Modelers of every skill level are losing a truly valuable resource. Westlake Publishing’s 2013 Modelers’ Annual will be the final printed edition of a series of books that also included annuals on narrow gauge and one covering logging, mining and industrial themes.

In an initial announcement earlier this year, Publisher Russ Reinberg states that the cost of printing the editions, along with the number of damaged and lost issues during postal delivery as the major factors driving his decision to suspend printing physical copies and to focus on digital editions. From a statement in the current Modelers’ Annual, he alludes that he may suspend publishing all together.

Today and for the foreseeable future, publishing in all genres struggle through a hellish no-man’s-land of changes driven by forces no one can predict, let alone hope to control. The Internet has brought a sea-change in the way information is presented and consumed. Driven by technology that was science fiction mere decades ago, the changes have impacted us all. Consider this very text: I would have typed it on a typewriter, taken the proofed copy to a commercial printer for the copies needed. They would have to be folded, have stamps applied and sent to people by mail. For readers overseas, you would never have heard of me or my work unless it appeared in some magazine with an international distribution. Today, regardless of where you are, you can read my words almost as soon as they’re published.

For all the hoo-ra and handwringing by people in and out of the trenches, it’s simplistic to just blame everything on the Internet. The hobby of model railroading has seen its own sea-changes in attitude and approach, which have had just as large an impact as any digital technology. In truth, I argue they’ve had far more impact than the Internet.

You have to be willfully blind not to see that model railroading has changed significantly from the idea of making things and striving for excellence to a consumer culture driven by the latest got-to-have-this-new-shiny-thing. A generation of modelers who wouldn’t think twice about scratchbuilding a turnout, has been followed by one that trembles at the thought without the crutch of an expensive single purpose set of commercial jigs. More than anything this it’s too hard attitude has determined what gets published and the quality of that material. Over a short period of time, a vicious circle formed, whereby fundamental skills and knowledge are no longer being passed on to succeeding generations. For a growing majority, such skills have been replaced with a checkbook and the hobby as a whole suffers accordingly. In this regard, model railroading in particular seems to be on a curious path compared to others.

My own modeling interests don’t include narrow gauge, logging or the other subjects covered by the Westlake annuals. I purchased them for the unprecedented opportunity to look over the shoulder and learn from some of the finest modelers in the world. Model railroaders gripe how they aren’t interested in an article if it doesn’t address their pet subject. This is laziness, pure and simple. It’s an attitude of spoon feed me what I want or I’m going elsewhere. You will get the hobby you deserve with such shallow thinking.

I understand Russ’s decision completely. Speaking as an author who publishes, I can confirm that the general hobby population is clueless about the amount of work and the actual costs involved in producing a high quality publication or podcast. For people like Russ who care about the state of the craft of model building, producing such work in the face of an increasing attitude of indifference is frustrating to bear.

In the end, it’s a hobby as I’m so often told. You get to choose how you want to play train or practice a craft. No one is getting rich working in this craft. People like Russ Reinberg and his peers do their work out of love and concern for the state of the craft. They do it because they care and know that words matter, presentation matters, the details matter. They labor to preserve skills and knowledge for the future, hoping the hard work done now will positively impact the craft in fifty years. If you give a damn about this craft at all, then you owe a debt of gratitude for the gift they’ve given to us all. Thanks Russ. I’m a richer person for being exposed to your work.



  1. Matt


    Excellent piece, very thoughtful. Although a healthcare professional, I designed, drew the prints, framing plans and built a good bit of my house, while acting as the general contractor. That approach, much like the build it yourself approach to model railroading is becoming a dying art. Craftsman, such as Tom Mix, Roland Fortin, who built my Sn2 2-4-4t Forney from scratch are a link to this hobby’s past. To preserve their work and pass on their contributions to the next generation to perk the interest of if only a few is a success. Our hobby, as you have pointed out is within the realm of instant gratification for most hobbyist. For the remaining number, of which I have no idea, who like to scratchbuild, kitbash, or as I say build a model railroad for a hobby to enjoy, it is sad to loose the Annuals. However, it seems even the realm of narrow gauge is fast moving towards a RTR mindset and I understand Russ’s sentiments completely. The advertisement before his Goodbye note says it all. An ad by Bachmann for RTR On30 freight cars. On30, a gauge that was once truly the realm of the scratchbuilder is that no more.

    Being one interested in narrow gauge, I have purchased hard copies of the Narrow Gauge annual and recently purchased the 2012 and 2013 electronic editions. I can tell you that Geoff Ringle’s article on his 1:20.3 EBT models in the 2012 edition is awe inspiring. To read how he uses the same materials as the true carbuilders, whether cast,stamped or fabricated by a blacksmith is a thing to make you sit back and say “whoa”. His models are incredible and they make me want to improve my work, to raise my bar to a new level.

