Premise: Model Railroading is not fun.

Is model railroading frustrating?

Why do people find aspects of it so frustrating?

Why is fun a prerequisite for a hobby?

What constitutes fun?

When is model railroading fun?

Is model railroading always fun (that is, people automatically have fun when doing it), or is it fun because people find meaningful ways to pursue it?

Are there assumptions about fun and this hobby?

What assumptions?

What assumptions do we bring?

Why do we bring any assumptions to it?

Where or how do such assumptions begin?

Are assumptions hurting the hobby?

Why don’t we challenge assumptions about the hobby?

Are people afraid to challenge their assumptions about model railroading?

What would happen if more people did?

Would people still be having fun?

Would that result in a better hobby?

Boiling it down to three questions:
Are decades old assumptions hurting or helping model railroading?

Why are people adverse to talking about all this?

What would happen if we did?

The answers dear reader, should you choose to pursue them, are entirely up to you.



  1. gene48

    “Model railroading is fun” may have originated at the Model Railroader magazine. I am not sure what the real meaning was back fifty years ago. Today, the saying would likely take on a different meaning.

    Maybe, it would be best described as an personal expression by the modeler.

    The hobby has become more passive and less of the doing. It is reflective of our societal values.


  2. Odds

    Since I have no idea what “fun” actually is, I have no preconceptions about it, in any walk of life. More to the point, I don’t believe anyone else does, either. I think it’s a silly word. Three letters that cause more trouble than any others, because people seem to worry so much about it. A simple shunting puzzle that you get right first time on a toy train set might be considered fun, I suppose. I don’t know and certainly don’t care. If it pleases me, I’ll do it.
    I make models (everything except military) because I find it fulfilling, satisfying.
    I also make models because, well…I can! And I can do it well enough and quickly enough to make a living at it. Sometimes I’d rather not, but I’m damned if I’ll work for some idiot who pays me little to do what they can’t.
    I could model to the finest standards of P4, S7, etc., but since I don’t play trains (nothing moves on my dioramas), I don’t bother with all that. I decide on standards when I make a model of anything. It HAS to be the best I can do it when it’s for me and as good as possible when somebody pays me, within WHAT they’re prepared to pay. That’s why model scenery is for me…only.
    I like what the old guy in Taxi used to say at a party…”Am I having fun yet?” Who cares?

  3. Simon

    “…it is fun to have fun but you have to know how”
    -Dr. Seuss, The Cat in the Hat.


  4. Shawn

    For those of us younger guys (early 40’s) it can be hard to find fun in the hobby. What I mean is, as we try and earn a living, take care of the family, and in my case have my full-time job, a start up business as well as a model railroad web site, just finding time to get to the work bench can be a chore causing one to burn out. Add to that the cost of models or scratch building supplies can also add to the stress of model railroading.

    For those of us who try to build accurate models, this can add to the frustration of not having enough time in the day to do what we fell in love with in the first place, Model Railroading.

    Sometime I have to fight with myself just to build. Nothing prototypical, just build. Or, teach myself new weathering or scratchbuilding techniques. Again, not building, just playing! I have even been considering building a 4′ x 8′ HO scale layout for my boys to break the slump I have been in. Some may turn their nose at the guys that have plastic trees, a cardboard mountain and grass mat running trains on a sheet of plywood, however, they are having fun!

    My challenge to my Facebook friends some time ago was to just spend a few minutes every day at the workbench or layout. Do something different. Something new. It is a fantastic way to break the slump and bring back the enjoyment that we may have lost.

    Anyway, just a thought.


  5. Simon

    It depends how you define “fun”, Shawn, and also on the choices you have made about your life. Your family must come first; it is very difficult to avoid the consequences of that choice. Setting up your business is something you presumably chose to do, with a view to the longer term in terma of enjoying your work and making for a sound financial future. This all means that you have little time at the moment. Welcome to the club!

    This phrase is quite telling:
    Sometime I have to fight with myself just to build.
    That reflects where you are in your life-cycle. Don’t fight yourself: you can only lose. Accept it. Planfor tomorrow, and simply relax at the moment. If putting a train set on an 8′ x 4′ makes you happy for the now, do it. Build a few structures and modify/update the equipment to keep your skills honed, ready for a few year’s time when your idea of “fun” changes focus to things with more intrinsic, long term satisfaction.

    Your final comment is interesting: you know what to do, but like everyone else, you have found it easier to say what you wish you were doing, than doing it yourself!

    Pause. Reflect. Act.

    Hope that helps!


  6. mike

    Greetings all,

    Sorry for being absent. I’m getting things cleared away prior to taking a short break.

    Shawn, I have some reflections on a handful of these questions coming in the normal Wednesday post. I hasten to add they are only a snapshot of where I am currently and of how I wish to pursue things. They should not be taken as outlining a mandate for everybody.

    Thanks to all for your comments.


  7. cthart

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot too. I think it’s all about instant gratification.

    And — in my opinion — it’s not a hobby if you can be “instantly gratified”. That’s entertainment.