I thought I’d share the intro from TMC Volume 11. Here ’tis. -Mike

Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t -you’re right. -Henry Ford

In her book Mindset, Stanford University psychologist Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D. outlines the findings of a study she conducted about whether talent and skill are as influencial a factor in successful achievement as we’ve come to believe.

To summarize her studies, the results indicate that a person’s mindset, or how they see their abilities, is a far greater factor than raw talent.

She concluded that we can be of one of two minds: one being a fixed mindset, whereby we believe we either have an ability or we don’t. Or we can also have a growth mindset, meaning we see ourselves as capable of achieving more than our current level of skill and accomplishment.

These two frames of reference form a core of personal beliefs that shape our lives in many obvious and not-so-obvious ways.

For example, advanced mathematics are very difficult for me to grasp. I feel lost when faced with algebra, trigonomitry, calculus and the like. Numbers in general leave me confused and mentally exhaused. With numbers, I have a fixed mindset, with the believe that my ability to understand the concepts and relationships is limited.

The truth however is this, in spite of the difficulty I have in learning numerical concepts, I’m not incapable of learning such things. Like everyone else, I have to deal with numbers on some level every day and simple math is not a problem. I can balance our checkbook to the penny and after some effort over time, I understand the numbers that impact my business.

A growth mindset however is another matter completely. Those who have a growth mindset see themselves as capable of learning, even if the process proves difficult. Learning for these folks is fun, an experience to look forward to because of all the possibilities that will open up to them. People with a growth mindset understand that skills and abilitites can be developed over time.

I’m visually oriented. Visualizing objects in three dimensions isn’t that hard for me. Over time, I’ve learned how to understand the spatial relationships between individual pieces and how they come together to form the whole.

Such concepts are fascinating to me and I profoundly enjoyed going deeper into such learning. It’s the same with writing. I’m comfortable with words and their power to shape ideas.  Because I have a growth mindset where words are concerned, I’m internally motivated to learn how to communicate with clarity on a deeper level.  I don’t have to be pushed to learn these concepts, I readily push myself.

The key point made in the research is that our mindset has a huge impact on our lives and what we will and won’t attempt. After barely squeaking through freshman algebra with a D, I’ve never taken another math class, yet I have bookshelves groaning under the weight of art, handcraft and graphic design books and magazines. (And, I include my modeling reference collection in there too.)

I believe that the good doctor’s research has implications for our craft and also offers a path forward beyond the conventions we’ve accepted for the past five or six decades.

What’s Missing?
With the current emphasis on viewing this activity as a fun, casual or even a disposable pastime, we’ve come to underestimate the influence of role models.

Since the prevailing convention is that everyone is basically left to their own devices in regard to how they particiapte in the hobby, the opportunities for succumbing to the limitations of a fixed mindset are plentiful.

In decades past, there was plenty of inspiration to be found in the modeling magazines. The general lack of ready-to-run products made it necessary to develop a wide skill-set if you wanted something that wasn’t commerically available or at a price you could afford. Thus people would just dive in, fail more often than not, but also learn their way over time and through applied effort. Some had innate talents or brought work related skills to modeling, while others had to essentially start from zero. The point to understand here is, regardless of the outcome, they at least tried their hand at something new.

Through the years, people would share their work and hard won knowledge through the pages of Model Railroader or Railroad Model Craftsman thereby providing examples to others that indeed, such work was possible, if you made the effort.

While this practice continues today, many other factors have come along that have fundamentally changed the focus of the hobby for the majority. Foremost among them, the abundance of ready-to-run products now available.

The impact this embarassment of riches has had on our practice of the craft should not be underestimated or trivialized.

Ready-to-run rolling stock and track components made larger layouts possible and this was reflected in the types of articles seen in the model press, especially over the last thirty or so years. As a result the focus has largely shifted from individual models to layouts as a whole.

While there are certainly pockets of fine craftsmanship and individual modeling left, the role models seen in the magazines have shifted to examples of ever larger layouts, more complex operations and extravagant scenery exercises.

