave

    MRLdave TrainBoard Member

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    I'm with Boxcab, although what everyone else said is true also. In Japan, house space is at a premium, and N scale is the BIG scale there.........big in the sense of size. not popularity, although it has that too. Z scale (1/220) and now T scale ( 1/450) are also popular there. Saw a pic online the other day, of an N,Z and T scale set of locos (SD70s) and the T scale loco was the length of the truck on the N scale loco. If you don't have a lot of space smaller is a major factor. With N (or smaller) scales, you can have a layout that will fit in a closet, or under a bed. T-trak modules are quite small and you can have a bunch of modules that will set up on a card table or other folding table, but can be stored in minimal space. As housing in the US becomes smaller, the smaller scales will continue to get more popular.
     
  11. Metro Red Line

    Metro Red Line TrainBoard Member

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    Oh yeah, another advantage of N scale I forgot to mention: Back in 2016, I went to Minneapolis for a business trip. I flew out there early so I can spend the weekend there and have a micro-vacation. It just so happened there was a big train show at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds that weekend, so I went to that and bought a bunch of rolling stock I couldn't find back home. When I flew home, all of that still fit inside my carry-on luggage!

    I also think N scale is popular for buying and selling online or via 3rd party because of its small size and weight - imagine paying for shipping costs if you were an HO, O, S or G scaler!
     
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  12. Hoghead2

    Hoghead2 TrainBoard Member

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    If N is the growth area ( I reckon so incidentally) , will someone please inform the editor of Model Railroader?
     
  13. Calzephyr

    Calzephyr TrainBoard Supporter

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    LOL... size matters when dealing with model trains too.
    Except smaller is far better in this case!
     
  14. MetraMan01

    MetraMan01 TrainBoard Member

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    I’m stationed in Japan right now-between the popularity of n scale here and the fact that my home on base is small I went with n scale. I can buy at local Japanese hobby shops for my Japanese prototypes and for scenery items that work with my American layout. American prototype n scale is very expensive here so I end up buying American locos and cars online. I’ve seen a limited selection of HO out here, almost exclusively at the Kato “mothership” store in Shinjuku. But super expensive. So n scale it is, and with the exception of the fact I’m often jealous of the Walthers HO structures I’m a very happy person.


    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
     
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  15. Metro Red Line

    Metro Red Line TrainBoard Member

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    Oh they already know. Thing is, Kalmbach Media is in cahoots with the Wm. K. Walthers company and the National Model Railroading Association as part of the HO Scale Industrial Complex.
     
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  16. in2tech

    in2tech TrainBoard Member

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    I joined here July 2001, I thought back then HO was more popular here, but I really don't remember? I do know quality, quantity, and DCC has changed the hobby for me in N Scale. As it has for other scales I assume? For instance to me, companies like WS run out of N Scale items faster then other scales, or it appears that way when I look for their items, like traffic lights, street lights, and even some structures. Them and even etailers that sell their merchandise. Not talking about scenery stuff as it fits all scales usually. I am gonna ask an etailer I shop at, and ask if they will tell me. I expect they will not :)

    But once again, what do I know :) I'm just a customer :)

    As @mtntrainman said customer service rules, whether it is a note, or bag of candy that cost .000001 cent, it matters. You know who it is, and they have the nickname Fruit Etalier :)
     
    Last edited: Jan 23, 2023
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  17. OC Engineer JD

    OC Engineer JD Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

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    I posted this on another thread, but it could go here too….
    Years ago while at the KC N scale convention, Scaletrains, a then new company, was displaying their new UP gas turbine locomotives. Looking at them, I was amazed at the detailing on these beautiful models, and wasn’t even a UP modeler. I’m now up to 5 turbines, 3 challengers, and now 2 Bigboys. (Already have an Athearn)
    So I think, some manufacturers are producing models so detailed and nice, even if you model something else, you don’t mind getting one because they are like miniature master pieces.
    All I can say is, right now, in any scale, we are getting some of the best looking, sounding, and running models ever. And that’s a good thing! :)
     
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  18. C&O_MountainMan

    C&O_MountainMan TrainBoard Member

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    Yep, those things have been advanced notably over the years…

    Variety, though, is the biggest gap N Scale needs to close in comparison to the larger scales.

    With N scale pieces going for less than HO, and thus per unit profit (in dollars, not percent) I would expect variety won’t catch up when unit sales of N equal that of HO. More likely the variety scales will tip in the favor of N scale when net dollar sales for the manufacturers equal/surpass those of HO.
     
    Last edited: Jan 24, 2023
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  19. BoxcabE50

    BoxcabE50 HOn30 & N Scales Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

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    Thankfully, N has two quality magazines of its own. :)
     
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  20. Shortround

    Shortround TrainBoard Member

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    What would those two quality magazines be? I've only seen one and don't consider it good.
     
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