As the editor of the On30 Annual, this caused me concern! I was looking through the 2015 issue in preparation of publishing the 2016 edition in the next few weeks and it was packed full of great On30 modeling information. But, according to the internet, I am wasting my time. On30 is dead.
Even though I don’t contribute very often anymore, I monitor dozens of On30 online modeling forums, websites, blogs and Facebook groups. The NSA has nothing on me, (except for a better 401k and health insurance plan) as I chew through thousands of words and pictures a week related to narrow gauge, model railroading and On30 modeling. So I was surprised recently to read how a number of On30 modelers are starting to believe that On30 has no future. It seems that the main cause of angst is the perceived lack of activity, support or interest by Bachmann. As they are the leading purveyor of On30 locomotives and rolling stock, I can see where this could be troubling. With comments ranging from “Two years between releases” to “Pulling out of the market and selling the On30 tooling” many were already relegating Bachmann (and their corporate master, Kader Industries) to the dustbin of history.
To paraphrase Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rogers, “R-E-L-A-X” Relax! As I approach 40 years in the model train publishing business, I can tell you, “I’ve seen this before.” There have been many times that a segment of the hobby has gone quiet or went through a period of relative inactivity. So pounding the panic button is of no value. Conversely, I am not going the say “Remain calm, all is well,” and spread sunshine and glitter all around either. There are some issues within On30, but they are not exclusive to our chosen scale and gauge. It is more global than that, both figuratively within the hobby as a whole and literally within the global economy. Despite what politicians might tell us, the fundamentals of the world’s economy remain challenged and that applies to China as well. As Bachmann (Kader) is a Chinese company that sells worldwide, the Chinese and world economy affects their thinking. Like all businesses, they are looking to sell products at a profit and for over a decade, On30 was very good for them. But I wonder if it might be a victim of its own success. During that time, On30 was a new category and whatever Bachmann brought out, we bought and bought in quantity. I strongly suspect that for most of us, our “toy boxes” are full and we are not buying as we once did or are focussed on structures, scenery or other aspects of layout building. That’s great for many suppliers, but perhaps not as good for Bachmann, whose focus is cars and locomotives, in addition to serving large scale, HO, N scale, and Williams O scale. This is a guess on my part, but they may be allocating their resources to different areas at the moment.
One thing I do know is that Bachmann ain’t going anywhere. They are one of the world’s largest toy manufacturers, making products for Disney, Hasbro, and Mattel in addition to all the model railroad products. Another thing I know is that the tooling is safe and sound. Were you aware that the old tooling for Varney, Penn Line, Athearn and many others still is being run? Heck, Bachmann’s Plasticville line started after WWII and they are still cranking them out. So the molds and tools will continue to make models as Bachmann simply has too much money tied up in them to not use (and re-use) them. That is not to say that they won’t sit on a shelf for some time. Railroad models have always been a batch production enterprise (yes kids even back in Irv Athearn’s day!) so molds sit for periods of time. It may be that the On30 molds sit longer to clear the market. Time will tell.
But for the sake of argument, let’s pretend that Bachmann decides they are done, or they don’t produce any On30 for an extended period of time. Doomsday right? We might as well pack it in? Hardly! We just need to shift both our thinking and our modeling. And let’s start by cleaning out the toy boxes and putting these models to work. The shift in thinking comes from moving out of the “I got to buy On30 stuff” to “I have to use what I have.” Let’s face it; you probably already have more than you can use. I know I do. Many of you are already moved into building layouts or modules, and that will soak up much of the toy box contents. Perhaps you find that you need something that you don’t have. That’s where the secondary markets like eBay and the modeling forums come in. Someone has what you need and will be willing to sell/trade it to you. Conversely, you will have stuff you don’t need, but someone else will and you can convert that into something you do.
The point is to get modeling and developing your skills and that is what the On30 Annual has always been devoted to. While many model railroad companies have a long history and Bachmann certainly would fall into that category, companies do come and go. What can’t disappear is your creativity and skill and the On30 Annual is designed to be your partner and inspiration for developing those. I’ll explore this further in my next blog post.
Until then, happy modeling!