Collinsville RPM: Shredding The Envelope

by Jun 27, 2017Modeling Techniques, The Art of The Craft

Another Collinsville, IL Railroad Prototype Modelers’ Meet has come and gone and as with previous shows it was an excellent time. This meet is becoming one of the best shows in the Midwest and as you expect with this format, the modeling is superb and plentiful along with a variety of clinics to attend and many historical societies offering loads of great information for modeling. Of course, new and returning vendors had lots of interesting goodies to tempt the eye. Susan and I were there to introduce Tony’s new book and to reconnect with friends that I only see at this show.

Thinking through my coverage for this post, I looked for the unusual and wasn’t disappointed. I’m pleased to see more dioramas on display than in past years, even though they are more difficult transport than a box of rolling stock. This large HO scale sulfuric acid plant by Roderic Thomson of Stevensville Michigan was certainly impressive. It’s based on a Mineral Point Zinc Company plant circa 1917, once located in Mineral Point, Wisconsin. There is a ton of excellent modeling here.

However like last year, the work that fully captured my eye is from Steve Hurt of Delaware, Ohio. He returned this year with another stunning large scale build.

I made a quick circuit of the room before the official opening on Friday morning and Steve and his son were still setting up. We didn’t get a chance to chat but I did learn the modeling scale is 1/25 for the Mack truck and the caboose is a USA Trains product intended for 1/29 or similar. Steve feels they fit well together despite the slight mismatch in scale. With this model, he recreated the delivery of a caboose for the Boonville, Missouri depot. Like his logging truck from last year, the workmanship is superb and the paint finish and weathering first rate. I’m impressed with what can be done with such work.

Steve emailed me on Sunday to express his thanks for my blog post from last year about his work. He doesn’t have a layout and describes himself as a model builder who’s drawn to a wide range of subjects and scales. I’m glad he shares his work like this because it’s inspiring and I for one, love the cross pollination of ideas and techniques from different modeling disciplines.

We often use the phrase pushing the envelope to describe work that is beyond the norm. The modeling at meets like this one and other RPMs not only push the envelope, they often shred it. Having said that though, I wonder, where do we go from here?

I deliberately skipped the usual freight car and loco models that make up the bulk of the display at these shows. Not because the modeling isn’t interesting, but because it’s become, well, normal, for lack of a better term. One expects to see the over-the-top weathered boxcars and grubby locos. You expect the full trains, where each car is based on a full-size consist. And while all of this is wonderful to see, I’ve reached a point of saturation with it.

Individual models sitting on a table lack the context that gives them life and depth. Now that’s just one man’s opinion, so take it as you will. However, I can’t help but ask where do we go next with a show like this? Can we look beyond the single model, or the extreme paint finish to ways of telling a more engaging story about model making and railroading? I believe the answer is yes, though I don’t have any concrete ideas to offer at this point, except to suggest you look closer at Steve’s modeling. Notice all the little details like the tools left here and there. Those crescent wrenches on the running board didn’t get there by themselves. Notice too, the chains on the trailer are loose and sitting on the ground. An indication the load is in the process of being secured or being prepped for the crane to lift it off the trailer and into place for display. And, finally, those plastic five gallon buckets are just the perfect touch, an everyday item we’re all familiar with.

Little touches like these and many others turn a static model into a narrative, something these guys understand more thoroughly than we do. Is there a lesson for us in this? You be the judge.