Page Updated 02/2019
Page Updated 08/2019

Administrative Topics

This section provides information about the administrative topics that are essential to a business such as mine. For instance, how deposits are handled, the backlog, which is how long you have to wait and how it is processed, and my rates and price structure. Hints and tips on shipping valuable locos are provided.

Please be sure to contact me is you have any questions.


There are instances where you may send money to me as a deposit on a job. Here is how your money is handled and accounted so that it is safe:

  1. The funds are put into a savings account. The funds are not mixed with the other funds in my checkbook account. Thus your money is always available if you change you mind and want a refund.
  2. The computer program QuickBooks is used to perform the accounting for my business. QuickBooks provides a simple way to track all deposits back to the customer. There is never any doubt about how much money you have paid or where it is.
  3. Interest is not paid on deposits.
  4. For custom built locos, the deposit is drawn upon (transferred to my checking account) as the job progresses. When the deposit funds have been used up, the customer is billed for the progress payments.
  5. For other jobs, the deposit is transferred to my checking account when the job is complete and the bill is prepared.

The Backlog: How Long Do You Have to Wait

A backlog is a sign of a healthy business, so I am pleased to have one except that it means you have to wait. The big question is: how long?

Since the backlog varies, it is best to check with me for a current estimate of the backlog.

The backlog for customizing is about 18 months. The backlog for repairs and upgrading varies from instant turnaround to about 18 months - see below. The backlog for custom building is at least five years. There are two exceptions to these waits; they are described below.

When you wish to have me do a job for you, it is entered into the backlog in one of two ways:

  1. If the job involves work on an existing model, such as customizing the drive, repair, or modifying the details on the model, it is entered into the backlog when the model is received.
  2. When a $100 deposit is received.
Custom building projects are not started until their turn in the backlog comes up and the amount on deposit equals 1/2 the estimated cost. Many customers make periodic payments to increase their deposit. An updated accounting of their deposit is returned to acknowledge receipt of a payment.

The backlog has three tiers:

I keep one custom building job under way all the time. Since the nature of custom building is that there are waits for parts, I work on other jobs during those waits, which intermingles the custom drive and "all other jobs" tiers. Custom drive jobs receive the highest priority for good reasons that I am happy to discuss with you privately.

The "all other jobs" tier of the backlog is processed on a first in first out basis with two exceptions:

  1. Whenever any item is received at the shop, it is unpacked to inspect for shipping damage. Jobs are evaluated at that time to determine the extent of the work that is needed. If the work can be completed in eight hours or less, it is completed as soon as possible.
  2. Priority is given to jobs associated with promotion of model railroading to the public. These jobs are for clubs (or their members who run primarily on the club's layout) that have open houses or exhibits that are announced in the general press.

Price Structure and Payment Terms

Because each job can bring a unique set of problems to be solved, I do not have fixed prices for my work. Rather, I charge on a time and materials basis for all jobs.

For my labor I charge $40 per hour.

For machining intensive jobs I MAY increase my hourly rate by a variable rate up to $50 per hour, resulting in an hourly rate of up to $90 per hour.

I know that is expensive. However, prices for machine servicing in my area are out of sight. I'm sure you would rather me be in business for your subsequent job rather than me having closed my doors because I couldn't afford to repair a machine.

The higher rates would be unusual because I spend much more time planning and measuring that I spend machining. A job that requires the same operation to be repeated dozens of times will cost more per hour than a job where the machine runs for just a few minutes.

Please note that I bill only for effective time, i.e., if I make a mistake, you don't pay for my time to fix the mistake.

Here are estimates for custom drives:

Imported Steam Locomotives
These locomotives can be customized as described in Custom Drive Systems for about $800 for a simple engine, and for about $1400 for an articulated engine. There are exceptions - for example: the Max Gray SP 2-6-0 has an unusual split frame with integral driver bearings, so it costs more.
Imported Diesel Locomotives
A cab unit can be customized as described in Custom Drive Systems for about $800 if it has two axle trucks, and about $850 if it has three axle trucks.


One reason why I don't have fixed prices for customizing locomotives with which I have prior experience is that your particular locomotive may have been modified such that customizing it becomes more involved than customizing the same locomotive in new condition, or, for example, a steam loco may be worn such that its rods need to be re-bushed, or broken screws may be embedded in the frame, or, very common, there are broken solder joints to repair.

If you want more than what I provide as standard electrical (please review Custom Drive Systems for a description of the standard electrical setup for custom drives), please plan on paying more than the above ball park estimates.

On the custom building front, again prices can vary for locos of the same wheel arrangement because of the availability of cast detail parts, etc.

At first my estimates may look high to you. However, when you trust me with your job you will find that you get appropriate value for your money. I do not consider billing on a time and materials basis a license to gouge. I want your repeat business, so I do my best to be efficient and to reduce your cost. However, quality is my over riding consideration, and I will not reduce quality to reduce a job's cost.

