A couple of weeks ago, Chris Mears pointed out a couple of Proto:87 threads and stories about Proto:87. Of course that really perked my ears up, but unfortunately, between work and other things I really haven’t had time to respond.
One of the threads that Chris pointed out was on rmweb, and related to the question of Proto:87’s popularity. Simon Dunkly summed it up well: what is required is for someone to do a decent layout, nicely, and share it. This is one of my principal reasons for sharing Pembroke on the web (for better or worse, it may never be exactly inspirational).
However, Proto:87 has two further challenges that Proto:48, Scale 7 and Proto 4 don’t have, and I believe that these are the real reason Proto:87 hasn’t taken off in the 10 years since the NMRA blessed the standard. One of the reasons is surprising, while the other is almost crippling.
The surprising reason why Proto:87 hasn’t taken off is the emergence of Code 88 wheels. On the face, these seem like an obvious blow to Proto:87 as North American modellers in particular find the Proto:scales first by looking at wheels, as I did. However, these wheels are not only pretty good, they are also accidentally confusing. 88 is close to 87, and there are modellers who slip some Code 88 wheels under a piece of equipment and believe they are doing Proto:87. The fact that sometimes Code 88 wheels derail on standard HO track only reinforces this belief!
The crippling reason that makes Proto:87 a true niche option in North America is that standard HO is not that bad. OO and O gauges, both in North America and Europe, use the wrong gauge. HO, on the other hand, uses the correct gauge, and frankly looks quite good, especially with carefully laid track and Code 88 wheels.
Even so, I am optimistic about the future of Proto:87. Again, there are two reasons. Firstly, there is a growing cadre of serious modellers, lead by the likes of Lance Mindheim and Trevor Marshall, who are building smaller or simpler layouts, not because they are constrained by space, but because they choose to.
The second reason for optimism about the future of Proto:87 is that people are starting to think of track as a model. As with the rest of the hobby, we are starting to realize that you build convincing models by looking at the prototype, not at others’ models, and when you look at prototype track, you see that it is not only sprinkled with joint bars and other details, but that it also has a different geometry than HO track. As modellers discover this compromise that is enforced by the HO standard, they will also find Proto:87.
Meanwhile, I intend to continue plugging away with Pembroke. Perhaps one day it will be an inspiration to others. I may have found Proto:87 through wheels, but I’m hooked on track as a model, and don’t intend to go back to coarse scale HO.
The SW1200 RS 1352 is from my teens. With the help of my friend Kevin Knox, I converted it to Proto:87 in the mid ’90s.