This craft can be frustrating. It’s easy to get pulled in many directions and it can be hard to find a focus or inspiration to carry you through for the long-term. Even if you find your muse, things can change after a number of years.

Last time I mentioned a change in my focus was coming. After almost two decades, it’s time to move on from the Indiana and Ohio theme. It’s been a great pleasure to research the line from Valley Junction to Brookville and I’ve learned a lot. Not only about the railroad and the region but about what this craft means to me.

Some might quickly assume that the simplicity of the line and operations has me bored. That’s not the case at all. These days I crave simplicity and there are other factors in my decision.

Working in a niche scale, one has to face certain realities. One reality for P48 is that the discipline is married to the steam era. Contemporary railroad modeling is possible in P48 but more challenging than in other scales, mostly due to the lack of basic items like roller bearing trucks. Protocraft made state-of-the-art 70 and 100T RB trucks but they are now sold out and unlikely to be re-issued. Due to financial circumstances, I was only able to get two pair of them while they were available. There are other options out there but they pale in comparison to the gold standard Protocraft established. In a stark contrast to HO or N, most items for quarter-inch scale are only produced in limited quantities. The product base for P48 is mostly comprised of individuals who bring items to market in very limited quantities. Once the run is sold out, it may or may not be repeated. It’s something you quickly learn to accept and deal with if you want to work in this scale.

Putting that aside though, over the past couple of years, I’ve struggled with my direction in the craft. I guess I’ve reached the point where the challenge was missing. I built a satisfying layout; I modeled track the way I always knew it could be done and completed other projects but I was at a loss for what to do next. I’m happy to do something once but building multiples of the same car isn’t as much fun for me.

So what to do? I can always practice my skills, something I recommend often on this blog. However, I began to feel limited by the I&O based theme and I didn’t want to tear up the layout just to model something else. As mentioned before, I identify more with model building than operation and I’ve gotten layout fever out of my system. However a change in era feels right, so I’m setting the clock back to the mid 1960s -a time I’m familiar with. It’s a move that will allow me to model different car types more easily and accurately.

Forty-foot boxcars bring pleasant memories, like this photo of a B&O M-53A spotted at the grain elevator in Centerville. As you may have noticed in the blog photos over the years, I already have a selection of cars for this era, including several quarter-inch scale Intermoutain Railway Company kits based on the 1937 AAR boxcars. Like their familiar HO line, these are wonderful kits you could build straight from the box for an enjoyable experience. They also lend themselves to simple upgrades or kitbashing that will result in fine models. It’s unfortunate that Intermountain dropped their quarter-inch scale line some years ago. I look forward to tackling these kits but for now, I’m waiting on some detail parts I ordered.

With the size of my layout, if more than six-to-eight cars are on the scene, things begin to look crowded. I’m planning for twelve to fifteen cars in total so I can rotate cars off the layout for some variety. This number is a blessing that allows me to treat each car as a separate modeling project, where I can lavish all the attention and detail a model in this scale deserves.

I claim no expertise where freight car modeling is concerned. Quite the opposite actually, as this is an aspect of the craft I’m very ignorant about. I definitely feel like a beginner again and that is exactly how I want to feel. Fortunately, I have good resources in the form of a 1966 Car and Locomotive Cyclopedia along with volumes of the Railway Prototype Cyclopedias and plenty of my own photos. I’m also inspired by the works of modelers like Gene Deimling, Robert Leners and Jim Zwernemann, who are among the masters in quarter-inch scale freight car modeling.

The lesson I’m taking away from all this is that change is a part of growth. Too often in this work we just change for the sake of changing. We’re bored or suffer from shiny object syndrome. However, when a change is thoughtfully considered, it can be a good thing indeed. I’m not the same person who stumbled into quarter-inch scale ten years ago. My modeling has grown and I understand the strengths of the scale now. I know what I want to accomplish in this next phase of the journey and I look forward to starting down this road.



  1. Simon

    [quote]I know what I want to accomplish in this next phase of the journey and I look forward to starting down this road.[/quote]

    You may have defined the path to happiness: know what you want to accomplish [i]in this phase[/i] and look forward. You have outlined your destination – for this phase.

    Cracking philosophical post, Mike.


  2. Simon

    Oh dead dodos: I used [] instead of !

  3. mike

    Hi Simon,

    I may have defined the path to happiness for me. It obviously won’t be the same for everyone. You are right in one aspect however, knowing what you want and whether you can achieve it is a key part of happiness in this work. Being realistic is another. If I wanted lots of mainline action, then P48 or even quarter-inch scale is a poor choice. I’d be better off in HO or N. However, P48 is an excellent choice that fits my needs wonderfully because those needs happen to fit the strengths the scale offers.


  4. mike


    Don’t feel bad. I just fixed a typo of my own in the text that I missed.

    (Disclaimer: no extinct dodos were harmed in the process.)


  5. Simon

    That photo of the M53 boxcar at Centerville repays very careful study.


  6. Trevor

    Terrific post, Mike.
    Many people – especially in North America – believe that building a large, “lifetime” layout is the only measure of success in our hobby. This is a believe that’s been reinforced by major publications and their advertisers, who have a financial stake in encouraging hobbyists to buy, buy, buy.
    There are many downsides to this approach – but the one that’s relevant here is that if the hobby is not satisfying, people often feel that they can’t simply start over, or radically change their direction, because they have invested so much in the initial project. They’ve bought locomotives and rolling stock for a certain prototype and era. They’ve acquired books and other documents. They’ve invested a lot of time in building the benchwork, the track, the landforms, the wiring, the structures, the scenery…
    The list goes on.
    In extreme cases, a move forces a hobbyist to tear out their work – and when they start over in their new home, they rebuild the same layout, having salvaged as much as possible (up to and including entire towns, yards and scenes) from their previous effort. In the process, they’ve missed a golden opportunity to assess their previous work – to separate the good from the bad – and to do better with a fresh start.
    But there is another way of course – namely, to look at the hobby as a welcome journey, one of exploration and discovery. If one discovers that a certain theme, era, scale or prototype is no longer rewarding, it’s fine – in fact, I’d say it’s imperative – that one change plans and do something else.
    I’ve done it many times. Like you, I have built layouts in more than one scale (and in both standard and a variety of narrow gauges). Each time, I thought, “This is the perfect layout for me: It will scratch all my hobby itches”. And each time, I learned that it did not. So I started over – taking the best lessons from the now abandoned layout and applying them to the new endeavour… and identifying the failures so I could try to avoid them in the future.
    I’m actually very happy with my current project. I feel that I’m now ticking all the boxes – at least, for this stage in my life. If circumstances change – or if my feelings change – the layout will change as well, and everything could be up for grabs.
    The worst thing one can do is be unhappy with their current project, yet stick with it. It’s a hobby – it’s supposed to give us satisfaction and pleasure. It’s not supposed to be another form of work. I’m glad you’ve recognized this in your own hobby, and I look forward to following your progress in a new modeling era.
    – Trevor (Port Rowan in 1:64)

  7. mike

    Hi Trevor,

    Couldn’t agree more. I view a layout or models as individual works that comprise a body of work. And like visual artists, songwriters and other creative craftsmen, that body of work should reveal a progression of ability and artistic vision. We’re not conditioned to view model trains in this manner but what’s the harm in doing so? If I’m still building shake-the-box models, and using sectional track after ten years what have I actually learned in all that time? Not much I’d argue.


  8. Simon

    I generally agree, Mike, but not everyone sees the benefits of using a hobby this way: nor do they necessarily want to. You, me and countless others may realise the benefits that come from such an approach, but my question (to anyone and everyone*) is how can we get people over that line, essentially the step from train set to model railway?

    * I worry that we are preaching to the choir, as you say. (Preaching to the converted, in the UK.)

  9. mike


    The simple but blunt answer is: you can’t. If people want a dirt cheap, effortless, commodity driven hobby, that is what they will pursue.

    That choice however, in no way affects how I pursue my craft. I get to choose the meaning that model trains have for me and the standards of how I pursue that meaning. That’s all I’ve ever tried to say with this blog and the rest of my work: you’re not limited to a generic hobby. You get to choose for yourself.

    All I or anyone can do is present an alternative view of the work in a respectful and attractive manner. Presentation does make a difference. Treating people like they are intelligent adults makes a difference. If someone finds value in that alternative then they will look further, perhaps even decide to test the waters.

    I once said this on Facebook in response to a similar comment: “I’m not writing for everyone. I never intended to write for everyone. I have a point of view that is far outside the mainstream and I write for people who want to hear that point of view.”


  10. Simon


    It was a question that needed to be asked, I think.

    This blog, TMC, blogs of a similar ilk and correspondence with various contributors have helped change my perceptions of the hobby in North America, but also provided a forum for ideas, which has helped me shape and refine my own.


  11. mike

    Of course, but what I have made peace with is that fact that I’m not going to change an entrenched culture. People who are receptive to my ideas like yourself, are likely leaning in that direction to begin with. We need a voice, or many voices too.