Articles - About the Hobby: Changing Modeling Scales
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July 5th, 2008
I made a monumental decision. I decided to change modeling scales from N- to S-scale. I have been debating the possibility of a change for several months now. It is not an easy change to make because it involves new expenses, new investment of time, and other unforeseen issues. However, I believe a change will be good for my interest in the hobby. This page is a journal of what I went through changing scales.

So, why the change? Well, the principal reason is that, even though I am only approaching my mid-40's, the details and the road numbers on the locomotives and cars are getting harder to see. I find myself grabbing for the Optivisor quite often just to do some basic operations on my N-scale Bear Creek & Eastern switching layout. Having friends that are of retirement age, I can tell that that isn't going to improve with age. Second, building code 40 track is very difficult, because the track is so small and the tolerances need to be so accurate to have reliable operation. Third, even though N-scale equipment is getting better and better, there is still a lot of stalling of the engines because the contact area between the rails and the wheels is so small. I don't run my trains often enough to keep the track clean, so each time I want to run the trains, I spend 10 minutes cleaning track rather than running trains. The fun has kind of gone out of it.

But why S-scale? At 1:64, S-scale is two-and-a-half times the size of N-scale (1:160), so it easier to see. It does take up much more space then N-scale. Ultimately a model railroader selects a scale to model based on what feels right. I have only ever modeled N-scale (since the mid 1970s). My brother had HO, and of course I have operated on other people's layouts, most of which are HO-scale. But for some reason, HO never "felt right" to me. I have never owned any S-scale equipment, but I have seen layouts at shows and at people's homes here in Houston. Like N-scale, it, too, felt right to me. Because S-scale is so much larger, it is also much more expensive. But, even though it is more expensive, because of its space requirements you really don't need that much equipment to have a functional layout.
July 8th, 2008
I have been spending a lot of my free time doing research on the Web looking for what is available in S-scale. It is truly staggering. I thought that switching from the second most popular model railroad scale to one of the least popular ones was going to be disappointing, but it isn't. There are tons of structures, cars, and engines available. The PRR seems to be well-represented, too. I also decided to share my decision with some local model railroading friends. It solidifies the decision even more.
July 10th, 2008
I have been debating about what to do with my N-scale collection of locomotives and cars. I have a few extra things like structures, but mostly it is just the cars and the engines. In the past I have used eBay to liquidate a friend's N-scale collection so that he could fund his new HO-scale layout. I am leaning toward doing the same thing for my change-over.

At first I will be looking at purchasing one small switching engine, since the layout space I have available is the same as what I currently have available for my N-scale layout. One nice thing I discovered with S-scale is that even small switching engines have DCC sound decoders, lights, and a speaker in them. Wow! The lack of sound in the small engines of N-scale had always bothered me. Towing a box car with a speaker in it just didn't appeal to me.

