August will bring a couple of anniversaries for OST Publications, such as the start of the fourth year of writing the blog on August 27 and August 1, 2014 begins the third year of publishing The Missing Conversation. In both cases a lot of words have flowed under the bridge. I never dreamed I had it in me.

What’s the purpose of this blog and TMC
The heart and soul of both is to encourage you as a modeler by presenting an approach and the tools to take this craft and make it your own. That’s not as easy as it seems.

Every hobby or craft has its own conventions and mindset: aircraft modeling, armor, marine, woodworking, metal-smithing, ceramics, you name it and there is a set of conventions about how things are done and what is and isn’t state-of-the-art.

In these modeling disciplines people still work from kits, some of which are more complex than anything in model railroading today and, there is a thriving aftermarket of finely crafted detailing parts to further enhance the finished model.

In woodworking and ceramics, you work with and fabricate raw materials into something with utilitarian and aesthetic value. Here again, you need to learn and exercise basic and advanced skills to produce a satisfactory result.

In a stark contrast, model railroading has thoroughly transitioned from a skills based activity to a  pursuit of ready-to-run products. However, to solely blame ready-to-run items is simplistic. It goes beyond a bunch of boxes coming out of a cargo container. I suggest a fundamental shift in mindset has taken place, one that is now firmly entrenched and considered normal.

What does have to do with me?
In this blog and with The Missing Conversation, I suggest there is another way: exercising your individual autonomy.

Autonomy is the ability to function independently. To make your own choices and shape your experiences in the world.

If I have expended no effort in producing the objects I surround myself with, what is my relationship to them? Am I a consumer, a collector, a caretaker or curator? However the relationship is defined, I’m forced to deal with choices about materials, design and quality I have little or no say over, beyond my choice to acquire an item or not.

As a society, we are learning that something profound and fundamental is lost when you separate a craftsman from his materials and tools: the intimate familiarity between the man and his work (and yes respectfully ladies, a woman and her work). If such a statement sounds inane, it only demonstrates how big the chasm has grown. Yet this is the new normal for mainstream model railroading. Collectively, we’ve given away huge chunks of our autonomy to fuel and maintain a mass market machine that promises an endless supply of things that fail to satisfy in the long run.

By contrast, I encourage you to rethink your relationship with the hobby by exercising autonomy toward your growth as a modeler. To faithfully model any subject, you have to understand that subject and The Missing Conversation is a vehicle for understanding. That’s why I dedicated nearly 70 pages to the study of full-size trees and Trevor Marshall’s thought process on the placement and quality of his tree models in Volume 09. By making informed choices based on clear objectives, Trevor created the three dimensional images of trees and a forest that enhanced the rest of his models. That’s what makes his article so instructive regardless of the modeling scale or size of your layout.

Furthermore, he found a deep satisfaction from using new skills that increased his capacity as a modeler. By doing so, Trevor gained a greater sense of freedom to pursue his hobby in ways that aren’t restricted by a limited range of commercial products.

As a side effect of rampant commercialization, model railroading has become encumbered with many superfluous notions that add no value to a modeler’s experience. To sift through the mental clutter requires a brutal simplicity of thought and focus on the fundamental nature of the craft. I believe the rewards are worth the effort.

I named it The Missing Conversation because such discussions are all but absent. I invite you to check out The Missing Conversation via the link in the menu bar.



  1. Simon

    Just to throw out a thought, but I think there is a key difference between “model railroading” and modelling a railroad. The former is primarily concerned with operating (hopefully, but frequently randomly playing with*) trains, the latter is a modelling discipline which happens to have rail-based transportation as its subject matter. Of course, they can and do overlap – often considerably, especially when the hobby reaches its highest artistic achievements – but I am using extremes to make a point.

    * Obviously I am trying to take the fun out of it here!

    Simon, of the view that what you call me reflects a lot more on you than me.

  2. mike

    Hi Simon,
    I agree that the two are distinct and do overlap. A problem in the hobby is the downgrading of precision in the language. We both have seen numerous examples of this and the confusion it breeds.

    Of course when one does use precise terms to draw such distinctions, one is subjected to the onslaught of political correctness by the herd. Others see this and are intimidated into silent compliance and the cycle continues.

    To summarize, I’m not anti-commercial products. I use plenty of them, often as is from the package. What I decry in such posts is the growing dependence upon them, the laziness and indifference among individuals toward their hobby (edit) and rationalized as being just as acceptable and valid as the work of a dedicated craftsman.

    However, to each their own, with all the resulting consequences that follow each decision.


  3. Simon

    I agree re commercial items: if something exists which I can use with little more than weathering, I will use it as time is a limited resource, and I can spend that on something else. Similarly, if something exists which can be used as the basis of something else, I will use the same argument.

    However, if something doesn’t exist, then I will do without until I make it myself – and if I never get around to doing that, then maybe I didn’t want it enough.

    PS If anybody is thinking of commissioning a Baldwin ten-wheeler or a “Russian” decapod in S, then I really won’t stand in their way…