I’m reading Todd Henry’s latest book: Louder Than Words, where I came upon the term mentor texts. He’s referring to works that you return to time after time because of the influence they have had on your life. Works that help you understand the different possibilities that are open to you and how you might pursue them.
This got me to thinking about my mentor texts for the craft and how they shaped my view of what’s possible over the years. Most are sixty years old but I still return to them when I feel the need to get grounded again.
In no particular order here’s my short list.
Paul Larson’s article series from 1966 through 1971 in Railroad Model Craftsman.
More than any other writer, Paul Larson’s work has influenced my own the most. His modeling was first rate and his writing style is a model I try to follow (poorly I might add). These were short, simple essays about prototype railroading or locations he found interesting, and in them, he drew out the timeless lessons worth understanding. His construction and modeling articles followed the standard of the day and he conveyed the joy of following his own path.
I’m less familiar with his writing as the editor of Model Railroader but the few editorials of his I have read convinced me he was decades ahead of his time. In many ways, the mainstream hobby is still playing catch-up.
David P. Morgan’s The Mohawk That Refused To Abdicate
Without peer, D.P. Morgan’s writing shaped my view of full-size railroading in more ways than I understand. This book is a reprint of his article series in Trains magazine from the 1950s, about the end of steam operations in North America. I’ve had an original copy of this book for decades and still return to it often. Opening the cover, one is greeted by the aroma of coal smoke and valve oil and the urge to pull your collar tight and shield the eyes from any stray cinders and soot. Coupled with the photography of Phil Hastings, the terms literature and poetry are not out of place in describing this work. Timeless is another.
Jack Work’s modeling articles in Model Railroader
Jack Work was another influence to a younger me and still is. He made strip wood look like a magic potion that could be turned into anything. The quality of modeling and his writing was high but accessible to anyone who would invest their time in it.
Practically anything by Bob Hegge
Quarter-inch finescale standards and overhead wire were never in better hands than his and Bill Clouser’s. He made it look like so compelling that I almost became an traction modeler. The lack of first hand experience with any prototype electrics was the only thing that stopped me. That and a serious shortage of money as a teenager.
There are others of course but these are the top tier selections for me. Reflecting on these works, there was nothing extraordinary about them. Yes, the quality of modeling was higher than average but they were writing from the perspective and standard of the times. I received a sense of encouragement from these pieces. A feeling that I could do this too, with time and enough effort. Rereading these works I still get that feeling a half century later.
Those are some of my mentor texts. I’m certain you have your personal favorites too.