Requirements for Custom Run Model Orders?

I am interested in possibly proposing a custom run of O scale/gauge models to an organization. Maybe a locomotive (maybe Legacy?), or a freight car corresponding to equipment being offered in a recent catalog by the manufacture. I figured it might be wise to get a better idea of how custom runs work before running any specifics by one of the model train manufactures.  What to minimum orders normally look like? 50 units? 1000? Does the cost of the run usually need to be provided in advance? If anyone has any experiences I would be interested in hearing from you. If these are too many questions to be asked on a public forum I apologize.


If I reject reality and substitute 3-Rail, how does Narrow Gauge come into all of this?
Original Post

Depends who's making it and what you want. Car runs are about 100 minimum, terms vary. Locomotive quantities are a completely different animal. Your choices are going to need to fit into their production runs, so dont choose something that's not cataloged. 

Best thing to do is call the manufacturer of the item you want and discuss it with them. 


"Of course we know its O-gauge or no gauge." -- Sheldon Cooper

Here are some numbers for Lionel and MTH.

Lionel Scale O Car:  300 units

Lionel Traditional Scale Car:  500 units

Lionel "Made in USA" line:  100 units

Lionel "Lionscale" (former Weaver Tooling): 100 units

American Flyer S scale:  300 units

MTH O scale:  256 units

MTH Tinplate:  Varies, but usually around 100 units.  If you don't mind waiting, they sill sometimes run less if it is run when run the catalog version.


Good luck with you project!

Jonathan Peiffer


That is a question for Andy Edleman and way above my pay grade! Maybe the office server is controlled by DCS too?

I really don't know.  I'm sure there is some reason behind it. 

I forgot to mention that Atlas O is 100 and they will do four road numbers in blocks of 25.  MTH will offer paint schemes at 128 each within their minimum. 

Jonathan Peiffer


Now that I think about it, how many freight cars come in a case for MTH?  I know for the standard gauge it's 4.  I don't know for the O scale cars.  That would a logical reason behind the 256, but merely speculation on my part.

Jonathan Peiffer


The next question is do you have to be a dealer, club, or organization? If I just wanted to have Lionel make 500 traditional size boxcars with my saying or logo, will they do it? You would have to have a pretty good design to offload 500 cars though.

What would be the cost per unit on say a 6464 style boxcar? Would that be the cheapest thing to make?

USMC 1966-69

I believe anyone with the funds can do a custom run with Lionel.  Lionel's made in the USA boxcar is based on the 9700 series MPC era boxcar.  The minimum run is 100 units but is more expensive per unit than the 500 car run from China.  It's been a few years since I was TCA's Convention Car Committee chair, so I can't speak to prices, but I do know the graphics are inkjet printed on the car for the Made in USA ones.  You can do any custom graphics you like and their graphics department will assist, but Lionel does require written permission to use copyrighted material.

Lionel has a person responsible for club runs, I don't know who that person is these days.  For MTH you would contact Andy Edleman.  Walter at RMT has offered to help.  It would be worthwhile talking to all the companies doing custom runs and see what they can do for you. 

Jonathan Peiffer


GVDobler posted:

The next question is do you have to be a dealer, club, or organization?

Don't see why that would matter to ANY manufacturer. You would be given a price quote for the job, and you either accept that quote, or you don't.

If I just wanted to have Lionel make 500 traditional size boxcars with my saying or logo, will they do it?

I bet if you have THAT kind of money to pay all at once upon deliver (or maybe 50% in advance?), Linoel would be more than happy to "take your money".

You would have to have a pretty good design to offload 500 cars though.

And there in lies one of the BIG PROBLEMS for the potential seller of such "custom runs".

What would be the cost per unit on say a 6464 style boxcar?

Only Lionel could/would be able to answer THAT.

Would that be the cheapest thing to make?

Odd question. Are you looking for "cheap", or something that will SELL, and SELL QUICKLY?


GVDobler posted:

By cheapest I meant boxcar vs gondola vs hopper, etc.. Why would that be an odd question?

Because, in my opinion, considering the overall big picture involved with a "custom run" of 500 cars, which probably would cost you over $20,000, the slight cost difference between type of car, would be pennies on the dollar. But, as I stated above, the most important consideration should be; WILL IT SELL?

And 500 was stated as the min traditional scale from Lionel so that was the number I used.


Has anyone had experiences having custom runs done of locomotives and what a minimum would be? I would imagine there would certainly be a requirement there that the locomotive corresponds with one in a current catalog.

If I reject reality and substitute 3-Rail, how does Narrow Gauge come into all of this?

There are a lot of variables in this.  When you say a 'custom run" are you talking about a "fantasy car" or a real car that hasn't been made?  If it's a real car, you might be able to convince a manufacturer to produce it in their regular line.  I had that experience with my quest to have a real car "Spencer Packing Co. reefer" made.  I did all the research and decided for me it made the most sense to try to convince someone to add to their regular line.  I was ready to go with Weaver or Buffalo Creek Graphics with a custom run the week before Weaver closed.  I had a hobby shop owner that had started the process of doing a custom run with Atlas and then MTH decided they would add the car to their catalog.  We waited three years and that didn't happen and then Atlas decided to run the car in their 2017 catalog.

The best basic terms that I remember on a quality car was 200 cars, 50% down at time of order, and the other 50% at time of delivery.  That was for 4 unique car numbers.  They could be mixed between 2-rail and 3-rail also.

If you want a "fantasy car" I would think it would have to be a custom run.  Then as has been suggested, talk to all the manufacturers, pick the one that has the best terms and quality you want, decide how you are going to pay for it, and pull the trigger.  Good luck with whatever you decide.  The process isn't for the faint of heart or anyone easily discouraged.



