The good ol' Bluebox kit
In the early-1990s I owned and operated a model train shop. Back in those days there wasn't much you could buy in ready-to-run equipment that was any good.
Just about every piece of rolling stock came in kit form, and those kits had much more detail, higher-quality paint jobs. These kit-built cars performed way better than ones from companies such as Life-Like and Model Power, where their items came ready-to-run (RTR) right out of the box.
My shop catered to more seasoned modelers, and I didn't stock many of those RTR cars. Often customers who were new to the hobby would pick up an Athearn or Roundhouse car and say, "What! You mean I have to put it together?" I assured them that it was a simple task, and all they needed to get one of these cars on the rails was a small screwdriver and a little patience.
Most people trusted my advice, but for those who just didn't believe me I would offer to put the kit together right in front of them on the counter as long as they agreed to buy it. In hindsight, I could have had a wonderful career as a worker in a Chinese model train factory!
Nowadays, most of what is on the shelves in hobby shops is ready to run and the quality is better than we could have ever dreamed about 20 years ago. However, the typical freight car is now at least four times the cost of what it was back then. Some people wonder how that affects people who are new to the hobby and may not want to invest hundreds of dollars in rolling stock right from the get-go.
There are lots of unbuilt kits sitting around on shelves in basements (I have several dozen on mine) and with few improvements and a bit of weathering they are still good models, even if they are only on the rails until your budget allows you to replace them with something better. You can find these unbuilt models at most any train show.
Photo by Gerry Fraiberg
There are still lots of people who have joined the hobby in the last few years who have never put together a freight car kit. When you don't have a lot of the skills needed to build a layout, the satisfaction of assembling a simple boxcar kit and rolling it down a piece of flextrack is a big deal.
Every journey begins with a first step, and none of us were born with scratch-building skills. So March 2014's Backshop Clinic is an introduction to simple freight car kits with guest Bruce Wilson. Even those of us who have been modeling for years should appreciate watching Bruce assemble an Athearn boxcar, even if just to enjoy a sentimental journey.
And if putting together a boxcar is too elementary for you, have no worries. We are shooting clinics on extreme freight car weathering and scratch-building with wood, so watch for them!
- Barry Silverthorn