I received an email from a gentleman who had downloaded one of my old PDFs on track modeling.

He asked for some advice and went on to describe his 3-rail layout and his attempts to enhance the appearance of the Lionel track and turnouts he was using. Throughout the text of his email, his enthusiasm and sincerity were plainly evident. He’s obviously having a good time and in the end, that’s what really matters.

My response wasn’t so engaging. It wasn’t mean spirited or snarky, at least I didn’t intend it to be but that’s probably how I sounded, cold and clinical, like the doctor who gives you the bad news without any emotion or human connection whatsoever.

“Well, you have six months, I’d get my affairs in order if it were me.”
“Ah…yeah, …okay. Thanks Doc.”

In responding I mentioned that I don’t like to give advice about layout design (he didn’t ask for any), because it’s impossible for me, or anyone else to go into a person’s mind and see the world as they do. Answering specific questions is another matter and for his attempts to enhance the look of Lionel track (the three tie, tubular rail stuff) and turnouts, I simply said that the product is what it is and that there is little to be done, especially with the turnouts, to make them more realistic looking.

It was an honest answer but probably not what he hoped to hear. He didn’t respond back and I don’t blame him.

Like many folks in this hobby, he was having fun until the self-styled expert weighed in. And, even though he initiated the questions, I fear that I ruined his day (at minimum). That’s never my intention, but things turn out this way because I have a truly unfortunate knack for shutting people down cold.

It goes without saying that this is a very personal hobby for all of us. We all like to think we’re objective about it but we aren’t. Just let anyone offer an unsolicited criticism about our modeling and the truth will rear its ugly head. Now if I specifically ask for an evaluation from a friend or mentor whose work I respect, that’s one thing. However, if I post something online or just ask an innocent question, then I’ve opened Pandora’s box and should be prepared for what I get in return (especially online).

The anonymity of online communication can breed an air of superiority in some people that might be held in check during a face-to-face discussion. Further, it’s ridiculously easy to feel like you’re an expert at everything after a few years. Not everyone falls into this trap of course but we’ve all run into at least one self-appointed guru who’s more than happy to share their vast store of knowledge whether you asked or not. I’ve been one of those jerks too many times.

There’s really nothing wrong with having strong views about the hobby. I’ve offered plenty of them here, but such views need to be tempered by the understanding that not everyone is at the same place. I genuinely do try to be respectful of other opinions and approaches but I often fall short of that goal because I get too full of myself. I need to grow up and acknowledge that the universe doesn’t revolve around me. I’ve gotten off track lately and need to find better, more engaging ways to express things.

Amazingly though, folks still come to this blog (and a warm welcome to all the recent new subscribers). Maybe it’s because the views expressed sound agreeable or the posts occasionally add something useful. Maybe my clueless rants are just so out on the fringe that they’re too funny to miss. I don’t know but for the early readers who’ve stuck it out, my deepest thanks and appreciation for hanging around.

Regardless of how you approach the hobby, I sincerely hope you find great joy in it, and next week, it’s back to the business at hand.


1 Comment

  1. Simon

    We all have our “blindspots”, I suppose.
    I certainly have three:
    Electric propulsion, powered via the rails (hopefully wireless one day);
    A 64:1 hand descending from on high to operate couplers and ground throws;
    A 42″ minimum radius curve if I want anything more than a layout 17′ long.

    These are all facts with which I am prepared to live, and no advice telling me to do it differently can change my opinion on that, but I console myself with the following:
    1) I have no desire to build working steam models at 1:64 scale;
    2) The alternatives to the “hand of god” are less realistic in how they look (KD glad hands, bits of fine wire) and/or how they operate (the magnetic coupling shuffle) and I don’t really want to install DCC operated couplers on everything – as with the manual ground throws (where appropriate) I enjoy these railway operations;
    3) The minimum curve depends partly on how big a layout I want, but careful design can help disguise such curves.

    However, I must admit that were I using tinplate track designed for toy train sets, I would accept it for what it was, and not try to do anything else with it…

    Each to their own, though: it would be a dull life if we all did the same thing.