Now and then I hear about people scoring bags of figures suitable for O gauge trains at dollar stores.
I finally became one. Here’s what to look for.Most dollar stores have bags of toy soldiers. Soldiers are the most common thing but sometimes you can score policemen, firemen, construction workers, cowboys and indians. Far and away the most common size is 54mm (roughly 2 inches), which works out to about 1:32 scale, and that’s much too tall for me. Whether that works for anyone else isn’t for me to decide–you’ll just have to see how it looks with your vehicles and trains. Personally, when I see figures that are 8 scale feet tall I think of the Nephilim, so I avoid them.
A few times I’ve found figures that were closer to 3/4 of an inch tall. Those would actually be great for an HO scale layout. It seems to me that I’ve found 1-inch figures (22-25mm) once or twice before too. I didn’t get any and I’m kicking myself. Those would be perfect for an S gauge (1:64 scale) layout, or for use on a larger-scale layout for forced perspective.
The best figures for O gauge are 40mm tall, but those are relatively uncommon. Many more figures are made in 45mm size, which is about 1 3/4 inches. That’s seven feet tall in O scale (they’re actually intended to be about 1:36 scale) but for most people, 45mm is probably close enough.
Yesterday I found soldiers, policemen, and firefighters in 45mm size, 53 to a package, for a dollar. I picked up a package of policemen because I figured it’s easier to make excuses for a police-heavy population than any of the other choices, and I figured police officers would be relatively easy to turn into other types of people. Besides, it’s hard to argue with 53 figures for a dollar, even if they’re all going to end up looking like Brad Garrett. For a dollar I can paint up one of each pose to yield six usable figures and then figure out what I’ll do with the 41 leftovers. I paid $12.99 for a box of 32 civilian figures about a year ago.
The figures you find in dollar stores are cheap Chinese recasts of figures from defunct companies such as Marx and Ideal. When the companies liquidated, the molds were sold, and those that survived ended up over there. Since the molds are in most cases approaching 50 years old, the detail isn’t quite what it once was, but we do have much better plastics today. And did I mention it’s hard to argue with a price of 2 cents per figure?
I don’t know if it helps any, but the package I bought was marked Greenbrier International, Inc., and it came from Dollar Tree. There is no other useful information on the package, and the figures are simply stamped "China" on the undersides of the base.
Who knows, I may go back for another package or two tomorrow. Five bucks would score me 265 figures, total. It takes me about 30 minutes to paint one, so that ought to keep me out of trouble for a long time.