I suppose if you were modelling a ghost town then there would be no need to populate it. Not many of us do, so there is a need to find people i.e. model figures. When I made the decision to switch scales there are so many things to consider in making your final choice, the availability of O scale figures isn't a roadblock for the change over.
When I was in HO scale (the most common scale) there were plenty of figures available. The level of finish varied greatly from Prieser figures to mass produced figures from China best viewed from a long way away. They were also available 'naked' allowing you to dress them up in any way you wanted. How many modellers had started with the 'pink colour' saying I'll do all the hand and faces and then that's as far as it got. As you were painting the trousers an accidental slip of the paint brush had his nice blue shirt now a shade of brown. This is the stage when you thought I am not going to do any more and your economy drive to save money by painting your own figures came to a crashing end.
Upscaling to O scale meant the figures were going to be larger, less room for painting mistakes? O scale figures are going to be harder to source and Woodland Scenics have produced some in O scale which I presume being American based would be 1/4" to the foot scale (1:48). I have selected some WS figures when we were able to get into Victoria and they are still in the draw waiting for the day when they can come up to the layout for a breath of fresh air.
|An Andian figure painted by Ian Fainges
|Another loco figure complete with gladstone bag on his way home.
|A normal position for NA firemen, hanging out of the cab
|Station Masters are also available
|Track workers pre safety vest etc days
And the last word on figures is summed up in this Owen Thirtys pictoon where I discovered that having four NA locos, I would need at least 4 crew for the locos.