I’m glad 2016 is over. It seemed to be a year of stress, unnecessary rancor, uncertainty, endings and more. I won’t miss it and like many, I’m happy to hit the reset button and move forward into the promise of a new year.

We all have various ways of coping with the stress life brings. Reflecting and drawing upon your faith, spending time with family and close friends, or losing yourself in a favorite activity rank high on many people’s lists. Of course for us, the craft is at or near the top of those favorite activities with good reason.

I write about this craft from the view of ideas rather than techniques. One of the ideas that fascinates me is using the craft for personal development. I understand that for many it’s nothing more than entertainment and a form of escapism. I get that we all have different needs from this pursuit and I not only find it a great way to relax but to also explore my self-imposed limitations.

As a way to relax, nothing helps me unwind more easily than sitting down at my workbench with a favorite CD playing in the background. I truly enjoy working with my hands and I’m soon transported to a quieter place mentally, as I focus on whatever task I’ve set for myself. Scratchbuilding engages me on many levels beyond handwork as I find the conceptual aspects of design and planning as enjoyable as the actual build.

While it’s mostly a pragmatic pursuit for me, a means to get something I want, I also find it to be a great way to learn and challenge my self-imposed preconceptions with regard to my skills.

Anyone who has picked up a tool of any kind quickly discovers their tolerance for failure. Mine is pretty low as I falsely believe I can be proficient right away. Learning I’m not isn’t fun. In addition to each tool having its own skill set, different materials have their own requirements for successful outcomes; a discovery I made last year when I worked with brass. As a means of personal development, scratchbuilding brings me face-to-face with my shortcomings. I find myself wondering why I’m so reluctant to remake a part, when I know it’s the only way to go. I question why I’m always in such a hurry where the work is concerned, why can’t I just relax and enjoy the process more?

This might sound like navel-gazing nonsense to some but ask, why do so many want shortcuts and the easiest way possible of enjoying their hobby? It’s my belief that we approach this work like we do other aspects of life. If we are so motivated by the potential for enjoying model trains, then why do we shortchange ourselves in practice?

Not everyone will find scratchbuilding enjoyable. Many modelers discover satisfaction when doing scenery, laying track, or electronics. Lately, layout design and operations have almost become separate disciplines of their own, with strong advocates for each. However you approach it, the craft represents a positive outlet for growth if we embrace such a view.



  1. Trevor

    Once again, you hit the nail on the head Mike. Not many in the hobby are as self-aware as you are. And I agree with you that some parts of the hobby are now becoming separate hobbies – or always were.
    I think the “big tent” attitude around the hobby has had mixed results. I find I have less in common with most “model railroaders” than I do with modelers in other disciplines. I wonder why I never see mediocre models of tanks, yet there are lots of examples of mediocrity in the railway modeling world. Perhaps it’s because the tank modelers don’t consider themselves in the same hobby as those who play war games or who collect die cast tanks? That’s not to say that they don’t engage in those hobbies as well – someone who models German armor may also happily engage in games of Advanced Squad Leader, for example. But they think of those as two distinct hobbies – not a single one, bound together by “tanks”. Yet, in the railway modeling universe, the person who builds contest quality rolling stock and has no interest in a layout is considered part of the same hobby as the person who builds a large, operations-oriented layout with ready to run equipment and no scenery…
    – Trevor (Port Rowan in 1:64)

  2. mike

    Hi Trevor,

    Yes, I agree that modeling building and operation-oriented modeling are two different things. Operations beget compromise upon compromise and encourages such due to the nature of it. We’ve all heard the argument against finer modeling standards: you’ll never see those details on a moving train; I have a basement to fill, so I can’t focus too much on a single aspect; with five hundred cars needed, speed is my focus and so on. And, you’re right, it all gets lumped under the same label of “modeling trains” where Joe Blow’s Mediocre Central is just as good as My Anal Details Pacific. It’s a view that isn’t serving us well and only reinforces generic standards. This is why I’m very specific with the terms I use on the blog. I say quarter-inch scale or P48 rather than O scale because they aren’t the same thing. P48 applies quarter-inch to the foot scale consistently, while O scale stops at the track and wheels. Having a ring side seat over the past ten years, I’ve concluded that conventional O scale is now little more than three-rail without the middle rail.

    In an interview with author James Patterson, he said that you have to satisfy the super fan, the reader who hangs on every word and analyze every detail of the story. If you can do that, then the rest of your readers will be happy too. He’s sold a few books over the years and I think he’s on to something with that idea. 😉


  3. Simon

    “I find myself wondering why I’m so reluctant to remake a part, when I know it’s the only way to go. I question why I’m always in such a hurry where the work is concerned, why can’t I just relax and enjoy the process more?”

    Personally, I find myself reluctant to remake a part because it reminds that I rushed it the first time round. Maybe I just need to accept being honest with myself?


  4. Tim David

    That image of your unpainted boxcar is a bit wow!

  5. mike

    Thank you Tim.Haven’t done any work on it since. I’ve been quite busy.