I spend too much time lurking around on different forums. Of all the things I see in the way of conversations, I notice a lot of pain in people’s experience of the hobby.

By pain I mean the questions people have that center on things they don’t know how to do, find, or otherwise resolve. Things like how to fit more trackplan into their space. How to find a piece of information. How to make a bunch of disparate components work together, whether they were ever intended to or not. How do I do this or who makes that? Follow any online forum or group for a short period and you’ll see what I mean. It’s hard to keep up with it all.

Part of this is newcomer syndrome. Novice modelers simply don’t have the experience or knowledge base to draw from that long time veterans do. Another possibility could be there’s too much information to keep track of.

There’s a well documented phenomena of how people’s ability to choose decreases radically when they are given too many options to pick from. Regardless of the modeling scale, have we now reached a point of such abundance that it’s no longer possible to adequately process the info?


It could be too that given this abundance of choice, our expectations are so far out of whack given the twenty-first century realities surrounding our time and other resources, that we simply aren’t having the experience of the hobby we’ve been promised. Maybe the unspoken promise was all about how easy the hobby could be, or about how basement space is a terrible thing to “waste”, so you needed to fill it as quickly as possible before the rest of the family laid claim to some of it. I honestly don’t know, I’m just thinking out loud here.

From my own experience I’ve learned what works for me where the hobby is concerned. It has been a bumpy, frustrating road, full of pot holes, distracting and expensive side trips and other dead-end paths, played over the span of decades of my adult life. I suspect many others would agree based on their own journeys.

It would be nice if I could have pushed a button and avoided the dead-ends and missteps altogether but, it could also be that I had to go down some of those bumpy rabbit holes and side trips to understand what it was I was ultimately looking for. Many may concur with that thought too.

It could also be that we’ve done a poor job of understanding how the hobby has changed from the so called golden-era of whenever. Again, I don’t have ironclad answers to offer, just wondering aloud to myself and anyone who cares to listen.

While seeking advice and input can result in breakthroughs or increased understanding, in the end, it is your hobby. I can’t tell you how to practice it, or whether another loop of track will bring the satisfaction you’re hoping it will. You have to decide that for yourself. You have to invest in it first in order to receive later. How? By doing your homework about what it is you really want and, by setting priorities that are realistic in terms of what you can bring to the hobby.

On this blog I speak a lot about the joys of certain aspects like scratchbuilding; smaller, simpler layout designs and so on. I’ll continue to promote those thoughts, but unless someone is ready to explore them or open to trying something new, I’m not going to convince anyone no matter how articulate or compelling the case I make may be.

That said, I do think that repeated exposure to new ideas has merit when it is done in a non dogmatic way. Something I need to put a great deal more work into learning. No, I haven’t given up the good fight but, as I said, it’s your hobby. How you practice it and to what degree is entirely up to you.

Have fun folks, however you want to define fun. Understand though that hobby isn’t always as  linear in nature as we would like but, it can be as simple or as infuriating as you make it.



  1. Ed Kozlowsky

    I’m 65 this year and can honestly say that I’m happy to be where I am in the hobby, and am still learning. It was worth the time and effort expended getting where I am now, including all the mistakes and mis-starts. Part of the experience was learning a whole lot about who I am and what gives me pleasure in the hobby. It’s a “piece” of life and cannot be safely separated from the rest. One thing I’ll always remember from Linn Wescott’s book on John Allen. In John’s later stages of life he commented on what a time hog maintenance had become. Your approach mitigates a good deal of that fear.

  2. mike

    “Part of the experience was learning a whole lot about who I am and what gives me pleasure in the hobby.”

    Hi Ed,
    I agree. I went through various phases of interest based on popular magazine articles and authors that I had to get out of my system before I began the process of figuring out what I wanted.

    There’s nothing wrong with asking question on a forum, it’s how lot’s of newcomers are going to learn about the hobby. What I question is the growing practice online of dumping a set of criteria out to a group and then expecting others to do your thinking for you.

    Posts like, here’s what I want, now help me design my trackplan ( a process guaranteed to end in frustration and disappointment), or pick out my DCC system, even whose kits give the best results? (Answer: It depends on your skill level.)

    After all my time in the hobby, I guess I’ve forgotten what it’s like to be a beginner. These types of questions seem to be growing in number and just leave me feeling sad for the state of things. If a person isn’t willing to invest some mental energy into learning for himself, then he isn’t going to come close to enjoying the fullness of what this hobby has to offer.

    End of rant. -Mike

  3. Simon

    That said, I do think that repeated exposure to new ideas has merit when it is done in a non dogmatic way. Something I need to put a great deal more work into learning. No, I haven’t given up the good fight but, as I said, it’s your hobby. How you practice it and to what degree is entirely up to you.