    I hope you continue the Masterclass Modeling Series, for like Geoff Ringle’s models, we the modelers need a “safe harbor” to see what others are doing with the craft of our hobby.


  2. mike

    Hi Matt,

    Thanks for commenting.

    I’ve reached the conclusion that there are at least two, perhaps more, activities surrounding model trains: there are people who build things and everyone else (operators, collectors, checkbook modelers, etc.).

    I realize that’s a gross generalization, maybe even an unfair one, but that’s the sense I have of how it breaks down.

    You’re right, once common skills and knowledge isn’t being passed on because commercial products eliminated the need. So where does that leave us? With a choice. A person can choose the road less travelled or the overcrowded freeway.

    People like Tom Mix don’t do what they do because they’re compelled by lack of RTR, they do it by choice. But, that’s being a bit simplistic too. There are other factors at work, affecting the course of the hobby, a culture of hypocrisy being one of them.

    Consider, a manufacturer comes out with a product and someone finds an error in the lettering or some such. Said nit picker immediately hops on some forum to whine about how manufacturers can’t ever do anything right. Never mind that the model is 99.99% accurate otherwise. Meanwhile individual modelers expect an unlimited hall pass for their work because doing it right is too hard, you’ll never see it and/or it looks good enough from three feet away. In this regard, the hobby is on a strange path.

    I also have most all of the Annuals going back to 2006. I just downloaded the current Modelers’ Annual and will likely pick up the print edition on my next trip to a hobby shop.

    I am planning future editions to the Masterclass series,even though it has been longer than I expected between them. Like Russ, future books will be digital only. I’m just a one man shop and the cost of printed work doesn’t make sense for me. Rather than see that as a problem, I plan to embrace it and the new reality of digital.


  3. P4newstreet

    Hi Mike

    I think the sea change is perhaps more of a storm really. A few years ago magazines were definately done for and forums were the future. Now it seems that forums are the dying breed and author owned websites are the way forward. Certainly in the uk you will struggle to find any of the truly well regarded modellers contributing to forums and people seem to be focusing thier audience. No real point feeding the forum grazers when you can put your stake in the ground in the knowledge that those that are truly interested will come to you.

    The consumer culture is, as you say, rife and this was brought home to me about a decade ago at an exhibition. I was running a loco that used the cabs from one source, the middle from another and a chassis that had an awful lot of scratchbuilding in it. People were telling me how great it was but it wasn’t the modelling, it was the sound! Someone else had the same class out of the box with all the errors I had sought to correct and it had sound too. To the viewers it was just as good and it was all down to an expensive gimmick. (see my site for my thoughts on sound if you are interested)

    But I do think there’s a gentle wind of change coming. People seen to be tiring of the rtr frothing on forums. A recent finescale show in the uk drew lots of comments about how amazing the layouts were (some were good). It’s almost like a few eyes were opened to a whole new level of good. Perhaps realising that all they held great on thier forums before was actually only mediocre in the real world?

    It’s a lean spell for creativity in the hobby currently, people being happier to show how much money they have spent over how much effort they have put in but I do think it won’t last forever.



  4. mike

    Hi Jim,
    A thoughtful response as always. I agree with the observations about forums and a modeler’s private blog. Forums become insular so quickly as a handful of opinionated people take them over.

    I hope you’re right about a change coming. Like so many things, this hobby runs in cycles. I’ve been around long enough to have seen a few come and go. The future should be interesting.


  5. Albion Yard

    I think the digital future holds a lot of promise as well as problems. I have a couple of major interests that I can follow via forums. As each forum has got more popular for various reasons, the quality content gets harder to find. Personal websites certainly offer a platform for quality content, and like jim I feel these will become more popular.

    I’m not convinced the book or magazine. Is dead yet, and doubt it will be for a good while yet, but they will have to evolve, and in our hobby that means quality content and production values. In the uk we have wild swan publications who consistently produce high quality ‘analogue’ media, or as we know them, books and mags. The company doesn’t have a web site either so no digital payment options. They’ve survived and I hope will continue to do so producing what their customers want.

    A good digital publisher needs to build that brand quality / consistency and loyalty and I think they’ll do well. No one yet in the uk is anywhere close to that.
    Paul m-p

  6. mike

    Hi again Paul,

    I agree that print publications will be around for a long time to come. Where digital comes into its own is in the opportunity for small, or in my case, one man operations, to compete with the big legacy players.

    As a one man shop, the sheer cost involved in a high-quality printed book make less sense than ever. Digital allows me to produce works that wouldn’t have a big enough audience to justify the production costs of a print run. I also have the freedom to try new things with minimal risk.

    I love Wild Swan’s work and have several of their titles and a subscription to MRJ. There is no equivalent to their work in the US.