What ready-to-run has done is to greatly reduce the effort required to have a complete layout. By reducing the repetitive work involved in laying track, or building an entire fleet of freight cars and locomotives, people had more time and opportunity to explore the other aspects that come with having a more complete layout. But as with all such freedoms, it came with a cost: that being the intimate knowledge and real skills gained through hands-on experience with such tasks and the confidence such knowledge instills in the person.

It isn’t either/or
My purpose in this volume isn’t to demonize ready-to-run products or to pine for the “good old days of yore.” Like everyone else I use ready-to-run products from the rolling stock to various scenic materials on the I&W.

That said, I work in a minority scale and model a minority era within that scale, both of which dictate that I have a familiarity with scratchbuilding if I want to have certain items. This volume examines that journey and the mindset required to enjoy it to the fullest.

-End of Excerpt.-

The theme for Vol. 11 is scratchbuilding and I will take a long look at the mindset behind the choices required. I’ve waffled a bit with how to treat the subject. Trying to choose between doing a general overview or the typical blow-by-blow construction format we’re all accustomed to. I finally decided to blend the two in a way that I hope you will enjoy.

I also discuss scratchbuilding as an exercise in asking questions and solving problems.

As you might expect, the tone will focus on pursuing excellence in your work. I know some are sick of this theme but I’m sticking to it because I believe it’s important to emphasize quality over quantity.

One last item. Vol. 11 will be late. It’ll be early to mid January 2015 before it’s ready, due to the aforementioned waffling and, as you’ve seen in recent posts, I’m also building the subject car featured  in the volume.

I know that missing a deadline, even a self-imposed one is a cardinal sin but, I would rather the material be late than hurriedly thrown together and of substandard quality. I apologize for the delay and hope the wait proves worth your while.



  1. Chris Mears

    Good morning Mike

    Waffling? If it helps, I hope you pursue this: “I also discuss scratchbuilding as an exercise in asking questions and solving problems.”

    I believe that we’re doing our jobs as designers when we discover a question during the design process to ask ourselves or one that we can pose to our audience. Not the kind of question that terminates in an ultimate response but one that hopefully takes a variation on: “Could we try…” I believe there’s a place for this at the heart of every project and it’s as much a part of the design process as in its execution. I’ve enjoyed your recent posts on the subject of forming parts in metal. The style you’ve been sharing has provided us, reading along at home, with a chance to sit almost beside you at the bench and think to ourselves about how we might go about fabricating those parts or if there’s a piece of advice we could offer you. As much as I enjoyed reading your posts I enjoyed reading the comments others posted and I learned one heck of a lot. I had a lot of fun too.

    I feel like in explaining why we do what we do we provide a fellow modeller with an opportunity to interpret that approach in their own terms. I feel like this might tease a few more folks into the belief that they could make models. Delivering an article in the more traditional style of: “Sweat together two pieces of brass and cut out the frames” might divide the audience into two groups: Either I know exactly what you’re talking about and I go and do it or I really don’t know and have never tried and might just better appreciate those that can. If the “no one is making things anymore” gripe has any volume than the first group is getting smaller and the latter is positioned to find it harder to bridge that gap.

    Maybe I’m starting to harp on the “why” question too much but I keep returning to it as being the one that I find most gripping and attractive. It’s all the story fo model railways that we’re developing and the one I don’t imagine I’ll ever tire of subscribing to.



  2. mike

    Hi Chris,

    What a thoughtful and encouraging comment. Thank you.

    I’ve learned that until I have a framework in place for an article or piece of writing, I’ll wander all over with it. Once that framework is established, things come together quickly.

    I didn’t want to treat the topic in the same tired old manner and it’s taken me a while to find my way with it. However, I’ve found a good direction that I hope readers like you will benefit from and, things are rolling at last. I will indeed cover the topic of problem solving and answering questions while scratchbuilding.

    I appreciate the comments about the recent posts. As people may have noticed (well, at least one did), I took a short, unannounced break from the weekly blogging and spent some focussed time at the workbench, which was really satisfying. I’m a lousy multi-tasker though. To do my best work I need to focus on one thing at a time or my concentration levels get depleted too quickly, which is very frustrating for me. Building the model to the standards I want, while experimenting with new materials and techniques and also trying to find a new narrative style is proving to be a stretch, but also a good one.