If model railroading is supposed to be so much fun, I wasn’t having any. When I took up it again in the 1990s, I started filling my basement with multiple layouts that snaked along every available wall. I moved and removed the same partition wall at least three times. I built a new wall and later removed it, all driven by the requirements of some trackplan. The punch line for this joke is that none of these plans ever satisfied me. There was always another one that promised to be perfect, whispering its siren song in my ears.

After years of this frustrating experience I was ready to walk away, thinking that I had a deep character flaw that prevented me from ever seeing anything through. The real issue was that I was chasing a dream I actually didn’t want. You see I’m an introvert at heart and I’ve learned that has a huge impact on my practice of the craft.

The mainstream hobby seems to have a singular focus on big layouts, monthly op sessions and other extroverted activities. As an introvert, managing people for an operating session is a nightmare and I have been very critical of the implied notion that this is the only way to enjoy the craft. Us quiet folks over in the corner can feel left out because we aren’t with “the program.” If you’re introverted like me, you may or may not share similar feelings.

The social aspects of the craft are clearly enjoyable for many of you and I must admit there are times when I’m envious of others who are more outgoing. I’m not a life-of-the-party guy though and noisy crowded environments drain the life out of me. I prefer quieter conversations with one or two like-minded people and, by deliberate choice my practice of the craft is a solitary, creative pursuit more than a social one. In fact, I think of modeling time as a safe haven from the chaos that life throws at you.

These weeds are easy to ignore under regular circumstances, but they bring a contrast to the moving train in the background that makes the image what it is. Without them, it would just be an out-of-focus photo of a train.

It’s easy to feel misunderstood and overlooked as an introvert. Many are not assertive, preferring to remain in the background as an observer rather than a participant. However, introverts bring a number of strengths to the modeling conversation.

Introverts can be keen observers, noticing details and nuances others overlook. We like to deepen our understanding before commenting or offering opinions. Introverts often see connections and how ideas cross-pollinate from different disciplines.

We often bring a deep introspection and self-awareness to our modeling. I have a stubborn independent streak that fuels a desire to go my own way. You’ve seen that expressed many times in these posts. Today I try to be less dogmatic about getting my point across, so that others have room to bring their own understanding to the conversation. It’s a balancing act that is never done perfectly on my part.

On the positive side this stubbornness helped me clarify my modeling interests, freeing me from the one-of-everything syndrome that prevents others from choosing a direction for their work. Speaking personally, I find this clarity liberating rather than limiting. If you’re bored, it’s not the subject, it’s because you brought that boredom with you. Introverts have learned how to be comfortable in their own skin. We can bring a curiosity to the work that keeps us engaged. I’ve learned that any subject has many layers to explore.

If you’re an introvert who feels torn between what the mainstream promotes and what you find more enjoyable, go with your heart. Understand that your choices are as important as those more vocal and/or popular gurus that everybody clings too. Learn what truly interests you and give it all you’ve got. In my view, this craft is what you make of it and what you can discover for yourself as a result.

The work of OST Publications is a reflection of my quiet thoughtful approach to the craft. There are plenty of writers, bloggers and hobby gurus who garner more attention for their views than I do here. I could and probably should hawk the books more than I do but I have a hard time finding that balance and while sales are important, I’m not chasing numbers. Instead, I’m learning to use my strengths as an introvert to play a longer game; one that I believe will ultimately pay better dividends. If I tried to be an extrovert like the others, it would sound phony in a heartbeat.



  1. Simon

    That’s a nice post, Mike. It might be 30 years since I graduated with a BS in psychology, but you have explained the difference between introverts and extroverts pretty well. Introverts get their stimulation and energy from within, and this drives the search for meaning, the focus on details, and the connections. Mixing with (too many) others simply creates sensory overload. Extroverts get their stimulation from interacting with (often large) groups, not seeing so much the detailed connections, but the larger picture and how to use it. We need both, and we need both to understand each other’s point(s) of view.

