third rail posted:
At my club EVERYONE has a 4-8-4 because all the manufacturers made tons of them, but no one has or runs switch engines. It's one thing to run a long train with a big engine at the point. But it's just as satisfying to break up that train and make a new one for the next run. IMO switching a yard or industrial sidings can be more fun than watching a train chase its caboose . If manufacturers could bring to market a reasonably priced switch engine and continue to produce it over the years, there would be enough interest amongst us hobbyists that they would not have to resort to "built to order" sales. I would rather buy 4 switchers for the price of one $2000 built to order road engine that I have no use for. What I'm saying is I think built to order stifles the hobby because if not enough preorders are received the company does not manufacture the product.
I agree that there are not nearly enough "small" steam engines on the market. 3rd Rail has offered several over the years, but the reality of the marketplace (at least in the case of 3rd Rail / Sunset universe) is that R&D, parts sourcing, assembly, management, and several other functions cost about the same regardless of the size of the locomotive. That $2000 Big Boy doesn't correlate to four 0-6-0's on a 1:1 basis. It is more likely that the smaller engine runs in the $1400-$1500 range. Buyers then react negatively to the price for the relative size of a switcher. That is why you see so many 4-8-4 and articulated locomotives. People buy them.
Here is one that 3rd Rail has a few left in stock of. 3rd Rail SP 0-6-0
The other reality of the marketplace is that we are not likely going to see any new cast steam locomotive tooling unless there is a huge resurgence in O scale. The only way Lionel, MTH, and Williams can produce these at current costs is by amortizing the initial tooling cost over a lot of runs and many years. With the decline in interest in O scale steam in general, producing new tooling is very risky for any company producing O scale product and could put a company out of business. This is the main reason behind the Lionel hybrid concept. Brass bodies over existing cast drive systems. Brass doesn't require the tooling investment, but of course has a higher labor cost. The result is less models can be produced to meet true market demand.
Built to order only exists because inventory is a terrible business plan in this era. Case in point is the JLC Silver GG1. Many were manufactured, but demand turned out to be poor and what was a $800 locomotive went for $500 on discount to clear warehouse space. Big boxes filling a warehouse cost money. Those "blowout" models were likely either sold at cost or at a discount.
I'm not trying to be negative at all about the suggestion for small steam. I would love some steam switchers balance my roster.