Jason Shron on Making Trains

Jason Shron… and his bus, of course

Jason Shron, president of Rapido Trains, gave a talk in Winnipeg on August 16 on running a model railroad company. Jason has been in Winnipeg a number of times, sometimes meeting up with people at Ware House Hobbies, but it always seemed that I was out of town when he was here, or I heard about it afterward. This time, there was plenty of advance notice and I was able to attend.

Jason was giving the talk to the Winnipeg Model Railroad Club – and anyone else who wanted to attend – and wanted to talk about how Rapido manufactures trains, from start to finish, at their two factories in China. The story was especially topical, given that a major Chinese model train factory closed a week before his talk (Rapido’s production is unaffected).

A collection of Rapido goodies

He started with a history of model railroad production in China. Basically, modern model train manufacturing was built in China. Sanda Kan was the first factory and made trains for many manufacturers until it was purchased by the company that also owns Bachmann. The Life-Like Proto 2000 series was the first major line of model trains made in China, back in the late 1980s. Today, most ready-to-run model railroad locomotives and freight cars are made in China.

One thing people always say is, “make it in America!” But the economics aren’t there.

Jason talked about the Budd mid-train dome car and its economics. I don’t want to get into specific numbers, as I am not sure he wants those made public, but here is an overview. The car has a suggested retail price (MSRP) of $109 Canadian on Rapido’s web site ($98.95 on Canadian Express Line).

The first cost is the cost of tooling to make the molding to make the shell. Jason quoted a number, which I won’t repeat, but it’s in the tens of thousands of dollars. That’s a one-time price you have to invest before you make a single car, and you have to recoup that over all the cars you sell. This makes it very expensive to produce a small run of cars.

Each dome car has about 8 hours of labour in it, to do the pad printing of all the lettering, and add all of the detail parts. I think Jason said there are about 300 detail parts on each car. If you assume that this was done in North America, where the worker was paid about $20/hour (not including labour overhead such as employment insurance, Canada Pension, etc.), that’s $160 in labour alone. Add onto that the material cost and overhead to pay the 12 people who work full-time at Rapido, advertising, etc. and you’ll probably end up with a $400-$500 car. It’s simple math.

Tempo (L) and Amtrak cabbage (R)

Jason talked briefly about 3D printing, which is great for short runs, but it’s expensive and slow and not (yet) suited for mass production. Maybe someday this will change. That would only reduce the tooling costs, though.

He also mentioned that production costs in China have more than tripled since 2008, due to the rising cost of labour there. Someday it will not be cost-effective to make model trains there either!

After Jason’s presentation, he opened the floor to questions and answers, and there were a lot of them. I’ll mention a few. Jason was very open and honest and I appreciate that.

Q: Couldn’t someone buy the closed factory?
A: No, China really discourages foreign ownership. Also, Chinese owners know people – relationships go a long way toward working with local officials and getting things done.

N scale Dash-8

Q: Can’t you make cheaper, lower-fidelity models?
A: Yes, Rapido tried that with the “Prime Movers” line with the Dash-8. People demanded more detail, and the profit margin is smaller on those so they have to sell a lot more. In the end, people want high detail.

Scale Trains makes three versions of most models – Museum Quality, Rivet Counter, and Operator, and their experience, according to Jason, is that the vast majority of sales are the Museum Quality versions and they end up with a surplus of the lower quality versions.

Q: How are your sales split by the nationality of the model?
A: About 30% British models, 50% Canadian, and 20% American.

I was very glad to finally meet Jason in person. We have corresponded a few times over the years, and he sent me a passenger car once as thanks for providing some reference photos and other information for a project they had. Jason is a great guy in person, and a tremendous asset to the hobby. He is also a great advocate for, and user of, VIA Rail.

Thanks for giving this talk, Jason, and I hope to see you again soon!

Manitoba Mega Train 2017

I visited the Manitoba Mega Train 2017 show today (October 1, 2017). As always it was a good show with a lot of displays, vendors, and activities for the young and the young at heart.

I was impressed by this Proto:48 diorama of a prairie grain elevator.

