What shade of blue should I paint my backdrop? What’s the best scale to work in? What kind of track should I use and what’s the best kind? How many freight cars should I get? How high should I make my benchwork?

When I read questions like these, I just shake my head at how far down the road to mediocrity things have gone. The answers to these kinds of questions boil down to personal preference, but in the quest for quick and easy solutions to everything, people are no longer willing to think on their own or simply try something and learn from the process. It’s sad.

Without a solid base of skills and deep knowledge, the craft of railroad modeling will wither away from indifference. I view building this foundation as an investment in the future and to that end, I publish The Missing Conversation to help you ask and answer your own questions about our craft.

August 1, 2013 marked its one-year anniversary and I’m satisfied the concept of a single topic serialized publication is valid and I have themes outlined that will take it well into 2014. Each volume is designed to stand separately but there is a larger story arc running through them with an emphasis on learning, rather than being told what to do and how.

It’s a partnership
Readers and authors are the lifeblood of any publication and as planned from the start, recent volumes included guest articles and interviews. For now, I’m only commissioning articles from modelers I believe are pushing our craft forward. I believe readers deserve no less. I invest in authors by giving them a chance to share their work without the straightjacket of an advertiser driven editorial policy.

I made a firm choice therefore, not to include outside ads, even though publishers everywhere depend on ad revenue to cover production costs. Am I a fool? According to some, most likely, but I want to be accountable to the readers first and foremost, not advertisers’ purse strings. I want the freedom to say what needs saying without the worry of a major sponsor bailing out as a result.

The economics of digital publishing make a one-person micropublishing house like mine possible. That said, all future works will be digital first. Doing this on paper simply isn’t feasible because the numbers don’t work. It could be done, but the cover price would be ridiculous and circulation would need to be much broader. I may do a print on demand version of a specific title if there is enough interest but my costs will be considerably higher going this route, so be prepared for a much higher cover price than usual.

This might not work
There was a critic who generously shared that I was committing suicide by charging for a digital magazine. Thank you dear readers for proving him wrong. You’ve graciously supported this work and I’m very appreciative of that. It tells me that you value the material and approach. Vol. 06 is on the way. Here’s a preview.

I&W mill scene before

Volume 06 shares how I turned a mundane scene like this one into one that tells a more compelling story.

I&W mill scene after

Like this

Endless Horizon on James McNab's layout

Also, James McNab shares how he adds depth to the scenes on his Iowa Interstate Grimes Industrial Line shelf layout via photo backdrops. Photo by James McNab.