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Table Service!

 

Some weeks ago I added towards the end of one of my blogs a throw away comment along the lines that for me the one scale that I thought was worth pursuing was ‘TT’ and concluded that basically that would never happen. I repeat it was a throw away line but the response I received from various learned model railway enthusiasts was that they thought I was possibly much closer to the truth than I had imagined.

‘TT’ model railways were I believe first introduced into the USA just after the Second World War and produced in 2.5mm scale. Later in 1951 the scale, which was slightly larger than the US version but still classed as ‘TT’ appeared in the UK and manufactured by a German company by the name of Rokal. Soon after Rokal’s appearance Peco started to produce their ‘TT’ ‘Minilay’ track but it was Walter Lines of Lines Bros fame, the company that owned the Rovex manufacturing plant at Margate that really saw the potential of ‘TT’. Having returned from a trip to Europe with a Swiss made ‘TT’ set in his possession he ‘requested’ that the Tri-ang Railways team should start work immediately on developing a ‘TT’ range of products. At that particular period, during the mid-1950s, the new Rovex plant at Westwood was fully stretched in producing the still fledgling ‘00’ Tri-ang Railway system but Walter Lines was insistent that Tri-ang must have the equivalent in ‘TT’ that was already available in ‘00’.

 

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Image - Creative Commons Simeon87

 

In 1957 the first two Tri-ang ‘TT’ train sets were launched with models equipped at that time with new tension lock couplings with this style of coupling being later adopted and used on the ‘00’ range of models. It is interesting to note the ‘TT’ packaging was predominantly yellow with red lettering so as to distinguish the boxes from the then standard Tri-ang ‘00’ red boxes. This was the same approach and logic I adopted when devising the packs for Hornby RailRoad, which was so that the new range could be simply identified as being different from the standard Hornby range. I must have subliminally stolen the idea without realising thus reinforcing a conversation I once had with a long term Hornby employee which was along the lines that there is very little unique and totally original in the world of model railways, basically the same ideas but with a slightly different spin.

As the Tri-ang ‘TT’ range developed so too did all the peripheral items associated with the new scale but these products were being mainly produced by various independent manufacturers unassociated with Tri-ang. The Lines Bros continued to invest in the system, determined that the range would be a success and indeed as the 1950s turned into the early ‘60s the Lines Bros looked towards the European continent for further development opportunities and markets for their ‘TT’ system. Having built a factory in Calais they commenced production in their new facility of various French locomotives and rolling stock but unfortunately the appetite for ‘TT’ at that time in Europe was not strong enough to warrant further development and eventually the tooling was transferred and returned to Westwood.

 


 

By 1964 the sales of Tri-ang ‘TT’ had fallen to a mere shadow of what they had been at the start of the decade, which on reflection seems to echo what happened with the Hornby Minitrix system some twenty years later. Eventually production ceased and any unsold models were transferred to one of the Lines Bros. subsidiary companies, G&R Wrenn in Basildon who sold the remaining stock under the name of Wrenn Table Top Railways.

The tooling for much of the Tri-ang ‘TT’ system still existed up to a few years ago, although by now I would imagine a large proportion of it has been sold for scrap - rusted, unused and unwanted.

I remember talking to Richard Lines, the esteemed nephew of Walter Lines and also the godfather of the Tri-ang ‘00’ system and beyond, and I asked him why he thought ‘TT’ failed? His answer was that because the cost of the locomotives were very similar to the equivalent in the ‘00’ range, those in the market to buy model railways thought that the ‘00’ models represented better value. I still hear this argument today but this time ‘N’ gauge locomotives are the subject of this financial debate and not ‘TT’.

I am unable to be precise as to when I began to worry about a time when the pool of available and suitable newly tooled ‘00’ scale models yet to be produced would be exhausted. My belief is that it was a slowly creeping worry that although I regularly dismissed began to occupy my mind more and more as each year moved into the next. Perhaps my initial worries started after the introduction of the new Britannia in 2006 but certainly peaked after the GWR 2800 in 2010 because I knew then that the days of introducing new locomotives that had the same durability as the A3, A4 or the Duchess were all but gone, if not finished.

I was aware that although such ‘in demand’ locomotives had all been produced there were plenty of other subjects that needed to be manufactured but arguably only had the potential of being one hit wonders. These, some might say lesser models would sell in healthy numbers for the first year of production but once the initial demand had been satisfied the model would normally have to be rested until demand began to rise again. There were and are exceptions in the World of Hornby such as the Gresley’s A3 and A4, plus Peppercorn’s ‘Tornado’ or the Gresley ‘P2’ but in general what was left to produce were locomotives with a more targeted and specialised appeal and therefore had a limited sales life.