Proto:48 grain elevator
Proto:48 grain elevator

 

The N scale “Mainliners” travel around the prairies exhibiting their layouts at train shows. I liked it! (See a video from Moose Jaw)

The N scale "Mainliners"
The N scale “Mainliners”
The IPMS (International Plastic Modellers Society) display
The IPMS (International Plastic Modellers Society) display

I have to say that the Win N Trak group has a LOT of customized display material – chairs, tape, banners – well organized!

The Win N Trak group
The Win N Trak group

 

Lots of action on this railway!
Lots of action on this railway!

The Portage la Prairie Model Railroad Club had an impressive layout!

The Portage Model Railway Club
The Portage Model Railway Club

These kids were fascinated by the PMRC layout.

Children enjoying the model trains
Children enjoying the model trains

Doug and Florence McBride of Gladstone, Manitoba had a table with their models. Quite impressive!

Doug and Florence McBride, Gladstone
Doug and Florence McBride, Gladstone

The Kildonan Short Lines modular group were exhibiting again this year, and they joined their layout to the NMRA / FreeMo group to make a massive layout. I think they could have used a dispatcher, though – a lot of trains were running around!

Kildonan Short Lines
Kildonan Short Lines
The FreeMo group at Manitoba Mega Train 2017
The FreeMo group at Manitoba Mega Train 2017

There were quite a few vendors at the show, as usual. I was happy to finally meet Rob Arsenault of Weather My Trains in person, after corresponding with him online for a few years. A great guy who does great work.

Here’s a view of some of the vendor tables:

Vendors at the Manitoba Mega Train show
Vendors at the Manitoba Mega Train show

Of course, the free train ride around the show was active and very well attended.

 

Riding the train around Manitoba Mega Train
Riding the train around Manitoba Mega Train

Thanks to the Manitoba Mega Train 2017 organizers for another great show… looking forward to 2018!

See Also

 

Upcoming: Manitoba Mega Train 2017

Pano view of Manitoba Mega Train
Pano view of Manitoba Mega Train 2016

Manitoba’s premier model train show is happening at the end of this month! The Manitoba Mega Train show will be on September 30 and October 1 (Saturday and Sunday) from 9 AM to 5 PM at the Red River Exhibition Place.

I went last year and it was a lot of fun! There are a lot of model train displays of various sizes, vendors of new and used equipment, and even a miniature train you can ride!

I’ll be there this year! Will you?

 

Manitoba Mega Train 2017
Manitoba Mega Train 2017

For more information, visit Vector Garden Trains’ web site.

Read about last year’s show

The 2017 Winnipeg Model Railroad Club Open House

Winnipeg Model Railroad Club 2017 Open House
Winnipeg Model Railroad Club 2017 Open House

The Winnipeg Model Railroad Club held its 2017 Open House this past weekend. It was held on April 1-2 at the club’s regular meeting place in the basement of the Legion on Roblin Boulevard.

The open house featured several layouts from several local modeling groups as well as some private portable layouts, in a variety of scales. I was impressed by the modeling talents of every display.

The winners of the modeling contests were displayed along one wall, with the winners of the photo contests on an adjacent wall.

Here’s some photos I took of the open house.

Winnipeg Model Railroad Club 2017 Open House
Winnipeg Model Railroad Club 2017 Open House
Rail Train!
Rail Train!
Winnipeg Model Railroad Club 2017 Open House
Winnipeg Model Railroad Club 2017 Open House
Bents Grain Elevator
Bents Grain Elevator
The Assiniboine Valley Railroad was there!
The Assiniboine Valley Railroad was there!
I really liked the detail on the locomotive and the pump jack.
I really liked the detail on the locomotive and the pump jack.
Ian Plett at work!
Ian Plett at work!
Trains and Grain Elevators... mmm.
Trains and Grain Elevators… mmm.
Paul Ullrich's layout is always popular with the kids.
Paul Ullrich’s layout is always popular with the kids.
I liked this N scale layout.
I liked this N scale layout.
A nice compact layout!
A nice compact layout!
An overview of the room
An overview of the room
Photo contest winners!
Photo contest winners!
Last but certainly not least, the modeling contest winners.
Last but certainly not least, the modeling contest winners.

Thanks to the WMRC for putting on this open house! It was fun!

