Project Research & Development

Just as Kohs & Company models tend to significantly differ from those of other producers, the process by which they are researched and developed stands alone as well. The selection of a historically significant prototype subject is the first step in the process. This needs to be followed by an evaluation of any previous modeling efforts of that subject to determine whether a new model is justified. In that light, 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 some point in time. My rational was very simple, the other importers had demonstrated their modeling intent and abilities, so if the Kohs & Company concept was well founded, there would be an immediate direct comparison available by which to judge. Now after thirty plus years of successfully producing brass models my concept has been proven although it continues to evolve based on new technology and the valuable input of my family of owners.

Although a chosen subject may be seen to have the history and 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 project subjects already selected. It is important to let potentially interested modelers/collectors know our plans as soon as possible and by placing a 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 prototype subjects I have listed have been there for several years as a result of inadequate available reference. It has happened that 'stalled' projects have ultimately been produced by other importers and the simple explanation is a matter of comparative standards. A fill-in-the-blank approach for unavailable reference would not lead Kohs & Company to the desired results. Having been responsible for the development of railroad models at Fine Art Models for more than ten years, I well understood the type and volume 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 driven by new technology and modeling capabilities increasing the type and volume of research required. For my first project I had approximately five hundred original drawings and dozens of photographs of all types on which to base the model design. For the current Union Pacific 'Big Boy' project I have nearly four thousand drawings and literally hundreds of photographs. Builder's and in-service photographs are critical for cross referencing the prototype construction since not everything was built 100% according to the original 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 while 'digging' for material on a chosen subject I have frequently located unrelated reference of interest. The results of my research over the years has lead to an accumulation of more than two hundred fifty thousand data files (drawings, photos, articles, etc) related to almost four hundred fifty railroads. 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 potential projects before being chosen as a subject.

With seemingly enough reference material on hand, the base design parameters have to be established and then significant variations identified to see just how many model variations actually need to be created to do justice to the equipment class. The process of matching photos to drawings in specific periods of time is a critical part of this portion of the development. This is typically also the point in the R&D where you learn what gaps may exist in terms of the design reference and how the needed information may be acquired. Seeking the input and assistance of truly knowledgeable people can be a great help, but identifying these individuals can be a task in it's own right, not necessarily who they are, but what they really know. In the early days of my efforts I knew I was in for serious criticism if I didn't consult with the acknowledged authorities regarding a given subject, but that came to an end when the greatest of all, at least in his opinion, told me that the backhead of an N&W class J was the same as a class A. Even I knew better than that, but it seems he didn't or didn't care and didn't have the promised reference material to establish the facts. There are four gentlemen that I have worked with that I would never question and I need to acknowledge their kindness and assistance over the years. Lans Vail is no longer with us unfortunately, but Lans provided documentation regarding the New York Central that seemingly did not exist or was not attainable to the common man. Nick Seman is knowledgeable on all things Pennsy and has provided or helped to provide hundreds of original drawings and other data for my projects. John Bush who is a well know author on many Union Pacific subjects has been extremely generous in sharing his knowledge and materials. Last, but not least, Dick Harley is know to many regarding a variety of subjects, mainly western railroads. Dick has provided invaluable assistance on my Pacific Fruit Express project and he generously openly shares scads of reference materials on numerous subjects on web pages that he has created and provides access to. True gentlemen all four!

When drawings photos and printed data are not enough, then what? Using my Union Pacific 'Challenger' project as an example, a major issue for several versions of the 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 three thousand 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 was ultimately done was not documented, this is why you will often times notice subtle detail differences between locomotives even when new or freshly shopped.

To further document the important construction details, I felt it would be necessary to visit an actual surviving prototype. Relying on archived contact information, I placed a call to Mr. Lynn Nystrom who regularly fired the only surviving operational Challenger prior to his death. He was more than gracious in explaining that 3985 was in the shop in Cheyenne, Wyoming for major refitting, but that I was welcome to visit and gather what information 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 regularly serviceable for excursion use. 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 three and a half hour drive to North Platte brought me up close and personal with 3977. After arranging total access to the locomotive with the part rangers, I did a quick walk around to determine 3977's condition. It appeared to be very complete, even retaining her builder's plates which routinely turn up missing on other displayed equipment. There were other 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 the information just gathered.

Only once there is a reasonable certainty that all major issues have been resolved or explained can the initial reference package be turned over to the appropriate model builder to begin the base design work. Once the builder has time to 'digest' the initial package, an in-person visit is very necessary in order to discuss and layout a plan going forward for the project, with routine visits to follow to oversee and evaluate the various stages of production. Only after the initial design is complete and the builder arrives at pricing for the development and production can I consider offering the project to clients for reservations. It should be noted that there are many additional hours and dollars invested to reach this point in the 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 there is no turning back. I am proud to say that I have never canceled a project once reservations have been taken and I have never failed to deliver a project that more than meets client expectations. For those interested in reserving one of my models, the most current status information for each project listed on the SITE INDEX is available on the specific project UPDATE page linked to each project HOME page.

It has to be noted that I personally claim no expertise regarding any railroad and I believe my design and technical ability were inherited traits. Most importantly, I have the compulsion to do things correctly, as my grandfather and mother always told me, "if it's worth doing, do it right or don't do it at all".

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 the research they use into model form. This knowledge should provide the basis for your own evaluation process of model quality.


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