The changes in model railroading over the last thirty years reflect the changes in our society at large. Modeling skills that were once common knowledge are today considered too hard to learn. The internal satisfaction enjoyed from doing work with your own hands has been systematically assaulted by mindless consumerism. Why bother handlaying track when you can fill a basement with flex track? Why bother scratchbuilding, with so much ready-to-run available? Who has time is the refrain heard in many hobby circles now. Among increasing distractions and over scheduling, some people now consider the time required for such things a wasteful indulgence. This, in my view, is where we’ve arrived. It begs the question: Is this where we want to be? I, for one, must answer no.

Seeing ready-to run touted as the panacea for the allegedly time-starved modeler and in some quarters, the disrespect toward the ongoing and lengthy practice of developing skill in the hobby makes me sad. I’m not alone in these sentiments. Serious modelers share similar views about the loss of respect for craft, excellence and taking the time required to build genuine skills. It’s a sad testimony that such dedication to excellence is labeled as snobbery and elitism by a small minority these days. The craftsmen I have met and corresponded with are as far removed from the category of snobs as one can get. To a person, they are among the most humble people in the hobby and the most generous and helpful. I started The Missing Conversation, a publication that presents the hobby as more than the empty pursuit of mass consumerism and escapist fun, in response to this downward spiral. It’s dedicated to those who still strive for the best in their modeling.

The wild west.
It’s a new world in publishing now and so far, there’s no law west of the Pecos. Current technology makes the tools of publishing and global distribution more accessible and easier to use than at any point in human history. That’s the good news. What’s the bad news? Mere tools don’t make a craftsman. A keyboard, an Internet connection and a blogging account hardly makes one a publisher. Because the barriers to entry in publishing have fallen so drastically, there’s exponentially more noise and clutter in the marketplace that one has to sift through and filter out. As a result, getting and maintaining a person’s attention has become more difficult and said attention more valuable. The ability to craft a compelling story and to convey ideas via words and images is a more urgent skill than ever.

Having something of genuine value to offer and doing it in a quality manner is simply the price of entry now. I chose to focus the magazine on works of excellence and to cover a single topic in each issue, in contrast to the something-for-every-taste approach common elsewhere. I simply don’t want to play that general interest game. Producing such a tightly focused publication is feasible now because finding a niche audience is both practical and cost effective.

The design of the magazine is uncluttered and simple, another deliberate choice. With a slightly larger font size, a clean and easy to follow page layout, it’s meant to be read, not skimmed. A quarterly publication schedule allows adequate time to research articles and to produce a high quality product and, while the first two volumes featured my views and work, volumes three and four will feature the work of outside authors for a broader perspective. The work of these individuals was specifically chosen for the quality and the contribution they’re making to the hobby.

Another deliberate choice was to keep the magazine ad free. I want to be accountable to my readers first and foremost and want the magazine to stand or fall on the merits of its content. Forgoing advertising revenue flies in the face of conventional wisdom. Such revenue can often become a two-edged sword and a crutch that you’re dependent upon for survival. If the publication is going to fail, it’s better to know it sooner rather than later.

I’m well aware the $9.99 cover price is an immediate turn-off for many people. Since it isn’t subsidized by ads and given the amount of work put into each volume, plus the fact we pay our authors for commissioned articles, Joe and I believe the cover price is a fair exchange of value. Ultimately though, that decision is yours.

The Missing Conversation is an experiment in model railroad publishing and the ultimate outcome is unknown. I chose the long road and an artisan’s approach because I feel both will be more rewarding in the end for the readers and myself. The fate of the magazine rests in your hands. Your continuing support will be critical to its long-term success.

TMC 02 Cover

Volume 02 will be available November 1. The theme continues the discussion of layout design from Vol. 01 by focusing on the practical matters of making real world choices in the design of a layout. Volume 03 switches gears by covering the topic of finescale modeling in the different scales. Look for it in early January 2013.


  1. ggealy


    I don’t agree with your perception that modeling skills were common 30 years. I can log onto eBay any given day and find kits from at least 30 years ago without too much trouble. Yes, I agree model skills are definitely not common now but I also think they were not common “back in the day” either.


  2. ggealy

    My point is that if modeling skills were common 30 years ago,all those kits should have been built, right? But they weren’t because modeling wasn’t common.

  3. mike

    Hi Gary,
    You’re certainly entitled to your opinion, which I respect. I think your conclusion is a bit of a stretch though. There are likely a host of reasons for the presence of old kits online. I still contend that, in the past, many more people were willing to build, kitbash or completely scratchbuild what they needed than today.

    As Joe noted in his Nov/Dec column in OST, time is a more valued commodity in people’s minds today (another influence from outside the hobby). This is just one factor among many that drives the shift in attitude toward the hobby.

    Amateur golfers say they would love to play like the pros but nobody wants to put in the practice time and effort a pro does. Many would like to model to the degree that Tom Mix does, but no one wants to put in the years Tom spent to develop his skills. Waiting for instant gratification won’t get you anywhere.


  4. ggealy


    I must admit the name Tom Mix was not familiar to me. I asked my friend Mr. Google and he lead me to the article over on the P48 site about building drivers. Wow, very impressive work.