Most jobs are billed when they are complete, while longer jobs will be billed as the job progresses, e.g., for a scratch built steam loco, bills will be invoiced when the tender is complete, when the engine chassis is complete, when the superstructure is complete, and when the model is finished. The model is shipped to the customer when the job has been paid in full. My charge includes appropriate packing prior to shipment via an appropriate means, ranging from U.S. Postal Service to Federal Express.

Advice and Tips on Shipping Valuable Items

First and foremost, follow these rules, which I have determined over several years of shipping locomotives and other valuable fragile items:

Choose the shipper carefully
If the item being shipped cannot easily be replaced, be certain to ship it via a method that tracks the package, reducing the chance the package will get lost. I recommend shipping by air for the reason that your item spends less time in transit, resulting in fewer events where it could be damaged by mis-handling (consider each bump on the road while your model is in a truck to be one of those events). Note that some shippers, e.g., Fedex, limit the amount they will compensate for damage to models to $1000 regardless of how much insurance you bought. So be sure to understand any limitations on damage compensation when selecting a shipper.
Insure the shipment
Insure the package for what the contents are worth to you, because that is what you will receive if the package is lost, or damaged during transit such that the contents are destroyed. Please do not make the mistake of under-insuring an item such as a locomotive in order to save a few bucks. If it is lost or heavily damaged during transit you will regret your decision.
Shipping via the U.S. Postal Service:
Stuff has happened with every service I've used. I find that the USPS is an excellent value if you ship your item overnight and insure it properly. The USPS seems to pay special attention to such items. The downside of the USPS is that their on-line tracking system sometimes isn't fully updated and you may become nervous about the status of your shipment. However I haven't had cause to make any claims against the USPS for damaged or lost items. Always insure the item for what it will cost you to buy another one.

Many of the items that are shipped to me are damaged in transit because of improper packing and/or rough handling by the shipping company.

The locomotive weight should be removed. You may keep it if the loco is to be customized. Otherwise pack it separately and ship it via a low cost method.

Please do not send the locomotive in its original box unless we make prior arrangements or you want me to keep the box - my packing technique does not use the original box, and the cost of returning the empty original box to you is not trivial.

Locos should be strapped (use Saran Wrap or similar) to a piece of masonite, wheels on the smooth side. Place another sheet of masonite the same dimensions as the box end perpendicular to the sheet with the loco on it - two sheets, one on each end. Put padding between these vertical sheets and end of the box such that the sheet to which the loco is strapped touches each sheet and cannot shift back and forth when the box is tilted/dropped..

An alternative is for me to send my shipping box with packing to you. It includes foam blocks and masonite strips. You have to secure the loco to the masonite strips, pad it with foam blocks, and ship it and the un-used foam blocks back to me. I spent a lot of time developing this system and now am not even sure I can replace the foam, so I will charge you a bunch for missing blocks. Also every time I ship the box to you, prepayment of a $250 deposit is required. The deposit is returned (or credited to your account if you desire) when the box and all foam blocks are returned.

I know $250 sounds like a lot, but when the deposit was smaller people have elected to forego the deposit and keep the box for their own use. I'm not in the box supplying business.

Do not wrap the locomotive with bubble pack only! Details on the locomotive can pop the bubbles, making them useless. Your best bet is to firmly wrap the locomotive with 1/8" thick polyurethane foam or newspapers, then protect it with bubble pack and/or plastic peanuts. Protect protruding fragile details from getting bent by placing strips of styrofoam or other soft material between the detail and the body. Wrap tenders separately. Each unit of a diesel should be wrapped separately. If you don't strap the loco to a soft board, be sure that the front and rear of each wrapped item has plenty of padding for when the box is dropped on its end. You would be amazed at what can happen during transit. Be sure that there is at least 4 inches of padding all around all packed items. I know this is a lot of trouble to go to, but if your locomotive is severely damaged during shipping, you will wish you had gone to the trouble to pack it properly.

I suggest you put a piece of paper with your address and phone number inside the box and firmly attached to the model. If we have corresponded about your job via email there is no need other that the address paper for the postcard discussed below as I will email you wnen the parcel arrives and its contents have been inspected.

If we haven't communicated via email about your job please put a self addressed stamped postcard in the box with the items. Put your phone number on the back of the card. [An advantage of putting the card inside the box is in the event the box is damaged during transit such that the outside address label is useless or gone, the address on the postcard inside will enable the shipping company to return the parcel to you.] When the locomotive arrives I will inspect it for damage and report any damage on the card when I mail it back to you. On receipt of the card you will know the locomotive arrived and its condition upon arrival. If there was in-transit shipping damage I will work with you on getting it resolved with the shipping company.

Please do not ship a locomotive without discussing it with me first! I want to be expecting it so that if it doesn't arrive I can let you know, and I want to be sure I have space to store it until I work on it. The shipping companies make the originator of the shipment responsible for initiating traces on undelivered items, so you need to know as soon as possible if your parcel did not arrive.


Interested in learning more about 2-rail O scale? Please visit the O Scale Kings web pages.

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