When the discussion of getting new people interested in model railroading surfaces, the subject of the learning curve involved usually rears its head.
To all of the skeptics and hand-wringers out there who contend that The Curve is a major impediment to their progress and enjoyment, let me ask: how did you manage to get through it?
Long time veterans have a big problem. That being a deep body of domain knowledge they’ve spent twenty, thirty, forty or more years acquiring. When asked any kind of question, the answers are always filtered through this store of deep knowledge. We’ve forgotten that our deep knowledge is built on a foundation of a few core skills. A core of understanding that will cover 95% of situations a person will encounter in pursuit of the craft.
For example, when it comes to building things, all you really need to know is how to accurately layout and cut material to the proper length with square ends, and then, how to assemble the pieces with square corners as required. These basic skills, once learned, will cover things from benchwork to a scale structure, to a piece of rolling stock to a full-sized house.
At this stage, one doesn’t need to worry about the working nuances of various materials or benchwork design choices, or kits versus scratchbuilt. That understanding will come with time and more experience. For now, learning to measure, cut, and assemble things square and true will carry you a long way.
With laying track, all you need is an understanding of how to make smooth curves and assemble the rails together with smooth joints. This will cover any type of track from sectional to flex, to handlaid. The core knowledge of track is keeping it smooth and in gauge. Your understanding of the many track options available can come later with time and more experience.
Railroad and model terminology along with advanced concepts is another area of useless debate among know-it-alls who are married to their own opinions.
When it comes to terminology, my view is to present the proper terms, explain what they mean, if needed, and leave it at that. Why confuse people with simplistic, made-up hobby terms and thinking and then have to explain it all over again, with the right terms “if, or when, they’re more advanced and ready for it?”
Who is a beginner?
We toss this term “beginner” around as though there is a generic person so labeled. There are people who don’t know diddly squat about this craft and there are also people who bring a staggering amount of skilled knowledge with them. Both qualify as beginners, so who exactly are we referring to with the term?
Regardless of any pre-existing knowledge and skill a person may or may not bring, I truly believe we don’t give people coming into this hobby nearly enough credit for their ability to learn. I read a number of other craft related publications from woodworking to digital machining and I seldom see beginners in these disciplines treated the way we treat them in this increasingly bizarre hobby. If a newcomer voices an interest in and the motivation to learn timetable and train order operations, are we going to paternalistically tell them: I’m sorry but you’re new and that’s a very advanced concept that you’re not ready for. Or might we just embrace their enthusiasm for the subject and share the knowledge at a rate their motivated desire to learn it can handle?
The learning curve in this craft can be very steep indeed but, did any of us learn it all at once? No! I certainly didn’t. One of the things that keeps my interest going after forty-plus years, is that there is always something new to learn. Further, the Internet has changed the game for everyone whether we like it or not. Newcomers to the craft can become better informed in less time and with less effort than us geezers could ever imagine. Could some of this patronizing attitude be more about how embarrassed we are upon realizing how complacent we might have become?
Couldn’t we simply honor people as the intelligent, motivated adults they are by tuning into their willingness to learn and showing them a craft they can enjoy for a lifetime?
I know exactly what you mean. How often do magazines publish a build your first layout or build your first kit that is dumbed down? Your first kit doesn’t have to be simple, it just has to be well designed.
I wonder if this dumbing down is because people are told they have do simple things first or is it because people want to do simple things first? I wrote about something similar recently on my site in a mini article called ‘the forgotten compromise’. Essentially people build models on what they can achieve when they start and not always what they want to achieve.
(ps link here – http://www.p4newstreet.com/the-forgotten-compromise.html )
I read that post recently. Wonderful and thoughtful.
In thinking about this topic, I’ve come to realize that there are beginner oriented magazines (Model Railroader here in the US) and other magazines or journals aimed at more experienced people. Sadly, the publications for more serious modelers in the US have all but vanished, at least the print versions.
This is the same in other disciplines I’ve often mentioned like woodworking. There are magazines aimed at the casual weekend, non-committed hobbyist and those for serious woodworkers who practice full or part time.
