Project Research & Development

Just as Kohs & Company models tend to significantly differ from others in the industry, the process by which they are researched and developed stands alone as well. The potential selection of a historically significant prototype subject is the first step in the development process. This needs to be followed by an evaluation of the previous modeling efforts of that subject by others if any exist to determine whether another production effort is justified. I have often been asked why I chose to model the New York Central J3a 'Hudson' as my first project since it had been modeled literally by every other importer at that point in time at least once and in some cases multiple times. My rational was very simple, the other importers had demonstrated their modeling concepts and abilities, so if the Kohs & Company concept was to be successful, there would be an immediate direct comparison available by which to judge. Now after almost two decades of successfully producing O scale models my concept has continued to evolve and the input of interested modelers has played an ever growing part in the decision making and planning process.

Although a chosen subject may be seen to have the characteristics for making an interesting model, there is no guarantee that it will make it through the research phase and become an 'active' project as designated on the Site Index page which lists all of the prototype subjects already chosen. While it is important to let potentially interested modelers/collectors know our plans as soon as possible, placing a prototype subject on the list is the first step in reaching out to potential sources for reference that will be required to proceed with that project. Some of the prototypes on the list have been there for several years since it has been surprisingly difficult to 'flesh' out their required research packages. With that in mind, it has been pointed out that a couple of the subjects on my list have been subsequently modeled by another importer, begging the question why that was possible, the simple answer is a matter of standards. Beginning with my first NYC 'Hudson', I well understood the type of reference material that would be needed to achieve a successful model based on my standards. With the passage of time my standards have continued to evolve increasing the number and type of research required. As an example of how the reference demands have evolved, my NYC 'Hudson was developed with copies of approximately 500 drawings, for the current Union Pacific 'Big Boy' project I have nearly 4,000 drawings on hand. In addition, builder's photographs and in-service photographs are needed for cross referencing the prototype construction since not everything was built 100% according to the drawings and those changes and undocumented details are often only reflected in photographs.

The reference materials that have been gathered over the years have come from a wide variety of sources. Still existent railroad companies, railroad historical societies, railroad museums, general interest museums and private collections have all played a major role in helping me bring our projects to fruition. Often times when I'm 'digging' for material on a chosen subject I may not have success, but there may be material for another potential project that presents itself. The collective results of this research over the years has lead to an accumulation of more than 100,000 data files (drawings, photos, articles, etc) covering more than seventy railroads, eight locomotive builders and more than fifty different builders of rolling stock. Simply maintaining an accessible archive now consumes a tremendous amount of time. In short, there are untold numbers of hours and thousands of dollars spent on a potential project before it is ever considered for reservations.

With scads of reference in hand the detailed development can begin. Going through the drawings one by one and comparing photographs to the drawings, significant details are identified and plotted for modeling. This is typically also the point where reality sets in and you may come to realize that despite all of the reference at hand, there is still critical missing information. So now what? Using a research excursion for my Union Pacific Challenger project as an example, let me explain how still existent prototype examples if available can be valuable tools in the development process, but that care must be taken to understand exactly what is seen.

In the case of the 'late' Challengers, a major issue for several versions of our project was the data for the conversion of the locomotives to oil firing having originally all been built as coal burning locomotives. Included in the more than 3.000 drawings we started with were many drawings that covered major design factors for the conversion, but I soon found it would not be the major components that would create the problems for us. As it often happens, major assemblies or components were thoroughly designed, documented and reflected in the prototype drawings. Details of lessor importance to the prototype construction, but critical to a successful O scale model, were left to the shop crews to 'workout' as needed when the time came. More often than not, what the shop crews developed were not documented, this is why you will often times notice subtle detail differences between locomotives even when new or freshly shopped.

In this case, to further document the important construction details, I felt it would be necessary to visit Challenger 3985 located in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Relying on archived contact information, I placed a call to Mr. Lynn Nystrom who regularly fired 3985 prior to his death. He was more than gracious in explaining that 3985 was in the shop for major refitting, but I was welcome to visit and gather what I needed, but then came the twist. Mr. Nystrom informed me that the better option for my purpose was to visit locomotive 3977 located in North Platte, Nebraska where she sits since leaving active service. It was explained that 3977 was actually converted to oil firing during her active service days and as a result would be more reflective of the actual shop practices employed in the conversion. He went on to explain that 3985 was actually converted to oil fire after her active services days and the locomotive did not represent the work done by the shop crews of the day, but rather, a more utilitarian approach to just making her serviceable. I was told that the only parts or components missing from 3977 were the tender bunker oil tank and the burner assembly from the firebox, they were used in the conversion of 3985. All factors considered, a visit to North Platte, Nebraska seemed in order. A three hour flight into Denver, Colorado followed by a 3-1/2 hour drive to North Platte brought me face to face so to speak with 3977. After a quick walk around, 3977 did appear to be very complete, even retaining her builder's plates which often turn up missing in 'action' after retirement. There were disturbing observations as well, it was readily apparent that there were a number of new issues to consider, were they in-service modifications or were they unique to 3977 resulting from her switch melting service and/or preparation for donation to the North Platte park?. After a solid day and a half of shooting over three hundred photos, taking measurements and filling the better part of a legal pad with notes and sketches, it was time to head back home to more thoroughly evaluate what I had just documented.

Only once there is a reasonable certainty that all major issues have been resolved can I consider a project for the reservation process. It should be noted that there are countless hours and many thousands of dollars invested to reach this point in the project development. The Kohs & Company reservation process is unique in that I am fully committed to a subject prototype long before the first reservation is ever counted and the only factor that will prevent the production is a lack of research material. For those interested in reserving one of my models, the most recent status information for each project listed on the Site Index is available on the specific project update page linked to each project home page.

To understand how the accumulated research material is translated into model form, it is very important to learn about the various technologies, techniques and skills that go into the actual model construction. This is also where you will begin to learn about the varying standards employed by different importers to translate their research into model form. This knowledge should provide the basis for your own evaluation of model quality.

On to the Model Construction Page

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