I planned to share the progress of the covered hopper but, last weekend, I once again discovered a number of errors that are serious enough to give me a reason to pause and consider the next steps forward.

By now readers may think that I’m an OCD obsessed nut with delusions of perfectionism. Perhaps there is some truth in that. I’ve seen what this scale can become in the hands of experienced modelers and that work inspires me to push my skill further.

At this stage, my ambitions far exceed my abilities. This can be a good thing and I’m not embarrassed in admitting that my modeling skill and competence level isn’t as good as I like to believe. As author Robert Fritz has stated, it’s not a compromise to acknowledge reality or to take a step back and learn what you need to learn.

The underlying structure of creative work like this is quite simple to understand. I decide what I want to model then, figure out where I am in relation to that outcome (just starting, somewhere in the middle, etc.) and determine the steps needed to bring that outcome to completion. As I said, this basic structure is simple to understand yet apparently, often difficult to execute for many people.

This is where the matter of competence comes into play. The newly found errors create a tension that wants to be resolved by bringing the quality of the build back in line with my desired vision for it. Again, simple to understand however, this is where many of us falter because we inflict all manner of irrelevant explanations and ideas into the situation. We declare the work is too hard; I can’t do this; you’ll never notice the mistake from three feet away, so who cares? None of these emotional tantrums will support the desired outcome. They only lead you away from what you set out to create.

With that thought, the time is ripe for someone to (drum roll please) offer the following:

“Relax, it’s just a hobby.”

My response to that tired cliché is: So what? What does that have to do with creating what you want? Such statements are often used as a club to keep people in line with a predefined ideal that supposedly applies to everyone. The fact that someone thinks a goal is unworthy of serious effort because it’s part of a hobby is irrelevant. Hobby or not, I still want what I want and so do the people who offer useless clichés.

In re-examining the work, its evident that I’m repeating a fundamental mistake somewhere in the initial layout. I discarded one of the shells, as the errors in it are too severe to salvage. The other could be salvaged.

To resolve the errors, I could lower my desired standards and declare the model is good enough as is. This is the solution many people settle for and if you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you’ll know I eliminated that one immediately.

I could stop and fix the mistakes, start the project over or simply quit and move on to something else. In truth, there is only one relevant question to answer here and that is what do I want for this model? My answer hasn’t changed: I want an accurate model that reflects its prototype with a high degree of craftsmanship.

Process is everything, or so we think
We tend to focus solely on process and lock our thinking into a fixed path. Notice however, that my answer doesn’t touch on the issue of how I arrive at my final vision, since any process that supports the objective could work.

To that end, I’m taking a fresh look at my Lionel car to see whether its many shortcomings can be overcome. Yes, I have been very critical of commercial rolling stock in this scale, often with good reason. And, yes, I wrote a long post about my distaste of paying good money for grossly compromised ready-to-run cars. Once again, I will quote Robert Fritz: “It isn’t a compromise to take a step back and learn what you need to learn.”

I don’t want or need a hundred such cars and I have the Lionel model already. It’s dimensionally accurate in all the essential areas and could be made into an acceptable model. It could also prove its worth as a platform for refining my techniques and eye. If using a commercial car as a foundation supports my objective, then it’s an option worth considering.

We always have choices
As a friend pointed out in an email exchange, we tend to hide behind a wall of rules and concepts that are designed to shield people from the ultimate sin of making a mistake. As an unintended consequence, such shortcuts also act as a crutch that delays the very useful and needed skill of learning how to think for yourself.

What I’m describing in these posts is my journey of becoming competent as a modeler. I’ve made a fundamental choice to develop skills that will let me model any project that I want with a high degree of accuracy and craftsmanship. I’m not done with the idea of scratch building a covered hopper but I have some things to learn first. This is not a linear path and that fact is something I see more clearly than before. There are setbacks and steps forward. Lessons to be learned and relearned when needed. It isn’t nearly as neat and tidy as many want it to be but it is worth every step and misstep along the way.



  1. Daniel Placzek

    Nice post, Mike. You’re going through the process everyone goes through in any line of work — or any hobby — in order to improve one’s skills. It’s not a matter of perfection, but just moving the bar higher.

    Dan Placzek

  2. Simon

    “The railway modeller’s golden rule: Scrap anything you know not to be your best.”
    – Donald Boreham, “Narrow Gauge Railway Modelling”

  3. mike

    Thank you Dan.


  4. mike

    Good advice Simon.