I’ve questioned the in your face emphasis on how “fun” this hobby supposedly is. If it is so much fun, wouldn’t that be obvious? Why all the hard sell tactics around fun? (That was a rhetorical question. I know what the partial answer is.)
What frustrates me and I suspect others, is the one sided view of the hobby presented by the dominate beginner oriented mainstream. It’s so one sided.
Once again, great post. I must admit as I try new things in this hobby I become a novice in that area, but feel much more comfortable in other areas. In asking questions, I have found some modelers to be incredible helpful, others to not be so forthcoming in either information or in a positive attitude. As a experiential educator to 2nd-4th year pharmacy students, I have realized how vital it is to not only be a mentor, but to teach a solid core of lifelong skills in a way that is helpful to each student’s learning style. I try to do the same in the hobby. Especially as I teach my children about the hobby. Just the other evening, I showed my son how to solder rail and rail joiners.
Back to your beginner magazines, they really do not cater well as an educational source to modelers. There are not very many step by step, very basic diagram type of articles. A lot of would be and beginner modelers have a solid core of basic skills. They look at some of the layouts built by modelers who have been modeling for years and feel they are expected to do that or want that from day one. Special runs by Kalmbach and other publishers are a much better help as is attending local NMRA conventions for the beginner and new modeler.
I miss the magazines (print or electronic) for the advanced modeler. They help push me and make me a better modeler in the long run. I think this is what we need and support going forward, smaller more of a niche style of magazine or blog. Also, we need to include a good introductory to intermediate type of magazine or blog on this “want list.”
True. Very true: this is the most important skill in making anything.
I’ll let you know, after 30+ years of trying, when I get there…
As for mid-range magazines, they have come and gone in large part: I suspect that segment of the market is simply too small to support a “traditionally” arranged print magazine, requiring advertising and full-time staff. MRJ has survived because it is part of a publishing organisation run on very low costs. Even when it had “permanent” editors, they were only employed for one day a week, or so I am told. Without Paul Karau behind it, MRJ (and Wild Swan) simply wouldn’t exist.
“I must admit as I try new things in this hobby I become a novice in that area, but feel much more comfortable in other areas. In asking questions, I have found some modelers to be incredible helpful, others to not be so forthcoming in either information or in a positive attitude.”
Me too Matt. Feel very comfortable in some things due to long experience and much practice, while other things are brand new. It’s one of the true benefits of the craft that there is also something to learn regardless of how skilled you may be in certain areas.
Like you, I’ve found most folks to be very generous and helpful.
“There are not very many step by step, very basic diagram type of articles. A lot of would be and beginner modelers have a solid core of basic skills. They look at some of the layouts built by modelers who have been modeling for years and feel they are expected to do that or want that from day one.”
A magazine I especially like is Fine Woodworking. I like the way they present woodworking procedures in a clear, easy to follow manner with lots of photos and illustrations. What sets them apart in my view is I believe they made an editorial decision to not attempt to be everything to everybody. Whether by research, demographics or both, they know who their readers are and what skill level they bring. Therefore, they can present material that is geared to those readers.
Model magazines do the same to a degree, but because of the relatively small size of the overall market, they try to be all things to all people in order to capture as big a share as possible. And for folks like us who have outgrown basic beginner stuff, it’s frustrating. That’s why I no longer take Model Railroader.
“I miss the magazines (print or electronic) for the advanced modeler. They help push me and make me a better modeler in the long run. I think this is what we need and support going forward, smaller more of a niche style of magazine or blog.”
I assume that’s why you’re here Matt. 😉
I think you are more skilled than you let on.
I agree with the relative size of the market for advanced modelers and the need for an efficiently run organization to serve it. Equally important is the willingness and imagination of people for trying new things.
That’s very kind, but whenever I make something, there is an impressive pile of rejects: too short, too big, not square enough, etc. This is a form of progress: if I know something is not as good as I can manage, then I am not prepared to use it. And yet…
There are little details wher I “saved” 5 minutes by using a shortcut, and which then nag me later. Something about sinning in haste and repenting at leisure… festina lente!
By chance I was looking back at Lance Mindheim’s blog, and went to his 2008 archive.
Not a bad place to go, and search for this phrase:
“Becoming A Better Modeler (4/14/2008)”
Well worth it.