    There is a difference between honest enthusiasm, and dogma. Unfortunately, it is not a black and white transition, but an expression of what one believes, of the conclusions one has drawn from one’s own experiences and indeed those gained vicariously can be put politely and respectfully without being dogmatic or apologetic. It is a difficult balancing act, and as an Englishman, one I am not very good at – we either appear apologetic or arrogant, I fear. To be perfectly frank, I worry that you are too concerned with not offending people. Don’t be. You come across as a very thoughtful, considerate person, with an interesting story to tell – an interesting story which is still being told, come to that.

    I have come to the conclusion that I like blogs which encourage response and dialogue to pure blogs, and both to forums which seem too often to devolve to appeasing the mediocre, or to praising a small clique. A blog allows the blogger to express and explain a point of view, and comments allow a Socratic conversation to slowly evolve, rather than an Hegelian dialectic leading to discord instead of discourse.

    Getting to understand other points of view enriches the human condition: this is not to everyone’s taste, and sadly often ignored in preference to ego.

    I welcome your blog, The Missing Conversation, the Modelling Masterclass series, and indeed our personal off-blog conversations which have resulted from these. They have helped me enormously in finding my own path – you have saved me from years of frustration – and given me a lot of cause for thought.

    Walk tall, stand proud. Carry on as you are – not everyone will be interested, but for those who are, your output is a delight.


  4. downeast

    If you think your time on various forums is too much, you can always cut back. I rarely contribute anymore on the general forums because there is just too much newcomer stuff. If I spent all my time answering how to install Kadee couplers and the like, I would never get anything done personally. I have also concluded that many of the questioners have poor social skills and can’t come up with a simple ‘thank you’. One must assume that they were satisfied with the answer.

    What I have done is to pick several modelers that I can mentor and several more that are like minded with whom I can have really productive conversations about railroad modeling. They are not all in my own scale, but all share in the exhilaration of prototype research and the ability to model specific prototypes. When one converses at those levels it can be very productive and challenging. What I find frustrating on the general forums is that if I answer a question specifically from my experience, the ‘thread’ can be high jacked as a springboard for non-related topics, or worse, others will jump in with ideas that they have obviously never tried. So often, legitimate answers get buried.

    I have a chance at one last railroad which means focus with little distraction. It’s all planned and just needs the execution. I’ll take photos and notes as I go along because some of the construction will be a bit unorthodox and I don’t have time for defending my ideas on some forum. Is that selfish? I’d rather complete the project than talk about it. As you pointed out above, “It’s Your Hobby” So, yes, I’m now in P48 and loving it and I want to finish the course.
    Regards always, Ben

  5. mike

    Hi Simon,

    Thanks for the kind words. No need to worry, I’m as opinionated as ever and haven’t changed my views. I do however, feel I’ve been too judgmental toward other views and segments of the hobby in the past, coming across as a bit arrogant. As you said, it’s a delicate balancing act, one that none of us walk perfectly. I’m still finding my way with how to best present my views while allowing to share theirs.

    Well written blogs are a joy for me too. Trevor Marshall’s being one, yours another in addition to several others. Every forum I have belonged to has degenerated into a shouting match or the conversations drift into irrelevance on too many topics. Not always, of course but too often for my tastes. All it takes is for one person to flip the switch and the race to the bottom is on. Like Ben, I have better things to do. (See next comment below.)

    A thoughtful, genuine conversation among like-minded folk is more satisfying by far.


  6. mike

    Hi Ben,

    I was speaking rhetorically. My time on a forum is to get a sense the issues people are dealing with along with the mindset they’re bringing with them.

    I like your idea of mentoring fellow modelers individually.


  7. Simon

    I have also concluded that many of the questioners have poor social skills and can’t come up with a simple ‘thank you’. One must assume that they were satisfied with the answer.

    I recently dealt with a consistent offender in this respect by waiting a reasonable time, then posting the following:

    Don’t mention it.

    Oh, you didn’t.

    A bit lot rude, perhaps, but it got the message across, and was less rude than the cumulative graceless lack of thanks from a prolific poster.


  8. Simon

    Quote mark out of place. What I posted was:

    Don’t mention it.

    Oh, you didn’t.

  9. mike

    Hi Simon,
    Simple courtesy does seem a forgotten art doesn’t it? The anonymous nature of email encourages behavior people would seldom commit in person.

    This is why I request that people sign their posts here. It’s a simple courtesy to all to know who is speaking. Further, if a person won’t take ownership of their words, I have no patience for them on the blog.

    Thank you for mentioning it Simon.


  10. Simon

    You are welcome.