IMPORT BRASS MODELS
By Wendell Row
ANY MODEL RAILROADER would love to add a desirable, collectible locomotive in any scale to his roster. But the thrill of "giving birth" to such a locomotive transcends that of acquisition.
Working with Samhongsa to create Row & Company's Southern Pacific Cab Forward and Union Pacific Challenger models involved countless hours. As the importer, I had to do research, review materials and drawings, write letters, answer international faxes almost daily, speak to collectors, meet with my staff, and travel. On top of that, I also happen to be a full time oral surgeon.
In other words, importing a top quality brass model involves a lot of agony and a lot of ecstasy and I have yet to decide what is greater!
WHEN WORK IS FUN
The prototype for our model is the sole remaining Cab Forward, SP AC-12 Number 4294. It is on display at the California Railroad Museum in Sacramento.
Producing an extremely accurate model can be enjoyable. In the case of our imports, we traveled to Sacramento for the Cab Forward and to Cheyenne, Wyoming and Omaha, Nebraska for the Challenger. I became friends with such noted railroad historians as Cab Forward expert Robert Church and Challenger authority William Kratville. Their assistance and our research really paid off when we displayed the finished models at a national show. A retired mechanic from the Southern Pacific's Cab Forward shops stopped by to marvel at the model's authenticity and then explained how the intricate 1:32 scale detail actually worked on the full size locomotive.
Another enjoyable part of the job was visiting the Samhongsa Company in Seoul, Korea for an on-site "source inspection". Samhongsa is the world's top manufacturer of fine quality scale model trains for a reason: The intensity of their employees' individual and teamwork efforts results in a truly inspirational product. In other words, if the model falls short of perfection, the importer himself must accept substantial responsibility. In our experience, Samhongsa can and will deliver what we require when we require it.
Of course the successful American visitor to Korea must make an effort to improve himself in local culture by dining out whenever possible. Just remember to allow two weeks for your body to readjust itself after seven days of eating raw garlic!
MODELING IN 1:32 SCALE
Collecting and operating 1:32 scale models is a growing hobby. It attracts both seasoned railroaders from other scales and casual admirers of scale model trains. The larger size of 1:32 models, their fidelity to scale, their correct scale-to-gauge proportion, their higher level of detail and, of course, the "blood pumping" spectacle of watching them operate contribute to their popularity.
Since I am one importer who operates his models outdoors, Row & Company products must be dependable, durable, and smooth running. To my delight, our Cab Forward production pilot model moved more than two hundred pounds of brass rolling stock without wheel slip. Trains of such weight make demands on a 1:32 scale locomotive's running gear the smaller scales have never experienced. Samhongsa was able to build models whose strength matched their appearance.
One drawback to many of today's 1:32 scale models is price. Brass models cost a lot and that eliminates many potential hobbyists. Some people think those high prices mean we importers must be getting rich. Let me explain something importers seldom reveal: The price an importer pays a builder in Korea (excluding the freight charge to bring the models to America) is directly proportional to how many models he orders. If he orders too few models, the price will be exorbitant and that will limit the number of units he can sell. If he orders too many models, the price will be lower but he will end up with too much inventory. Either way, the result becomes a financial disaster. The only winners are the manufacturers, because they only start work when they have cash in hand and guarantees from the bank, and the bank itself.
In our case, the market was small so the price had to be higher. We produced a total of fifty models; forty for the United States and ten for the rest of the world. Of the forty in this country, five represent 4294's predecessor, AC-11 Number 4274, the last Cab Forward to run under steam.
Fifty is a very small number of models. Most Gauge 1 "museum quality" locomotives have appeared in quantities of between one hundred and several hundred.
Finally, since many hobbyists prefer sound systems in their models, Row & Company's locomotives are available with 16 bit digitized sound from QSI. I personally prefer live steam operation, but QSI's sound system does have advantages. When I operate the Cab Forward, I have yet to burn my fingers.