Riding Scale Locomotive Census of 2010
Your Report on Your Current Toys

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Written by Rick Henderson
DLS Staff Writer

The first question on most people's mind in the riding scale hobby, at least for those that took the Discover Live Steam Loco Census Survey, is how many steam vs. other motive power. The quick answer is 49.5% steam and 51.5% other. The "other" includes all models of diesels, boxcabs, motor cars, rail bus, rail truck, speeders, trolley's and more. The individual average was just over two locomotives per person, with a couple having eight or more locomotives.


Steam to Diesel photo by Gary Winstead

Overall, it was a very well received survey with over 300 returns listing 656 different locomotives. (The few duplicate entries were not included in the count.) There were up to 10 bits of data collected on each locomotive, plus comments, which gave me over 7,000 answers to sort through.

0-4-0 photo by Kenneth Roeh 2-6-0 photo by Tim Cruz F7 photo by Daniel Morris
On the steamer side, of the 28 different wheel arrangements reported, the most popular at 11% of all locomotives is the 0-4-0 live steamer, in its many varieties (The percentage is based on ALL 656 reported locomotives). The next three most popular steamers are the 2-6-0 at 5.5%, the 4-4-0 at 4.75%, 4-6-2 at 4.5%. The 4-6-0 rounds out the top five at over 3% of the locomotives reported with the 4-4-2 close behind at 2.5% while the 0-6-0 and 2-8-0 are both 2%. The geared locomotives, Shay, Heisler, Willamette and Dunkirk locomotives made a strong showing at almost 4%. The other steamers range from .25% to 1% of the total locomotives.

On the non-steam side, it is a little more difficult to sort out the models as overall we had a lot of generic or non-specific switchers reported along with the specific models. Looking at the big non-steam picture, switchers or your small diesels made up 18%, of all reported locomotives.
by Ron Abt by Mike DeBerg by Jan-Eric Nystrom by Mel Agen by Keith Blake by George Stoudenmire

Going by model number, it was not surprising to see the F7 was the most popular specific diesel model at 5% of all locomotives. The SW-1500 came in at 3%, the Davenport switcher and generic speeders tied at 2%. Motor cars, rail bus, rail truck made up 1.5%. Also around 1.5% was a combination of the Dash-8&9, 1.5% for RS3, 1.5% for GP-7/9 with the rest of the GP's only getting about ¾% each. The boxcabs, all varieties combined, made up 3.5%, making it appear a very popular entry level locomotive, which includes the Plum Cove Box-Cab kit.

4-4-0 photo by Wayne Lass 4-6-2 photo by Doug Moody Shay photo by Jeffery Dute
The gauge report did not show any surprises. Keeping in mind that most of the respondents are from within the U.S., 67.5% of the locomotives are reported as being 7½" gauge while 10% are 7¼" gauge. The smaller gauge of 4¾" is still popular at almost 7.5% of the reported gauges. The big boy toys of 15" gauge have 3.4% of the reported locomotives, which is a large share of the hobby for such a limited scale.
Box-Cab photo by Pat Turner 4-6-0 photo by Jodey Hicks SW1500 photo by Todd Hanson
One thing that jumped out was the use of battery power on locomotives, even in steam prototype locomotives, appears to be on the rise for locomotives built after about 2000. Battery power is over a quarter of the fuel source now at 26.5% of all locomotives. For now, however, coal is still king at 27.5% with gasoline close at 25.5%. It may not be long before battery power is the #1 in riding scales. Propane fuels 10% of our locomotives while oil as a fuel is only at 5.5%.
4-4-2 photo by Henry Marshall 0-6-0 photo from Dwayne Biggs 2-8-0 photo by Robert Clark

According to the submitted year built reports, there are a couple of very old steamers still around, at least two are over 100 years old; a 1904 2-4-0 in 15" gauge and a 1905 2-6-2 in 18" gauge. When you look at all of the locomotives by the year they were built, we have a better idea of when changes in the hobby occur. The 7¼" and 7½" gauges seem to have become more the popular standard by the latter half of the 1950's. Fuel types were reported as 'current' and some do reflect changes from 'as-built'; for example, a 4-4-0 built in 1940 is now operating on battery power, likely with a conversion by a newer owner. By the early 1990's, we were switching our main inspiration from steam to other motive power. While the building of new steam locomotives is still very strong, the majority of new building is focused on the more modern era locomotives.


Davenport photo by Bill Matson Fairmont Speeder photo by Rick Henderson Rail Bus & Rail Truck photo by Scott Lindsay

Overall, 59% of the locomotives were not built by the current owners, which is understandable as many people getting into the hobby pick up on a used locomotive before committing to build their own. The big issue with building a new locomotive for many is space, time, tools and knowledge. Those with families and still working full time most often simply do not have the time necessary to build a locomotive from scratch. There are a lot of locomotives being completed within 12 months by about 45% of the returned surveys, which while it seems high, it is reflective of a trend that started about 2006 where more people started building their own. That is also about the time our overall economy got tighter. In the next 12 months, 14% plan on buying a locomotive while 14% plan on selling a locomotive, so that should work out fairly well.

Dash-9 photo CSX Carl RS2 photo by Rick Henderson GP9 photo by Paul Roy
On average, when looking at all locomotives, we spend 53% of our time actually running and 47% of our time maintaining our equipment. If you look at just the live steamers, it is running one hour for every three hours spent building and maintaining. For non-steam, we run seven hours for every three hours of our time on building and maintaining. One live steamer, with over 50 years in the hobby stated "our live steam models are like the real steamers and take a lot more time to maintain, usually spending more than 80% of their time maintaining just for a few hours running".
Interurban Railcar photo by Rusty Collier Steeple Cab photo by Virlon Smoot Trolley photo by Jim Turban
Have Train, Will Travel could be the motto of the hobby for a full 75% of us. The high concentration of returns was from the east with 40% active in 7½" gauge with the northern half activity being the highest in the US at 21.4% and the southeastern states 18.8%. Along the western portion of the US, about 19% is in the southwest while 11% is in the northwest. The central portions of the country were much lower with 6.5% in the south central areas and only 4.5% in the north central region. The 7¼" gauge region of the New England states account for about 10.5% of the locomotive census survey. It was interesting to see that several people in the 7¼" region also have locomotives in 7½" gauge to travel into the 7½" region.

Conner Beam photo by Tom Osterdock An OS Engines locomotive kit can be assembled in less than 100 hours to put you out on the track rather quickly.
2-6-0 photos by Dan Davis

What does the census say about the hobby? While we may be small in respect to other hobbies, we are still strong and the activity is growing across the country. While having tracks available is not always a simple issue, there is a growing interest within the hobby, which will sustain growth to keep riding scale railroading alive and well; there just may not be as much smoke as in past years.

The Golden Age of Steam is still strong in the hobby.
photo by Roger Netz
Just five of the eight Plum Cove Box-Cabs in a club at Eagle Point RR.
The inexpensive kit is an easy way to get into the hobby on a budget.

A note on Engines vs. Locomotives. Both terms are used to describe motive power for trains and it is unlikely many people will change their usage at this point. Technically, an engine is the actual motor inside a diesel or the pistons on a steamer. The usage of 'engine' on the head of a train, came about likely when diesel motive power was overtaking steam locomotives as the prime railroad motive power.

Written by Rick Henderson
DLS Staff Writer


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