See Also

The Manitoba Mega Train Show 2016

Pano view of Manitoba Mega Train
Pano view of Manitoba Mega Train 2016

I went to the Manitoba Mega Train 2016 show yesterday (September 24). The show is being held at the Red River Exhibition Park. The venue is spacious, allowing lots of room for train layouts, vendors and for other activities like model ship builders, Lego, face painters and more!

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Some of the non-train exhibits

I was in line for the 9 AM opening. I’m normally not quite this keen but I had someplace to be in the afternoon, so I wanted to maximize my time there.

This was the view right at 9 AM.

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Opening Minutes

You can see John Longhurst in the foreground starting up his portable Thompson River Canyon layout. I interviewed John over at Confessions of a Train Geek.

I spent the first few minutes walking around and looking at the various layouts, in all sizes from Z to HO to O.. maybe even G?

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I liked the Pioneer grain elevator

The N scale yard below was quite impressive!

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N Scale Yard at the Manitoba Mega Trains show

I saw Sterling Schabler’s impressive square layout and admired his CN slugs. I wish I had taken a better photo, but the photo below will have to do.

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Sterling Schabler and his layout
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Sterling Schabler’s slug

I chatted with Morgan Turney, publisher of Canadian Railway Modeler and one of the founders of the Kildonan Short Lines HO scale modular layout seen below.

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Kildonan Short Lines

The Winnipeg N Trak group was out in full force. It was a very impressive layout!

manitoba-mega-train-2016-steve-boyko-16
Winnipeg N Trak!

So many great layouts.

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N/Scale Mainliner

I loved the great mile 10.6 Manitoba Pool elevator and the Agricore concrete ‘vator!

manitoba-mega-train-2016-steve-boyko-10
Grain elevators FTW!

There were other displays beyond trains… like these ship / submarine models. There were a lot of ships and boats on display. Note the pool where they were running radio control boats!

manitoba-mega-train-2016-steve-boyko-11
Dive! Dive! Dive!

There was some face painting too…

manitoba-mega-train-2016-steve-boyko-12
Face painting

There was LOTS of Lego, which I love. Very impressive.

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Lego displays at Manitoba Mega Train
manitoba-mega-train-2016-steve-boyko-14
A very impressive ore dock in Lego
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Cool VIA and CN trains in Lego

I bought a few things at the vendor tables… mostly timetables and books but I did buy an Athearn CP crane. I had a lot of fun chatting with vendors and exhibitors and I think the social part of the morning was the best part.

I’ll leave you with a few videos and one more photo of yet another impressive layout. Thanks to the Manitoba Mega Train 2016 organizers and exhibitors for a great show!

manitoba-mega-train-2016-steve-boyko-17

Winnipeg Model Train Show October 2010

Ontario Northlander
I visited the Winnipeg model train show on Saturday (Oct 16). There were several impressive layouts at the show, and here are some photos and video of the event.

The photo above, and the video below, show a model Ontario Northlander running around the Free-Mo layout on the ground floor. I like the Free-Mo idea but I was a little disappointed that it was formed in a traditional rectangle. I understand the need for continuous running but the best part of Free-Mo is that you can join modules together in different configurations.

My son liked this layout.. actually, he liked any of the larger scale layouts. This one had a couple of flashing pumpkins on the layout, which were fun for the kids to find.

This busy layout had Thomas (with Annie & Clarabelle) running around the oval. My son liked that the train disappeared behind the backdrop and came out the tunnel. Even when he discovered where the train went, he was still excited. Note to self – need tunnel on home layout.

I was really impressed by the realism of some of the layouts. Here’s one module on an N-scale layout.

This layout by Paul Ullrich was my son’s favourite. Paul set up several log cars on the side for children to play with. Press the button and the logs dump… reset… repeat… I think my son would have stayed there for hours if I had let him.

A very close second for my son was this layout. I really liked the handcart following the train on the outside – very inventive.

Here’s a portion of the Win-N-Trak layout.

I bought a few intermodal well cars, an autorack, and a used DCC locomotive… my first DCC loco. Soon I will have to buy a DCC starter set!

View the full gallery.

Congratulations and a hearty “well done” to the organizers, exhibitors and vendors.