This lack of suitable long term subject matter was fairly obvious where Diesel and Electric models were concerned some five years or so ago. All the major classes had been produced, with some of the same class being retooled several times over and all to a detail and quality level demanded by the modeller. The only prototypes left in the D&E sector tended to be the more limited and specialsed classes but none in my opinion with the sales magnitude of such classes as the 37, 47 or indeed the Class 50. Drawing a comparison between these modern locomotives and their steam equivalents made me think that perhaps Hornby should start to plan for the future when healthy volume sales of new locomotives and rolling stock for that matter would be a thing of the past. With all this in mind I thought that perhaps it was time for some radical thinking?

 


 

Being honest with myself and with the advantage of hindsight linking Hornby and the word ‘radical’ together was a bit of a stretch but stranger things had happened in the past. In Hornby’s recent history there had been some introductions of equally radical products in the past such as ‘Live Steam’ but Hornby had a much different mind set at the beginning of the Millennium when that particular system was developed. However five years ago Hornby were struggling to obtain product from their suppliers and although I had an inkling that there was no appetite for ‘out of the box’ thoughts I began to ponder the problem and develop my ideas.

My thought process started with the assumption that there were no more suitable or financially viable locomotives that I could justify Hornby producing?’ At the time Hornby had and probably still does have a strict criterion on tooling and production costs versus sales and sales potential. If I could no longer justify the cost of producing new ‘00’ scale locomotives what would be the consequences where Hornby was concerned, plus what would happen to the hobby as a whole keeping in mind that the modeller always wants something new to spend his or her money on? Faced with these questions I began to think that if model railways was a totally new ‘invention’ what scale did I feel was ideal for today keeping in mind space, handling and the manufacturing requirements and my thoughts immediately settled on ‘TT’.

In my perfect world ‘TT’ would be the answer to the lack of financially viable ‘00’ scale subject matter. In my world I would leave all the other manufacturers squabbling and chasing after what was left to model in ‘00’ and concentrate on establishing and producing ‘TT’. Hornby could be the trial blazers, the brand that others would eventually have to follow but with Hornby having a head start they could ‘own’ the scale as they had done once in the 1950s.

 


 

 

I began to research the subject and quickly confirmed that Tillig, an established German model railway company was to my mind the European brand leader in ‘TT’. I had on more than one occasion stopped by their booth at the Nuremberg Toy Fair to check out each year their development programme for ‘TT’ trying to convince myself that someone must be buying it but at a loss to know who? None of the other major European brands seemed to be capitalising on Tillig’s development of ‘TT’, although some had produced the odd accessory, including Hornby’s own Arnold brand that had a ‘TT’ diesel shunter which I recall was always in great demand. So was ‘TT’ a sleeping giant I wondered and all it needed was to just be prodded into life?

Logo_Tillig

Armed with this thought and remembering my conversation with Richard Lines I set about asking those who remembered Triang ‘TT’ why it never stayed the course and the key reason that they all gave was exactly what Richard had told me. They each confirmed that it was because the cost of a ‘TT’ locomotive was roughly the same as a ‘00’ equivalent, with the general consensus being that in those early days ‘00’ represented better value for money. I repeat, the same argument was and still is levied at ‘N’ gauge but for good or bad ‘N’ gauge is established so why not ‘TT’? To my mind the establishment of ‘TT’ and making it suitable for todays market was a simple marketing and promotional problem, which could be successfully tackled by listing the many benefits of the scale and obtaining the endorsement and support of others. There was also the ability to show off the benefits of the scale at the various exhibitions that the Hornby Roadshow attended so I was confident that Hornby could make the scale a success. I was also convinced that ‘TT’ was ahead of its time and that it only needed some sound investment for it to be a commercial success.

 

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Image - Creative Commons Markscheider

 


 

Having established why ‘TT’ had basically failed in the mainstream of UK model railways I began to put together a five year plan in which, with a reasonable amount of investment I was confident that Hornby could establish a respectable range of ‘TT’ models that would appeal to both the newcomer and perhaps the more established modeller. I was already aware that there were a good number of modellers who had both ‘N’ and ‘00’ layouts so why not a ‘TT’ layout as well? Firstly, I tackled the question of track and I devised a simple system inspired by what Tri-ang had produced in the past. To my mind there was no point in reinventing the wheel where the ‘TT’ geometry was concerned. My plan allowed for a full range of track sections to be gradually released over a five year period starting with the more popular sections and ending up with the lesser but equally important track pieces.

Next came the schedule for locomotives starting with the classics such as the A3, A4, Duchess, Class 37 and Class 47. With a development schedule based over a five year period the stable of locomotives was, on paper anyway quite impressive and would offer much for the modeller to get their teeth into, plus there was plenty of scope for the development of new models for the following 5 years. And as for reference, the Hornby archive had all the drawings required to produce the models and although it was not a case of just scaling existing ‘00’ drawings down to ‘TT’ dimensions, which would have been easier said than done, it was more the question of the hard work being done where research etc. was concerned, as it had all been completed when producing the ‘00’ models. Such key information would have been put to good use when designing the ‘TT’ locomotives. Where coaching stock and freight wagons were concerned, I compiled a schedule listing a variety of models that I knew would be positive selling items with all being carefully costed and justified.