I've designed dozens of cars with Lionel, MTH, Weaver, Atlas, RMT, Williams by Bachmann, and USA Trains; in O Gauge, S Gauge, Standard Gauge, and G Gauge.  Of all the information in this thread, the info from Jonathan (GG1 4877) is the most accurate; and there's even some new info in addition to what he stated.

Not to be a smarty pants, but the rule is, there are no rules.   General guidelines yes, but there's dozens of variables in play at any one time which provide for more flexibility at times and more restrictions at other times from the manufacturer.

My professional opinion is to figure out EXACTLY what you think you want, i.e., what car, with what graphics, from which manufacturer, with which features (such as die-cast trucks or plastic trucks), and when you want it.  Then go to that manufacturer and have the conversation about making it happen.  Just be prepared to be flexible.  You will likely have to make some accommodations to get your high priority desires while giving up on your low ones (for example, tight schedule could lead to higher cost; let go of the schedule to tack your order onto a the manufacturers next order and possibly cost savings.  The same could be said for quantity sometimes; stand alone projects might have higher minimums than a project tacked on to a similar production).

Yes, each manufacturer has their own Point of Contract for custom run projects.

Feel free to reach out to me if you have specific questions to get specific answers.


Another thing to keep in mind before proposing a custom-run locomotive to an organization is that it’s their money at risk. So don’t propose something just because you would love to have one. Carefully consider what you are asking of them.

You mentioned a Legacy model in your original post. Keeping in mind that the cost would still be, at minimum, the same as the retail dealer cost, an organization would have to pay $500 minimum per piece for a modest diesel and more than $1,000 for the average steam locomotive.

At the smallest run of 25, that’s a lot of cash, and such a small run certainly for a pretty exclusive group. Worth it for the club?

A custom-run car makes a lot more sense. As far as a custom-run locomotive, I would guess most would only want to risk funds on a traditional locomotive with conventional electronics.

Jim R. 

3rd rail will do a custom run diesel for a current project with a 20 unit minimum.  That would include road specific detailing just like the rest of the models, however the buyer has to guarantee the run.  You would be looking at about a $15,000 investment.  It would be cheaper than a 300 unit run. 

All manufacturers will typically require that a custom run buyer will guarantee payment for all the units at some point in the process. 

Jonathan Peiffer


Jim R. posted:

So don’t propose something just because you would love to have one.


You hit the nail on the head.  When someone proposes a car idea to me and they say that it'll sell like hotcakes and definitely meet the minimum, I ask "Are you willing to buy any leftover inventory?"  That question is quite sobering.


If I had a store, and was doing a custom run car, there are three things I would do. I would choose a local railroad. Living in western Pennsylvania My first choice would be Pennsylvania. Then somewhere on that car I would put built by Bethlehem Steel Johnstown, PA. or built at the Sam Rhea Shops in Hollidaysburg, PA. or built by Pullman Standard Co. Butler PA. Now that would provide you with two markets. People that loved the Pennsylvania Railroad and people who had family or friends working at those manufacturing companies. One other thing I would put on the car is a location were the car should be returned when empty. Pick a company within a 60 mile radius of your store. Examples: Westinghouse Plant Derry PA., Jeannette Glass Jeanette PA., Westmoreland Glass Co. Greensburg, PA., Sani Dairy Co. Johnstown, PA. and Harris Boyer Bakery, Johnstown, PA. Now you have three markets to sell your custom run cars. You will be surprised by how many people buy your cars that do not own a train. If you do a hopper car, good names to choose would me names of mines and tipples.

One of the often missed requirements for doing a custom run is the customer complaints if something isn't just perfect.  Not that anything is wrong with legitimate criticism, but it takes a while not to take it personally.  Obviously a fantasy scheme is less subject to that issue, but it still happens. 

Jonathan Peiffer


jim sutter posted:

Those would be good names for a train shop located within 100 mile radius of Youngstown.

philo426 posted:


Says someone from Struthers! (I'm from Poland.)

Hopefully you have the YS&T and Republic Steel Hot Metal and Slag cars which we did at Lionel about 15 years ago.


In 1998 I approached K-Line about making a heavyweight car with PULLMAN on the facia.  They sent a triple size outline of a sleeper body and I was to write in the lettering. I think it was $11,000 for a run of  251 with four names or numbers, minimum of 40 cars for each number.  The first $1,000 would have bought me the first car with an authentication certificate.  That car would be inspected for possible corrections.  The balance ($5,000) of the $6,000 would start the production run. The final $5,000 would be due upon the 250 cars clearing customs.  Shipment to my designated place of distribution was included.  I contacted Davis Trains in Milford, Ohio and several hobby stores in Indianapolis and Chicago.  None were interested in these cars at $50 each.  Obviously I did not pursue this project.  Giving credit where credit is due, Maury Kline gave me two years to change my mind before he ran the Night Route and New Orleans Pullman cars.   John in Lansing, ILL

One of the often missed requirements for doing a custom run is the customer complaints if something isn't just perfect. The main reason for this is what Mike Wolf of MTH, Lionel, Williams, K Line, etc, does. They throw the design over the wall to the Chinese and think their job is over. This  will end in disaster. We are in the 21st century and we need to do it right the first time. We must Concurrent Engineer this form of toy train manufacturing. Mike & everyone in the Toy Train industry MUST DO FIRST ARTICLE INSPECTION, By doing this there will be no customer complaint or recalls or quick repairing. I am a Senior Electrical Engineer. I have seen it done right and i have seen it done wrong. If you do it right the first time it is fantastic. A good friend said to me: I want to be a millionaire. I want to manufacture it and NEVER SEE IT AGAIN, Enough Said.

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