    What do you think of the theory that some hobbyists might want to pursue other aspects of model railroading and that the shift to ready-to-run has enabled modelers to do just that. Like I said the drivers are awesome, but there are only so many hours in the day. I can see some hobbyists pursuing such interests as Operations, Historical Research or some other aspect of the hobby. Would you say these endeavors also fall under the category of “…who still strive for the best in their modeling.” as you say in your original post?

    Thanks for Reading,


  5. mike

    …Would you say these endeavors also fall under the category of “…who still strive for the best in their modeling.” as you say in your original post?…

    Hi Gary,

    Yes. I have always maintained that this is a wide ranging hobby where people’s interests are concerned. Your point is a valid one indeed.


  6. willbacker45

    Fantastic stuff Mike! This makes me even more anxious for the next installment!

    Unfortunately, I have somewhat of a hard time relating to this post as I do not know what the hobby was like 30 years ago. Only being 22 makes it impossible for me to have experienced that period of MRRing 😉 haha! But from my research of the great hobbyists (Dean Freytag among others) of the past have given me some insight into how they had to refine what they knew and develop new skills to create what they wanted. Now it seems (especially in HO and 3 rail O gauge) that everyone has the same Walthers Grain Co, or New River Mine, or Cement plant or whatever. People claim that they do not have the time to research and learn and build the prototypical things that are on their prototype RR. They are OK with the “stand in” generic. This might not be so bad, at least they are modeling and furthering the hobby, but a little creativity never hurts, Maybe it is the way of our society, I often feel like I am rushing around from job to school to job to home for homework to make dinner to take the dog out to mow the grass to whatever. It is A LOT! But hobby time is supposed to be slow down unwind and relax time. Not quickly tape together a building slap down some EZ track and race trains around time. Its sad the great modelers are deemed “Old Rivit Counters” I think they just know whats right and whats wrong! If you are going to do something wrong and you know its wrong why waste your time doing it at all???

  7. Ed Kozlowsky

    30 years might be a little too late, but I remember when the only ready to run were cheap, poorly detailed toys. If you wanted anything remotely accurate you had to at least build a kit, usually made of wood. I’m not saying that the new crop of ready to run aren’t nice to look at, but the hobby of model construction and skill developement has taken a hard hit, as you say. We were pretty much forced to learn. The thing that motivated me most was having something I built with my own hands. There were no model building sevices back then, nor were there companies that would build “your dream layout”. Even if there were, few had the money to pay for it. Don’t forget, there were no credit cards. I guess in the end the biggest reason so many people buy what they want instead of building it is because they can. You could say that model railroading today is “the hobby that credit built”, or affluence, depending on how you want to look at it. Today’s model builders choose to do what they do because they love doing it, not because they have to. I like having the choice.

  8. Trainman263

    Mike, I first want to thank you for your time and effort. I have read some great articles over the last 6 months. Yes the hobby has changed, some good some not so good. But what you do with it is what is important. I have been in this for almost 40 years. I am fairly talented in some aspects and not in others. I have tried hand laying track and found it very frustrating! but on the other hand I very much enjoy detailing engines, rolling stock, also painting and weathering them. These last ones I am very good at. The thing I guess I am trying to say is. Everyone should at least try to touch on every aspect of the hobby once. find what they are good at and enjoy!

  9. mike

    Hi everyone,
    I’m just back from Naperville and the RPM meet there. Allow me to settle in a bit and digest what’s been happening here with your comments before I respond in depth.


  10. mike

    Consider yourself lucky that you’re too young to remember the bad old days!

    I don’t know if we’re witnessing a major shift in society or not. Maybe it’s just me sneaking up on sixty and all that comes with it. Life at your age can be overwhelming with all that is required to get your feet on the ground. I sympathize with your situation.

    From Ed,
    …”You could say that model railroading today is “the hobby that credit built”, or affluence, depending on how you want to look at it. Today’s model builders choose to do what they do because they love doing it, not because they have to. I like having the choice.”

    Agreed Ed.

    I do feel there is a shift in the hobby underway among those who are no longer satisfied with the status quo in model railroading. The never ending emphasis on getting more stuff and on monster sized layouts running everywhere out the wazzoo is a dead end. I’ll put it more plainly: Thinking that “stuff” is going to satisfy will leave just leave you empty and wanting more and more.

    I’ll concede the idea that a hobby of one’s choice can, and perhaps should, be whatever one wants it to be. I’ll concede the idea that time is more valued than money for most people now. What I won’t concede is how unrealistic many people’s expectations are.

    It should be so simple. You look at the prototype and model what you see. Yet, we love to complicate the heck out of everything from layout design (triple decks will give you three times the mainline run in a given space (Yuck)), what track standards to use, wheel and flange sizes and you name it. Why? (Very simplistic answer: so somebody can make a buck.)

    From Trainman,
    …”Everyone should at least try to touch on every aspect of the hobby once. find what they are good at and enjoy!”

    Trainman, If I’ve learned anything at all over the last thirty plus years in this hobby it’s this: Less is more. Getting your hands dirty while learning a new skill is more satisfying than taking something out of a box and finally, modelers don’t have the first clue about how the prototype actually operates.

    Will, Ed, and Trainman, you’ve all made good points and my comments and their prickly tone certainly aren’t directed at any of you specifically. They’re just the ranting of a guy whose is fed up with where the general hobby seems to be going. I know I’m sort of preaching to the choir and I know there’s not a thing I can do to stop the slide either. Time for this crabby blogger to get some sleep.