Our craft evolves via a series of ideas that find acceptance over time.

It’s well to remember that things we take for granted today were once considered impractical. The ability to independently control two trains on a single section of track was a pipe dream once, as was two-rail DC control. Each idea persisted until technology caught up with the vision.

In a world dominated by quarter-inch scale, HO scale was a novelty once, as was N scale mere decades later in a world dominated by HO.

The idea that a model train could do more than chase its tail around a sheet of plywood was new at one time. Today, we take it for granted that our models can replicate a purposeful sequence of moves inspired by full-size railroad operations.

The abundance of accurate, ready-to-run equipment came about because a handful of modelers began to share their observations about the differences among freight cars. From an era of the generic, when few cared whether a model represented a specific car, we now understand that not all boxcars are cut from the same cloth. Furthermore, now we expect those differences, both major and minor, to be accurately rendered by manufacturers.

And so it goes, ideas crop up and make the journey from being some idiot’s harebrained scheme, to maybe that might work, and on to why isn’t everybody doing this? Or, in business terms: from the fringe, to the early adopters, to the mass market and finally to the late adopters and your Aunt Tilly.

Our craft is no different.

I wonder, what sorts of harebrained ideas are we dismissing today, that we’ll take for granted tomorrow? What sacred cows are we clinging to that will soon be as antiquated as outside third rail power distribution?



  1. Simon

    “What sacred cows are we clinging to that will soon be as antiquated as outside third rail power distribution?”

    Using rails to provide power and control signals. Batteries keep on getting smaller, as do the electronics required to provide wireless control, and other effects.


  2. Chris Mears

    It’s certainly a fascinating time. Maybe it’s just me but the hobby feels old enough to have developed a history layer and we are at a time where we’re far enough “in” that we can start to gaze back and compare then to now. Conversations like this one certainly fit.

    I wonder how the point of entry for the typical new modeller will change. In the mid-century period we had folks entering the hobby through train sets on Christmas morning. Today we have new modellers who arrive at the hobby as a modelmakers who might traditionally have gravitated more toward plastic models like tanks and like military vehicles.

    I’m wagering that changes in the definition of where we call home will have an affect on the hobby. I guess, this is asking how much longer for the basement empire layout? How long until we just can’t have those any more and what will the new “serious” layout look like?

    Great conversation again Mike. Thank you.


  3. mike

    Hi Simon,
    I almost included that example in the text. It’s early days for battery power but I feel that coupled with advances in motor and drive train design, we haven’t seen anything yet. Your country men are doing some remarkable things with axle mounted motors and drive trains. I can see it progressing toward a self contained onboard package that isn’t dependent on a DCC signal through the rails to power lights and or sound effects.


  4. mike

    Hi Chris,

    I agree. People are exploring new ideas and questioning old ones. The craft has always changed according to lifestyle factors and that will continue as long as we practice it. Like you, I feel the train set/Christmas paradigm has seen its day and we need a rethink on how to introduce people to this work and what it has to offer them. I also think you touched on something that needs more discussion: layout size. A friend once told me that there are far more average sized layouts than basement empires, and I think he was right. Our view has been skewed to the “empire” vision because that is what is held up as the ideal.

    I for one seriously question the viability of that vision. Not just in terms of the cost but I believe the time crunch everyone seems to feel will play a bigger role in driving change toward more realistic designs than the pundits would like to believe. With ever more demands and distractions being imposed, it’s harder than ever to sustain the long term focus such a massive project requires. Of course for those who truly want a large layout, they find a way to have one but, at what cost?



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