I just received a couple of brand new 2-Bay Open Hoppers from Bluford Shops. As usual, I was excited to see a new model made for more obscure road names with Bluford's typical attention to historical accuracy.
While looking over these hoppers, something occurred to me. N Scale Models are going through a period of rapid evolution.
At TroveStar we spend a lot of time looking at older models. Given that N Scale was born in the 1960s and that TroveStar was built to handle every mass-produced model every made, we get our hands on lots of different models representative of over five decades of N Scale manufacturing. Normally, over time, things don't seem to change that much. Starting around 2015, that was no longer the case. We are seeing what might be called a 'third generation' of rolling stock.
In the 1960s, all rolling stock was made from what we would now consider fairly crude toolings. It was difficult to produce thin stirrups and ladders; separately applied detail meant a brake wheel. Couplers were mostly attached to the trucks and the wheels were mostly nickel-silver plated pizza cutters. These models can be considered a first generation.
The advent of the knuckle coupler as produced by Kadee in the 1970s set the stage for a number of different changes that occurred over the next few decades. We saw magnetically operating knuckle couplers replace the Rapidos and most wheels became low-profile plastic pieces that would run quietly and reliably over Code 55 track. This second generation also sported newer printing techniques that allowed for cleaner decoration with numbers and letters only legible with a magnifying glass. Separately applied detail parts made possible opening doors, applied ladders, roof-walks, end platforms, brake detail and much more. We all became accustomed to these new models and even older molds were being re-released with higher-quality trucks and wheels.
But these new hoppers from Bluford made me realize we are just now seeing another leap forward. These cars have body-mount couplers. That reminded me that Horizon is now retro-fitting body-mount couplers on their Roundhouse toolings that were re-released under the Athearn Brand. New Micro-Trains bodies are also equippped with body-mount couplers - such as the new husky-stack well car. The Bluford models also have metal wheels. Metals wheels, just a year ago, were considered a 'premium' feature. Now, modelers expect to see them on all new releases. The profile on these new chemically blackened wheels are as tight as can be managed to look good and run well on track. The wheels on the Bluford model reminded me of Eric Smith telling me all about the new offering from Micro-Trains; user-installed metal wheels. Lastly, though the Bluford Models do not have this feature, we now expect to see etched metal detail parts used where extreme precision is warranted - such as roofwalks and end-platforms.
In summary, we have just recently moved from a world where these three features (body-mounted couplers, blackened metal low-profile wheels, and etched metal details) stopped being premium features and are now considered 'standard.' I am not arguing that any of these things are new or revolutionary, but rather that the mind-set of the consumer has subtly, but definitely changed.