For a significant portion of the last year, I’ve preached about how the craft can become a means for self-motivated learning. It’s time to put meat on those words.

The past few weeks I’ve been working on my locomotive. The bare chassis has happily skittered around the layout for years, while the body remained in the box. It begs the question, why?

Question 12 of 20 questions: “Are assumptions hurting the (or my) hobby?”
In truth, utter laziness is a huge part of it. After switching to quarter-inch scale, I spent those early years building the layout and doing tasks that I enjoyed far more than building rolling stock.

Lesson A:
I’ve learned that how I do one thing strongly reflects my approach to everything. My hobby time is no different in that I will avoid things which make me uncomfortable, even if the end results are beneficial. (Like a well detailed loco.)

The statement will be made that it’s only a hobby and you do as you please. Agreed, yet people have busted my chops more than once over the lack of trains in my blog photos and I’ve always made some excuse for their absence. It is a hobby and I’ll say that if I wanted to detail the layout to the nines and use it as a giant photo stage, I’d do exactly that regardless of other’s opinions. Despite the allegations, that isn’t my objective for it and I’m tired of both the snarky comments and of watching a bare motor, frame and trucks scamper around pretending to be motive power.

Question one of 20: Is model railroading frustrating?
Yes. At times damnably so. The locomotive still isn’t finished, having suffered a host of setbacks and missteps, all of my own doing and all fueled by my impatience. (Are we having fun yet model railroaders?)

Lesson B:
I’m impatient to the max and didn’t need a hobby to figure that out. When I enjoy doing something like laying track or scenery work, I can bring all the patience in the world to the task. Using those skills feels good to the core, which only reinforces the desire to use them.

But, working out of my cozy little comfy zone doesn’t feel so great, especially when it’s clear I haven’t a clue about what I’m doing. It feels crappy to face your own ineptitude.

Question three of 20: Why is fun a prerequisite for a hobby?
Question four of 20: What constitutes fun?

This is where my impulse to hurry up and get it over with comes into full flower. After all, who wants to do stuff that isn’t fun?

Lesson C:
I learned to handlay turnouts when I was a teenager but I didn’t build a decent one until well into my 20s (or was it my 40s?) Those first ones were ugly, never worked and weren’t fun. But there were dozens more after those, and still more after that. Over time, I learned the requirements for building reliable turnouts from scratch. This eventually freed me to build track as I wanted rather than be a slave to the specifications of manufactured track. That’s when the real fun began.

Question 14 of 20: Are people afraid to challenge their assumptions about model railroading?
In a word, yes. This is where I’m at with the GP9. Despite decades of experience in the craft, some of my modeling skills are profoundly rusty but I believe I should be better than I am simply because I’m competent in other areas. Reality tells another story.

All my blabbering on about craftsmanship and excellence is really aimed at myself because when it comes to modeling rolling stock, I’m not competent at all. I have a learning curve to navigate and more mistakes to endure before the outcomes on the bench reflect what I see in my mind, if indeed they ever do.

The standard advice is chill out, lower my standards and just have f_n. (Hey, have you heard, it’s a hobby!) It would’ve been easy to give up after a few crappy turnouts but I pressed on even when it looked hopeless, which was often. I’ll keep after the GP9 too, even though I’ve botched two different paint jobs and it’s reaching the point where the shell won’t tolerate the abuse from stripping them off without suffering damage to the details. It isn’t fun now but it will lead to a good place eventually. As the old saw goes, if it was easy, everyone would do it.



  1. Simon

    Fun? Short-term, glib.

    Enjoyment? Balanced, longer-term, but we don’t like doing things we don’t enjoy.

    Satisfaction? An enduring sense of accomplishment arising from overcoming obstacles.

    Assumptions? Whether they are someone else’s or your own, dump them. They are just a restraint on your freedom of thought – and a freedom layout needs freedom of thought.

    Model railroading? A very satisfying hobby. “Fun” doesn’t even begin to leave the dressing room of the arena of enjoyment, let alone approach the pinnacle of satisfaction.

    Ignore those who reduce the hobby to the lowest common denominator.

    Pause. Reflect. Act.
    Don’t look back.


  2. mike

    Thanks for sharing Simon.


  3. Simon

    I was a bit forthright (even by my standards) but I think this is a brilliant hobby, and the deeper one delves and the harder one pushes oneself, the more satisfying it becomes.

    I find this whole “fun” thing a bit superficial, even (maybe especially) when it is used to try to present a more human side of the hobby. Why not promote the levels of craftsmanship that goes into it? I am not concerned whether it is a single freight car made from scratch, or a complete train assembled from RTR, modified RTR and kits, provided that both have been researched enough to make them accurate, and that the modeller enjoyed doing it. These are both valid approaches: one focused on the way railways operated, and the other on closely observed trains, to borrow a phrase.

    When you get that Geep finished to your satisfaction (that word again) you will be able to stand back and enjoy every view, every movement, every moment you operate it, for you will know how much you put into it, and how much you gained from so doing.

    Simon – getting off the soapbox!

  4. renegourley

    Hi Mike,

    Well, I for one have fun playing with trains.

    I’ve been thinking about this conversation that you have sparked for a few days now, and in particular what constitutes fun anyway. I delved into the matter with my kids, who are experts in the matter, although not quite able to articulate what fun is. I looked up “fun” in the dictionary and pondered that for a while (“giving mirth or amusement” was the best definition). I looked back over the recent past for experiences that I would regard as fun, both within the hobby and without.

    What I came to realize is that, yes, the hobby is immensely satisfying, but those are primarily the times when we are building. For me, the satisfaction comes when a plan turns out as I had hoped, and I am able to achieve something a little beyond my former skill. I also get satisfaction, or perhaps it is pride from getting things running. These are contemplative parts of the hobby that can be enjoyed alone.

    The fun comes from getting together with friends and working on each others’ layouts or operating them. Last night, for example, two of us descended on my friend Scott to work on his layout; as I soldered, and they laid track, we shared many good-natured jibes with one another, all standing jokes that go back years. It was fun; not roller coaster fun, but fun nevertheless.

    On the operations side, anyone who has operated a layout can tell stories of near-cornfield meets, trains that got away or cars left in utterly the wrong place, and the ribbing that we give each other when things go that way. As a dispatcher, I love setting up something and then going into the train room to watch the folly unfold. It’s still not roller coaster fun, but a good time is had by all.

    So, okay, “model railroading is fun” is not completely true, but give the poor admen at Model Railroader a break: “fun can be had while model railroading” just doesn’t roll off the tongue quite the same.

    Nothing is fun all the time. For me, roller coasters are only fun for the first heart-stopping drop when you feel like you’re going to float off the seat and get left behind by the rushing train. The rest of the ride is getting tossed against the hard side of the car; speak nothing of waiting in line for the next ride.

    So, model railroading is fun. It is also satisfying, rewarding, educational, scholarly and occasionally heart-breaking. It isn’t any of these things all the time, nor would we want it to be.