The other thing I did today was come up with a first rough draft for a new track plan using S-scale turnouts and track in the same space I currently have. I use Abracadata's 3D Railroad which happened to have one S-scale track template (Gargraves). This provides a dose of reality to just how much (or little) track one can get in an area.
July 11th, 2008
I had joined the Yahoo! Groups S-scale list last week. Today I decided to introduce myself to the group and asked a couple of "newbie" questions. The response I got was fantastic. Lots of people answered my questions and gave me lots of good ideas. Many also gave words of encouragement, because almost all had switched from some other scale to S and never regretted it.
July 13th, 2008
I decided to start building a small S-scale structure just to get the feel of the size of the scale. You can follow my progress on the PRR Toolhouse page.
July 15th, 2008
Work on the N-scale BC&E has been terminated.
July 17th, 2008
After thinking about how I am going to sell my N-scale equipment, I decided to start by photographing and describing each item up for sale on a separate "For Sale" page on this web site. Once everything has been photographed, I will start to gradually put these items on eBay.
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July 18th, 2008
Today my wife and I visited Papa Ben's Train Place here in Houston, Texas (I created and am maintaining their web site). I wanted to find out how much stock the biggest store in Houston had that was S-scale specific. They had some things, such as detail parts, some "S Helper Service" sectional track, and a few kits. No rolling stock. It only occupied about three feet of one of the many shelves in the store. I picked up a tunnel portal, some grab irons, a NASG Standards Gauge, some Tomar Industries' Hayes wheel stops (I loved those in N-scale), and a package of code 83 non-weathered Micro Engineering rail. One thing's for sure, moving to a larger scale is more expensive!
July 29th, 2008
The change-over is going smoothly. I have sold some N-scale items through this web site. I kept the scenicked part of my N-scale layout so that I can run some trains while I am designing and building my new layout. Once I need the space for the new layout, I will officially get rid of the N-scale layout. I have already begun work on the new layout, and you can follow along here.
September 5th, 2008
Tonight we were invited to a local Houston S Gaugers club meeting at one of the members' homes. He has a nice large layout in a two-car garage. Even though it was hot outside, we still enjoyed ourselves. We had a good time, and the group is composed of very friendly people. I think my wife and I have decided to join the club (I think the official membership requirement is that you show up once and that you have some interest in "S"!). Getting involved or at least making contact with some local people will help in the transition from one scale to another. There are people with literally decades of experience that can inform and guide you.
September 26th, 2008
It is official: today I received my first S-scale piece of equipment. It is an X26 PRR box car made by S Helper Service. I am now an S-scaler!
October 30th, 2008
It has been a while since I updated this page. The switch is almost complete, so this will probably be the last entry. I was able to sell some of my N-scale items at first by sending out a "for sale" e-mail message to the PRR N-scale Yahoo Groups mailing list. I had been a member of that list and participated quite a bit over the years. Most of the items sold were bought without seeing a photo of the item on my web site (I hadn't gotten around to taking pictures yet). I sent a message to two other groups but never got a sale out of those. After that I started putting things on eBay. That is by far the best way to go. My method was to put an item out there for a price that I thought was reasonable (after researching what the item costs new, if it is still available). I also added the "Buy Now" eBay feature for most items, set at the price that I would really like to get for the item. A good number of items were sold using that method. Some items only had one bid, so I wound up selling them for the initial listed bid, most were bid on, and a few items were bid up even beyond what I wanted for them. Those, of course, were fun to watch. Some items didn't sell at first. Probably because my initial price was too high, or the right person hadn't come along to buy or bid for it. I calculated a break-even point for the freight cars and engines (comparing listing costs vs. what the item will sell for). If an item didn't sell before it hit that break-even point, I would just throw it away. So far I have not needed to resort to that! The one thing I learned the hard way is that shipping outside the United States is extremely expensive, or extremely slow; even to Canada! Be sure to check the USPS web site and add some extra to their listed prices. For example, sending one N-scale engine to England cost me $29! Also, allow time for filling out the required paperwork.

The cabinets that used to hold my N-scale inventory are getting pretty bare. I am thinking about how to use them for other items, since S-scale cars and engines don't fit in them. The transition has been smooth. I am very glad I made the decision to switch. I am enjoying building the new layout, and I am glad I can read the road numbers on the side of the cars without an Optivisor!
October 5th, 2009
After a year and a half of selling my N-scale items on eBay, I am finally getting to the bottom of the barrel. I didn't keep the best for last, nor did I sell all the good stuff first. I simply picked those items that were ready to go. My experience has been that I can handle about 10 to 12 items every two weeks. It takes about a day to photograph all the items and list them on eBay. Then, a week later when the auctions go off, it takes an afternoon to pack them all. I finally decided that shipping outside the U.S. wasn't worth the hassle. I did sell a number of items overseas, but it was a pain. Not only do you take a gamble on the cost of shipping, you also have to fill out paperwork (and know which one to fill out!) and wait in line at the post office. When I decided to only ship to U.S. addresses, I didn't really see a cut in bidding, but I did see a lot of simplification in my shipping, because I could just use the automated shipping machines at the post office.

As wonderful as eBay is, it is a tremendous drain on my time and energy. In general, interacting with fellow modelers is easy. There are a few people who want to be difficult, but the large majority pay quickly and without hassle. I have been able to maintain a 100% rating with eBay.

On average I think I sold items at about 50% of what I originally paid for them. As I stated above, there were a few rare items that sold for more than I paid for them, but they were definitely the exception. All in all, I used about 40% of the total gross amount made to purchase items needed for the new S-scale layout. About 20% of the gross went to PayPal and eBay fees, about 18% went to shipping cost, and the remaining 22% was used to buy non-model railroad related items.