2009 Family Garden Trains Bargain of the Year AwardFolks who have been with us since we started the Family Garden Trains resource in 1996 know that we have always tried to find cost-effective ways to keep folks getting involved and moving ahead in the hobby. In our case there's been the financial pressure of sending three daughters to college, and about fifteen job "layoffs" since 1995. But we keep our resources available because we want to keep the hobby accessible to everyone who is interested (and not just the folks who keep the local hobby store in business singlehandedly).
As a result, we started the "Bargain of the Year Award" a few years back to reward companies or manufacturers who are going out of their way to keep this hobby affordable. By now, some readers are probably wondering why the same companies keep coming up again and again. Well, frankly, they're the only ones who keep "stepping up to the plate." (If you are aware of anyone we've overlooked who should be recognized, please let us know.) So the winner this year is - drumroll, please - Colorado Model Structures (again).
Colorado Model Structures is owned by a person who has his own professional machine tool shop and designs structures in his "spare time" as a "labor of love." He also keeps costs down by selling direct and not creating an imaginary "list price" that is three times the actual value of the piece, as typical mass-marketing channels demand. Maybe one day they will be forced to do something like that, but in the meantime, this American-owned shop keeps churning out American-made products that are finding their way to more and more cost- and quality-conscious garden railroad owners.
Caveat: Colorado Model Structures buildings do not snap together, and they are not prepainted. Since I always paint my buildings before I set them out anyway (and you should too, really), the second part of this isn't a "deal-breaker." Regarding the first part, you do have to be more careful preparing the CMS structure pieces, gluing and bracing them. For tips on that, check out our article on Painting the Colorado Models Tower
Last year, Colorado Model Structures released a 4-building village for the cost of a single building from most other manufacturers. This year, their "Holiday Collection" includes five of their most popular structures for $89.95. This is a great value, a great way to "jump start" your railroad, and a great way to line up projects for the cold months of the year.
But this year's award goes to the CMS "Whitlow's Barn," a relatively realistic representation of one of the most common styles of barns in the American Heartland. Despite it's "big footprint" for a garden railroad building, the structure is only $37.95.
The sidewalls for this structure are all one piece, including the windows, so once you've done the initial cleanup work on the pieces, the building goes together pretty fast. This structure is realistic in proportion, and it holds almost endless potential for customization. Moreover, it costs about a quarter of what a structure this size would cost from most other sources, and that's a big reason it's in our "Bargain of the Year" category for 2009.
Honorable mention also goes to a CMS structure, the $59.95 Bronner Mining Company, visible on this page. If you want to add an impressive vertical dimension in a relatively small horizontal footprint, this is a great solution. As a midwesterner, I can't help seeing this as a potential grain elevator as well. Or if you want a coal tower and can't afford the $200 ones . . . .
This structure is said to require "a higher degree of skill" than other CMS offerings, largely because the side walls are not all one big piece. But, like the barn, it has almost infinite customization potential.
One Other Nice Addition: 1:32 DoorsFolks who model standard gauge trains in 1:29 or 1:32 sometimes complain (always politely, of course) about their figures staring at the doorknobs on 1:24 and 1:22.5 buildings (the only scales that are available in most lines). CMS has responded with something that helps that problem, an insert that converts a 1:24 or 1:22.5 doorway to a 1:32 doorway. It's not the same as giving me what I want - real 1:32 buildings. But it helps, and it only costs $1.49. For factory buildings and other example where the window size and height doesn't "give away" the overall scale of the structure, it's a pretty useful upgrade.
Update January 31, 2010: CMS has just issued an entirely new building, the Red Mountain School House, which is based on an actual school house located at, er, Red Mountain. Of course it could be used for a church as well. And the price is about a quarter of the cost of similar kits from other companies.
Update for December, 2008: A Note About Glazing - When they began building their kits, CMS included a soft clear plastic sheet for glazing windows. I have to confess that I have never used that material, from anyone's kits. I prefer to get small scrap pieces of Lucite(r) or Plexiglas(r) from the local hardward store, cut it to size, and use it. In fact, I have a whole article just on Glazing Windows With Lucite(r). Lucite(r) or other acrylic glazing material lasts longer, looks better and strengthens buildings better than any of the "soft" glazing material supplied by any of the kit manufacturers. Now CMS has told me that, due to rising cost, they have stopped including the flexible glazing material in their kits. As you can imagine, this didn't affect me any more than the fact that the kits were unpainted. On the other hand, if you would rather have the flexible glazing material, you CAN still order it at CMS' cost when you order your buildings.
Other Colorado Model Structures Products - Once you get into using these products, you'll get "spoiled" in a hurry. CMS' offerings include some two-story "big-city" buildings that are substantially larger than most building kits. Yet they are inexpensive enough to let you buy two and combine them into a four-story building if you want, at the cost of other company's small-footprint two-story buildings.
In addition, if you have an idea for a model that nobody is making, take a look at the Colorado Model Structures' modular sections, including wall segments, roofs, window frames, etc. You can put these together many different ways to create many different kinds of structures, including power houses, engine houses, and many more.
In short, many CMS buildings are priced to make great "stocking stuffers" (if you have really big stockings). And they are inexpensive enough that you could buy enough to keep busy all winter without stressing the budget.
By the way, as I write this, I have no business relationship at all with CMS - I just appreciate the fact that they are continuing to do what they can to keep the hobby affordable.
Enjoy your trains, and especially enjoy any time you have with your family in the coming weeks.
Best of luck,
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