    As you say, we don’t all want to host or even attend large operation sessions, neither are all modellers interested in the disciplined approach to, for example, the Proto approach to finescale. Neither is inherently better than the other, except for each individual, who must needs find their own balancing point of the continuum. I don’t think it is just introverts who should go with their heart: this applies to all of us.

    But the starting point is to allow oneself to actually know what the heart desires. Gnothi seauthon, as the Greeks have it. The difficulty is in allowing oneself to be free of the latest trend, of the latest advertisement, of what everyone else says one should do. These influences should not be ignored: but they are what they are, influences and should be recognised as such. If the mainstream is attractive, go with it, but if something different is more appealing, then all I can suggest is that you stop what you are doing and listen to yourself!

    Is it a balancing act? I am not sure. There is a subtle difference between trying to balance, and trying to find the fulcrum. The for,er treats, if you like, the symptoms whereas the latter identifies the cause. Often harder, but in the long run, much more useful.

    Keep flying the flag,


  2. Dave Eggleston

    Mike, a great post, good advice for introverts. I worked in high tech in a company dominated by extroverts. It was a major effort to get people to understand the introverts and their contributions. I don’t miss those battles now that I’ve left.

    I think modelers can benefit from breaking with the “large model railroad is better” mentality. I’ve never built one–I’ve never had the space, time nor cadre of interested friends–but I fully bought into the idea that prototypical realism and operational excitement comes from bigger layouts. I have no issue with big layouts, there’s a place for all in this hobby. I’ve operated on larger layouts but I’ve found over the years what I really like are yard, switching and local operations. One serious downside of large layouts for me is the required crowd of operators which become a hinderance to enjoyment as they get in the way and can be noisily socializing, distractions I don’t care for when I’m in the mental zone of the switching.

    My discovery of the British exhibition layout scene in the 1990s (very small focused layouts), tied to my interests in localized single train switching operations, led me to head toward a smaller, single person concept. What really freed me was discovering more realistic prototypical operation promoted by people like Lance Mindheim, a philosophy that expands the layout and operations of small layouts through how you operate them. Suddenly I had an epiphany: my small L-shaped space provides enough space for a straightforward and satisfying industrial layout of 2-5 spots. Small equals constant progress and simpler maintenance. And satisfying solo operation anytime I want. I think I’ve found that balance point for myself.

    People do push back on this style of modeling as not being ideal for a variety of reasons. I disagree. I think we all get wrapped up in dreams of more must be better. What it did for me was freeze my modeling completely until I woke up to alternatives just as fun, on a smaller physical and social scale, more feasible and just as prototypical. I know what I like isn’t for everyone but I do know that properly planned it works and has many advantages and rewards for the solo or introvert modeler embracing it. It is satisfying and fits my personal preferences.

    I have a confession. I’m an extrovert. But I like to enjoy my creative distractions solo. I like to research the heck out of them and then build. I don’t mind sharing, but mostly I enjoy doing this solo. If I tried to approach this hobby as an extrovert I’m sure I’ll fail. It isn’t me. I get where you’re coming from. And I think too many people don’t.

  3. mike

    Hi Simon,

    As social creatures, we want to fit in and be liked. I think this applies just as much to a hobby as it does to any other aspect of life. I also believe that our approach to a hobby will mirror the way we approach other things, i.e. our professions, other relationships and so on. We may treat a freely chosen activity with less emphasis than others, but I think our character exerts an impact.

    So much of what I see today is what one author calls personality driven. That is a focus on quick-fix solutions that require the least amount of time and effort. We will naturally gravitate to these, especially when we see others doing the same. It’s the social proof that we’re part of the crowd. As I mentioned in the post, I’m wired differently. Sure, I want confirmation of my ideas and the acceptance of others as much as anyone. But I’m driven toward ideas that are especially interesting to me, even as they are of little interest to others. As an introvert, My fulfillment comes from engaging with said ideas and concepts, rather than being one of the crowd. It is a balancing act as you say, one I seldom do perfectly. Great to hear from you again.


  4. mike

    Welcome to the blog David. I agree with your sentiments. They sound remarkably similar to my own journey.