My american Flyer beginning

It often starts like this. Yep, that’s me with my American Flyer set-up.

Penn Central trio of Geeps in the late 1960s.

The journey continues as we think we know what we want, based on early influences. (Penn Central Geeps and a U-boat on the westbound freight main near the depot in Richmond in the late 1960s.)

Chessie System Geeps in the New River Gorge, 1985

But things can change as we explore the big wide world. (Chessis System Geeps in the West Virginia New River Gorge, 1985. My V&O inspired coal railroad phase)

Old PRR track in Centerville, IN. Late 1960s.

You can bounce from pillar to post until you finally realize what it is you’re looking for. (The yard job working Centerville in the 1960s. Look at that beautiful track work.)

NMRA (left) P48 (middle), Lionel (right)

When you finally make the choice about what’s truly important to you, things get simpler.

First crumbling attempt

For me, the craft isn’t about simple and easy solutions. Where’s the fun in that? It’s about trying and making mistakes…

Robert's Mill casting painted and weathered

…and learning from them as a way to get better. It’s about using something you’re drawn to as a means to push and challenge yourself to excel.

Otherwise, what's a practice for?

That’s what keeps you engaged with this craft for decades.

In a culture that worships at the alter of instant gratification, we’ve lost sight of the idea that this craft is a journey. I may have started with crude tinplate trains but I didn’t stay there. Even from an early age I wanted my models to look like the big trains outside. Closing the gap between what I can do and what I want to do has taken me decades of learning, trying, failing and trying again. It’s a process that won’t stop until I do. That’s a simple truth people used to understand. Now I’m not so certain people do anymore.

When the whine and cheese blather about how “that’s too hard” or “why bother when so much great stuff out of the box is just a click away,” or about how elitist snobs like me are ruining things for everybody with all this emphasis on excellence, I simply remember that no one is born a craftsman. It’s a life-long journey you choose to take. Yes, it can be hard and frustrating and at times I wonder if it’s worth it and then I’m reminded that it is.



  1. Doc

    Well, I guess that makes me an elitist snob too! Thanks for the great blog posts, Mike.

    I’m still trying to figure out how to scratch build the perfect Stillwell coach. And you’re right, it is a journey and it’s the challenge and “figuring things out” that makes it so interesting and fun.

    Best regards,
    Bill Doc

  2. mike

    Hi Bill. It’s been a long time and it’s good to hear from you again. Stay with that Stillwell project. Sometimes just staring at the material is the most productive thing you can do.


  3. Simon

    “Nothing of value can be achieved except through hard work.”

    – Stephen Fry, “The Hippopotamus”

  4. P4newstreet

    That’s very true Mike. There are scant few who think its ok to take years to build a model let alone those of us who think in decades! Personally the journey is everything while the destination is nothing at all. So much so that I’m not even remotely bothered if my layout is never finished.

  5. P4newstreet



    Jim (sorry!)

  6. mike

    Yes Jim, couldn’t agree more. It’s the doing, not the having.