Learning from the past my thoughts were that to establish ‘TT’ a selection of train sets had to be produced, with part of my strategy being to use many of the ‘first wave’ of planned locomotives and rolling stock in these first sets so as to amortise the tooling faster. From memory I believe I had provisionally planned 5 sets ranging from a simple Jinty type freight set with an oval of track, through to a ‘Flying Scotsman’ set featuring a large oval with two sidings as a circuit. My logic was always based on keeping things simple and as I was confident what was required to make a popular set and which ones sold well in ‘00’ it was logical that I should duplicate where possible the classic ‘00’ sets in ‘TT’. As for scenic accessories, I listed a range of ‘TT’ scale resin buildings but I never did get as far as creating a brand name.

 


 

I suppose the most radical decision I made when putting my initial thoughts together was to scale the UK ‘TT’ to match that of the European ‘TT’ which is 1:120. The old Tri-ang ‘TT’ was scaled to 3mm:1ft which equated to something like 1:101.6. according to Wikipedia. For me it was time for the days of UK bastard scales to come to an end and although I may not be keen on losing the UK£ to the €uro I had no such qualms over the new UK ‘TT’ being compatible with the rest of Europe even though it may not have suited everyone.

Having completed my range, costings and marketing plans I had to wait for the right opportunity to approach my CEO so that I could present what I considered to be some fresh and challenging thoughts. As it happened a brief window of opportunity did open up but was quickly slammed shut when talking about a new scale and a totally new range of model railways was deemed far too radical. In instances like this timing is all and my timing could not have been more off. The problems or the negative reaction to my new scale related to the ongoing situation in obtaining ‘00’ product from the Chinese suppliers.

There was also the preoccupation with Hornby preparing product for the 2012 Olympics, not to mention the propensity of Hornby to be veering towards introducing various new toy ranges. When all these elements were added together it meant that the climate for models not to mention new scales was just too much for many at Hornby to absorb. Being blunt, I do not believe that there was anyone sitting around the table during my aborted presentation who understood the world of model railways or had the vision to see where the Hornby brand was going or indeed could go. Consequently I was faced with a similar situation and attitude when the opportunity to obtain the Graham Farish brand had been missed some 10 years or more earlier. Nobody understood the whole point or the main reason of what I was proposing but more to the point nobody wanted to understand or even listen.

 


 

I suppose in my heart of hearts I knew that introducing a totally new scale to Hornby was a bit of a non-starter but I felt then and still do that introducing ‘TT’ would answer so many needs both for Hornby and the modeller. For Hornby it would have been an opportunity to actually ‘own’ a scale; to be the first to develop and make the interest in the scale grow. The introduction of sets aimed at all ages would have ensured, in my opinion almost a virtual cradle to the grave interest, much more so than ‘N’ gauge can offer. For the modeller I saw it as an opportunity to have a sizeable layout in a relatively small area where the models would have been easy to handle and with detail, if not equal but being fairly close to that of a ‘00’ equivalent.

I am always careful not to try and ‘flog a dead horse’ as my Mum used to say but I cannot help thinking that one day some entrepreneurial model railway company or other will make an announcement that they are embarking on a program of introducing a range of British outline ‘TT’ models. To my mind this is inevitable because as I have mentioned earlier the subject matter for viable ‘00’ model introductions will become less and less as each model railway company announces their next batch of new models. Some may think that this is highly unlikely but with Bachmann introducing a range of 009 models, admittedly which can be legitimately used on ‘00’ layouts and with Arnold planning a new ‘TT’ locomotive surely we are only a short step away from some one saying, ‘Hey I’ve got a brilliant idea for introducing ‘TT’ into the UK.’

Finally on this subject, I can fully understand why ‘TT’ failed the last time and it was not just because the price of locomotives in both ‘00’ and ‘TT’ were so close. In those early days ‘00’ was still very much in its infancy and still being developed and if Walter Lines was guilty of anything my belief is that he was guilty of introducing the scale too soon. However, introducing the scale now may result in a totally different story.
Changing the subject entirely and checking my ‘Simon Says’ log I see that I am just over a year old and from time to time I take a sneak look at some of the forums to gauge the reactions to the subjects I raise or discuss in my blog. Some maybe critical and others not quite so but whatever they are I do take note. One such comment I have taken to heart and have amended my punctuation accordingly. To that gentleman I say ‘Thank you’ and to all those others who comment I am equally grateful.

Finally, enjoy your modelling but especially those visionaries who model ‘TT’.
Simon

© KOHLERcoms

 

Simon Kohler has been associated with the world of models and model railways for over 50 years, 35 of which have been with Hornby Hobbies Ltd mainly as Marketing Manager for the Hornby brand.

Now working as an independent consultant to the models and hobbies industry, Simon hosts the “Simon Says” blog and welcomes constructive comments on any of the points raised.

All comments made on this blog are the personal views expressed by Simon and may sometimes be in conflict with those held by Hornby.

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