When the discussion of getting new people interested in model railroading surfaces, the subject of the learning curve involved usually rears its head.
To all of the skeptics and hand-wringers out there who contend that The Curve is a major impediment to their progress and enjoyment, let me ask: how did you manage to get through it?
Long time veterans have a big problem. That being a deep body of domain knowledge they’ve spent twenty, thirty, forty or more years acquiring. When asked any kind of question, the answers are always filtered through this store of deep knowledge. We’ve forgotten that our deep knowledge is built on a foundation of a few core skills. A core of understanding that will cover 95% of situations a person will encounter in pursuit of the craft.
For example, when it comes to building things, all you really need to know is how to accurately layout and cut material to the proper length with square ends, and then, how to assemble the pieces with square corners as required. These basic skills, once learned, will cover things from benchwork to a scale structure, to a piece of rolling stock to a full-sized house.
At this stage, one doesn’t need to worry about the working nuances of various materials or benchwork design choices, or kits versus scratchbuilt. That understanding will come with time and more experience. For now, learning to measure, cut, and assemble things square and true will carry you a long way.
With laying track, all you need is an understanding of how to make smooth curves and assemble the rails together with smooth joints. This will cover any type of track from sectional to flex, to handlaid. The core knowledge of track is keeping it smooth and in gauge. Your understanding of the many track options available can come later with time and more experience.
Railroad and model terminology along with advanced concepts is another area of useless debate among know-it-alls who are married to their own opinions.
When it comes to terminology, my view is to present the proper terms, explain what they mean, if needed, and leave it at that. Why confuse people with simplistic, made-up hobby terms and thinking and then have to explain it all over again, with the right terms “if, or when, they’re more advanced and ready for it?”
Who is a beginner?
We toss this term “beginner” around as though there is a generic person so labeled. There are people who don’t know diddly squat about this craft and there are also people who bring a staggering amount of skilled knowledge with them. Both qualify as beginners, so who exactly are we referring to with the term?
Regardless of any pre-existing knowledge and skill a person may or may not bring, I truly believe we don’t give people coming into this hobby nearly enough credit for their ability to learn. I read a number of other craft related publications from woodworking to digital machining and I seldom see beginners in these disciplines treated the way we treat them in this increasingly bizarre hobby. If a newcomer voices an interest in and the motivation to learn timetable and train order operations, are we going to paternalistically tell them: I’m sorry but you’re new and that’s a very advanced concept that you’re not ready for. Or might we just embrace their enthusiasm for the subject and share the knowledge at a rate their motivated desire to learn it can handle?
The learning curve in this craft can be very steep indeed but, did any of us learn it all at once? No! I certainly didn’t. One of the things that keeps my interest going after forty-plus years, is that there is always something new to learn. Further, the Internet has changed the game for everyone whether we like it or not. Newcomers to the craft can become better informed in less time and with less effort than us geezers could ever imagine. Could some of this patronizing attitude be more about how embarrassed we are upon realizing how complacent we might have become?
Couldn’t we simply honor people as the intelligent, motivated adults they are by tuning into their willingness to learn and showing them a craft they can enjoy for a lifetime?