Like a kid in a candy store...

As promised, here is a short report about the Open House at the PIKO model train company. This event happens every other year on one Saturday in July. According to the company about 15,000 model train enthusiasts showed up for this occasion. 

Soon enough, Brad and I would be part of that mob. After a hearty breakfast at our hotel we approached the reception desk to ask them to organize a taxi for us. However the owner of the hotel wouldn't hear of it and in short order we found ourselves in his Mercedes van being driven to the PIKO factory.

The Hotel "Schöne Aussicht". One of two proper hotels in Sonneberg. Perfectly servicable, within walking distance of most of the town. No air conditioning though. Very nice breakfast and really helpful staff.

The Hotel "Schöne Aussicht". One of two proper hotels in Sonneberg. Perfectly servicable, within walking distance of most of the town. No air conditioning though. Very nice breakfast and really helpful staff.

The place was already mobbed by the time we got there during the late morning. 

Of course no proper German "happening" can be without beer and bratwurst for sale. And so it was here! 

Of course no proper German "happening" can be without beer and bratwurst for sale. And so it was here! 

Inside the individual halls PIKO had set up areas to purchase spare parts, remnants and whole train sets. The line to get into the sale area depicted in the following photograph was almost 200 feet long. Interestingly enough this is the hall were machinery for the injection molding is located. One of the machines is just barely visible in the center right of the picture, between the HO locomotive display rack and the red shirted PIKO employee. One of the machines was operating. That was sort of the point for PIKO: To at least have one station operational during each stage of the production of a model train. Unfortunately one could not get close to the injection molding machines because of the crowds.

Here is a photo of an injection molding machine which the Bowser Model Train company uses to make body shells and such:

An injection molding machine at the Bowser Model Train Company in Montoursville, Pennsylvania. Photo by Bowser Model Train Company

An injection molding machine at the Bowser Model Train Company in Montoursville, Pennsylvania. Photo by Bowser Model Train Company

One of the smaller injection molding machines at PIKO. This one was making frames for a G scale model freight car of the US Santa Fe Railroad.

One of the smaller injection molding machines at PIKO. This one was making frames for a G scale model freight car of the US Santa Fe Railroad.

Of course there were also the obligatory model train module set ups:

One of the HO scale train modules. This one depicting a stretch of a high speed rail line.

One of the HO scale train modules. This one depicting a stretch of a high speed rail line.

The staging area for the above module set up.

The staging area for the above module set up.

A TT scale model train module.

A TT scale model train module.

A detail shot of the above TT scale model train module. 

A detail shot of the above TT scale model train module. 

I must admit that I was not aware of on how many individual components go into just one HO coach for example. Or on how many separate steps it takes to paint one double deck HO coach. PIKO needs 25 steps to get their models to look just right:

Just a few of the parts which go into the double deck coach depicted above.

Just a few of the parts which go into the double deck coach depicted above.

I was also amazed on how much manual labor is still involved in this business. Basically my naive assumption was that some raw materials would be put into the front of a huge, long machine contraption and at the other end a scale locomotive would emerge. Everything would be automated I thought. Surely they would use 3 D printing? Even I make parts for my railroad in my 3 D printer!

The author's Flashforge Finder 3 D printer. 

The author's Flashforge Finder 3 D printer. 

Not so at PIKO. Here is a worker putting together the wheel copper contacts to pick up the electricity from the rails. 

I would not last 10 minutes doing this...

I would not last 10 minutes doing this...

Electric motors for the HO scale models of the E 04 locomotive of the Deutsche Bundesbahn:

The same E 04 models having their front and rear hoods attached. I just love the high-tech method of keeping things in place!

A finished HO scale model of the Deutsche Bundesbahn E 04 electric locomotive. 

A finished HO scale model of the Deutsche Bundesbahn E 04 electric locomotive. 

Remember the G scale PIKO Class 132 beast described in my last blog entry? Here's a little hint:

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Well, yes, that one! That was the model PIKO was assembling during their open house. So here are a few photographs of the different assembly stations for this locomotive. You will notice that my locomotive above has a different color scheme than the ones being assembled. Shortly after the German reunification Deutsche Bahn (German Rail) repainted all their diesel locomotives of this class in a different red, called "verkehrsrot". The diesels were also reclassified as Class 232. In any case, here are the pictures:

The frames

The frames

The roof

The roof

Engineers with driving desks

Engineers with driving desks

Motor and truck (bogie) assemblies for the Class 232

Motor and truck (bogie) assemblies for the Class 232

Base paint being applied.

Base paint being applied.

This machine does all the fine, final printing on the locomotive shell.

This machine does all the fine, final printing on the locomotive shell.

Body shells, ready to go.

Body shells, ready to go.

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Here it sort of all comes together body wise.

Here it sort of all comes together body wise.

Then this young lady adds the underframe, the motor assemblies and trucks.

Then this young lady adds the underframe, the motor assemblies and trucks.

A couple of samples

A couple of samples

And then into shipping boxes and off to the warehouse.

And then into shipping boxes and off to the warehouse.

Interestingly I did not see a test track for the G scale locomotives. Earlier I had come across a test track for HO scale locomotives, where one of the PIKO employees explained the details of their quality checks. The pantographs are checked, the front and tail lights inspected and the locomotive makes a few rounds on the test oval in either direction. Then it gets stuck into a box and the appropriate manual is also added: 

The last station: HO scale locomotive quality control and packaging. 

The last station: HO scale locomotive quality control and packaging. 

All in all a fascinating look at how model trains are made.

A final word about "scale", since it has come up quite a few times on this blog. Scale means the proportional size of the model to the real life size item. The locomotive the woman is holding in the above photograph is an HO scale model. That is 1:87. One inch on the model would be 87 inches on the real locomotive. The "gauge" technically would refer to the spacing of the rails on a railroad track and is measured between the inner faces of the load bearing rails. Standard gauge in real railroading is 1435 millimeters or 4 feet 8 1/2 inches. Here is a diagram of some of the available model train scales. Missing from this diagram is "TT" (1:120) or "T" (1:450).

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This photograph from my collection may just show the scale difference a bit better. The Class 194 is a G scale model. The two InterCityExpress cars in the front are T scale. Both operate. Notice the US 25 cent coin for comparison.

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All photographs by Ralf Meier and Brad Wing, unless otherwise noted. (Sony a7RII, iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus)