Homogenized Is Good For Milk

by Jan 24, 2017OST Believes, Storytelling4 comments

I’m privileged to be part of a round-robin group of friends who discuss the craft via email. We four share similar views but we’re also individuals working in different modeling scales and following different prototypes and subject matter. Our discussions range from personal projects to the state of the craft or the alledged lack thereof. We respect the others’ views and when we disagree, we can express ourselves fully because we’ve created a safe place do so. That isn’t the case everywhere.

Read the popular magazines or spend time on the usual forums and you’ll get a pretty homogenized view of model railroading. You know, the one where everyone is building the same kind of layout, or using the top ten amazing tricks, tips and techniques that produce the same generic results as everyone else. Dissenting opinions may be welcome or not.

Last week I started a thread to the group expressing my disappointment with the new issue of a certain annual magazine. I want more from this publication and I didn’t get it. This publication isn’t bad but it no longer speaks to my needs, yet I shelled out the money thinking this time it would be different. It wasn’t, so why waste my friends’ time with a rant about something out of my control? While I received a certain amount of sympathy from the group, I acted petty instead of accepting the obvious and moving on in a constructive way.

Why are so many of us prone to insist that our pet modeling approach is the universal solution for every taste? I like P48, others don’t. I prefer a serious approach, while others clearly don’t. This blog and my books are the means I use to share those views and people are free to take what they want or need from both. At the end of the day however, my serious approach to P48 modeling in no way prevents anyone from enjoying their laid back fun time, so why do we get our noses out of joint over such trivial things?

Our egos get in the way of course but sometimes we also feel that the values and ideas we hold dear are being dismissed in a condescending way. I’m as guilty of doing this as anyone. There are approaches to this craft that hold zero interest for me and I’ve been awfully vocal about what a waste of time said approaches are (in my opinion). Instead, I should have put greater emphasis on why they are a waste of time for me. There’s a distinct difference between the two that’s important and I can do better at clarifying it in the future.

This craft is diverse. It can support larger group activities like operations and also individual expressions of craftsmanship. The beauty of it is, you get to choose what’s meaningful and worthy of your time and effort. Ultimately, I’m free to ignore things that aren’t interesting to me and instead of belittling other approaches, I can hope that people find like-minded friends with whom they can share. In the mean time I’ll continue to refine and clarify my point of view and share it with those who appreciate it. As modelers, we don’t have to agree on everything. We all have a choice and the freedom to exercise it.



  1. Trevor

    Beautifully put, Mike. Thanks for sharing this. I have a similar reaction to a lot of what I see online, particularly on model railway forums on social media. And I have to adjust my own thinking from “This is not THE hobby” to “This is not MY hobby”.

    I think “hobby” is an important term: We aren’t designing fire fighting equipment, so if we get it “wrong”, nobody dies. In the same vein, we don’t need everybody to agree with our approach to the hobby. As long as we can get what we need in terms of tools, materials and knowledge, we’re good to go.

    To that end, the onus is on each of us to figure out what we need out of the hobby, and how to get it. By “need”, I don’t mean a new locomotive, but rather what are our goals? What skills do we want to learn? How can we learn them?

    I’ve decided that this year, I’m going to learn new skills to apply to my hobby. As you know (because you follow my blog), right now I’m learning about brass locomotive bashing. In the process, I’m learning (or, at least, learning more about) basic skills such as using a resistance soldering rig, a micro torch, a milling machine, and a lathe.

    These are skills that will further reduce my reliance upon commercial sources of model railway product. For example, learning how to use a lathe means that if I can’t find a suitable detail, I will be able to fabricate it myself – whether that detail is an air tank, a bell, a dome, a smokebox front, or a locomotive driver.

    There’s great power in this. A tremendous feeling of accomplishment. And the knowledge that I’m not at the mercy of a manufacturer that makes decisions based on “what will sell” as opposed to “what I need”.

    – Trevor (Port Rowan in 1:64)

  2. mike

    Thanks Trevor.

    Your situation and mine are quite similar in that we are both strongly impacted by the sporadic product availability from working in the minority scales of 1:64 and 1:48. Unlike the mass market of HO and N, for us, products come and go quickly because they are often produced in limited quantities by fellow hobbyists, who treat them as a sideline rather than a full-fledged business. This reality encourages us to develop our skills to a greater degree and, you’re right, there is a great sense of accomplishment and power in doing so. This is why I write from the perspective of ideas and skill building rather than rehashing the same old advice and product driven techniques you can find for free everywhere online.

    Following along with your progress on the loco, your enthusiasm for the work is self-evident and inspiring. By sharing your thoughts and feelings about the process and lessons you’re learning I’m certain others will be inspired and encouraged to attempt their own projects.


  3. Chris Mears

    I wonder if somehow our humility is what gets in the way?

    To express an interest in model trains is itself a courageous step. In doing so, we’re exposing something of ourselves that distinguishes us from everyone else on Earth (well, except the other model train guys). As we continue to burrow into the hobby we discover what excites us and what doesn’t. With each decision we’re becoming more different whether we like it or not. When we make decisions in how we identify within the hobby, we compare ourselves to the community. Each time asking ourselves if what we’re doing is a step too far? A step closer?


  4. Simon

    I love the diversity of approaches this hobby offers, and we can all find a way to enjoy it depending on our circumstances and what we are prepared to invest in it.

    I really don’t mind what someone else chooses to do, but it has crossed my mind that many do not make an informed choice, but simply follow the herd. Now, if they see something in the model press and it inspires them to have a go (I remember seeing an exceptionally well executed layout here in the UK which was directly inspired by a project in Model Railroader) then that’s great. What concerns me is that frequently the alternative views of the hobby – particularly those which emphasise the craft of finescale and the joy of building it oneself – are ignored and sometimes derided. I have left forums because I don’t want to be a part of a rush to the lowest common denominator, and felt increasingly unwelcome for saying so.

    Sorry, but who wants to be mediocre? Not me! And that means nothing more than a desire to improve, for each model to be a little bit better, for new materials and techniques to be tried out, to read about and meet exceptional modellers, and to share what I have learned…