On the home page of the site there is a short position statement outlining the values I stand for.
It’s there so people can know going in whether the work and viewpoints are a good fit with their own. Truthfully, I don’t know if anyone reads it or not but it’s there for those who want to.
I base my writing and approach to the craft on three principles: learning skills, doing your best and consistency in scale modeling or, in simpler terms, using finescale standards. Here’s how I define these three themes.
1. Once you learn a skill, you have it for life.
Even with the current emphasis on ready-to-run products, this is a craft where things are built. Even if you pay someone to build your layout, it still has to be built by human hands. Whether you lay the track by handspiking the rails to individual ties or use the simplest commercial track components, someone still has to lay it and ensure the trains will run on it without derailing. Scenery can come in a box of prepackaged ingredients like a cake mix, or be built from scratch. In other words, this is a hands-on activity regardless of your degree of involvement. The only exception, in my view, are those who collect model trains for static display only. I don’t consider that activity to be the same as modeling railroads in miniature.
The singular joy of this craft for me is the life-long opportunity it provides for learning – learning that involves the mind, hands and the heart. Wouldn’t you agree that most of us are highly motivated by our love of trains? Learning something you are highly motivated to understand doesn’t feel like Learning in the manner of school. Rather, it feels more like play in the finest sense of the word. Play, as in being totally engaged in the activity.
As in the rest of life, knowledge and skills provide opportunities and open doors. This is something I believe we are in danger of losing in the craft: the understanding of how a solid modeling skill-set opens the door to increased enjoyment and long-term satisfaction. In a word, a solid foundation of skills provides:
Freedom to pursue projects of your choice. Freedom to model to the quality you choose, rather than having it chosen for you by the limitations of a commercial product.
Understandably, people bring many motivations to any activity but, to me, learning is the essence of any hobby, especially one that involves working with the hands and mind.
2. If you are going to do something, then do it to the best of your abilities.
We’ve all heard this sage advice from parents and teachers among others and, let’s be honest, the words alone probably had little impact for most of us.
Coupled with the motivated desire to learn, doing your best is a mindset and a habit that can be learned regardless of age. I speak from experience.
What baffles me is the attitude of people who loudly proclaim that model railroading is the greatest thing to ever come from the mind of man, yet are perfectly content to approach it with an attitude of mediocrity.
Whenever the discussion turns to a more serious or deliberate approach to the craft, we are constantly reminded that model railroading is just a hobby!
Yes, it is. But is that fact an excuse to adopt an I-don’t-give-a-damn-attitude or have we clouded our thinking by mixing two unrelated concepts?
The craft of railroad modeling is a freely chosen activity that people may approach however they choose. For the majority, it will be little more than a consumption driven form of escapist entertainment, while others will take a more thoughtful, craftsman’s oriented approach. People bring whatever is inside of them to the craft. Some go through life with an I-don’t-give-a-damn attitude, others take life more seriously. There is room for both and neither has to reflect or impede the other but, the outcomes you achieve with this hobby will be a far deeper reflection of what is inside of you than most people want to think about.
I don’t subscribe to the good enough or three foot rule mentality. I made the equally valid personal choice to take modeling to the highest levels my current skills can achieve. I freely choose to improve my skills because doing so provides the joy and personal satisfaction I want from the craft. And, I call it a craft because that’s how I see it.
3. A model should be consistent in scale from the rails to the running board. Details matter.
This is another view that separates individuals from the majority. I don’t view finescale standards as a holier-than-thou pursuit, contrary to the loud and empty objections of those who do. As I wrote above, adopting prototype based standards for wheels and track is a personal choice that I freely made because of the satisfaction it brings me.
I have difficulty understanding the compromise upon compromise mentality that the hobby has embraced. I don’t understand why a five-foot wide track standard in quarter-inch scale is deemed acceptable, or why wheel treads in any of the scales have to be twice as wide as required. These two examples and the many other legacy driven compromises leave me uninspired.
I understand that people differ in their views and you may or may not agree. But if I may quote author Seth Godin: “Averaging down everything we do so that it becomes cheap and ubiquitous and palatable to all is a hollow goal.”
How, in the long term, do endless rounds of compromising our modeling standards help anyone? I contend that it doesn’t.
Much is made of the volume and high quality of the commercial models that flood the market today. You may thank the modelers who are inspired by the full-sized prototypes and who educated the rest of us about them. You may thank modelers who refused to compromise on the accuracy of the details and appearance of these models, and you may thank the manufacturers who pushed the limits of technology with little or no guarantee of a good return for their efforts.
To close, let me reiterate that this is a freely chosen activity, and you get to choose how to engage with it. I’m not here to change anyone’s mind or views. If you find these principles unappealing, then thank you for reading this far and I wish you well. Let’s simply agree that I’m not writing for you. I’m writing for people who understand, appreciate and support what this work stands for and what this craft can be.
Regards to all,