Well here we are five days into the new year, do you have any unopened gifts still lingering about?


Seems a strange question to ask doesn’t it? Who wouldn’t open a gift? Sadly, lots of people because an unopened gift is exactly what you have when you have the potential to do something but won’t because you fear the effort involved or the risk of failing. Can you imagine an enticing box, beautifully wrapped with your name on it, yet you won’t open it because taking the wrapping and ribbon off is too hard? In these terms, it’s a ludicrous excuse, but it’s the default choice on the whine list made by many in their hobby. And no, that wasn’t a typo.

If you follow Simon Dunkley’s or Trevor Marshall’s blogs you know what I’m talking about. Over the weekend, both posted on the topic of people who won’t try to learn a skill because they believe they haven’t been anointed from on high with the ability to do said task, which in this case was handlaying track.

It’s a truly sad commentary on the attitudes that infect many aspects of our craft and society at large. In many ways our craft has sent the message that effort is no longer required what with all the manufactured manna from heaven that’s now just a swipe of a credit card and click of a computer mouse away. And of course, we’re always reminded that this is nothing more than playing with big boy toys, however sophisticated they may be. (I wonder if those who’ve invested the hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars required to manufacture our big boy toys see it that way?) And if it be nothing more than mindless casual play, what possible incentive is there to learn or improve?

Increasingly, I wonder if we aren’t exactly where we’ve consciously or unconsciously chosen to be.

Trying something new is an act of faith. There are no guarantees of success, but failure is guaranteed if you won’t even try. For decades I avoided anything to do with working in metal. Last year I took the plunge with my first attempts in making something from brass. The results are crude, even ugly. Failing over and over was a downer but I kept pushing and asking what went wrong this time? Just to add to the fun, I blogged multiple times about the whole episode, complete with close-up photos of all the ugliness coming off my bench. Rather than telling me what a doofus I am for all those failed attempts, people were encouraging and helpful by offering numerous tips on how to improve. It was never about me. It was about getting better at something through a process that anyone could follow. The ability to work with brass is a gift to my modeling (and to me!), one I finally decided to open.

Of course no one can force you to open your gifts.

Whether you do or don’t, that’s your decision, however, you’ll never experience the joy of using them if you don’t. Your call really but, why wouldn’t you?



  1. Jimbofin


    A very interesting analogy. Oddly just before reading this I was drafting a review of a range of basic wooden building kits that are now on the UK market. They are, in conventional terms, a little odd because whilst being laser cut they are intrinsically basic and exceptionally cheap. You could build one straight from the box, but because they are cheap and easy to modify/improve with a scalpel and some card there isn’t much point. I think they are a great idea.

    I suppose thirty or forty years ago such products were more common, at least int he UK. We had ranges like K’s kits for loco builders. Crude but a great starting point.

    It is hard to imagine an equivalent range being re-introduced in today’s market.


  2. mike

    Thank you James. On this side, we used to have steam locomotive kits available from at least two manufacturers. They were light on detail but assembled into a good basic engine that one could detail as one wished. Not certain if they would find a healthy market today either.


  3. Jimbofin


    That safety net is what people need though. “If I mess this up” either “it will still look better than the out of the box model” or ” I won’t have lost too much money” are very powerful mind sets. I don’t mind taking a hacksaw to a £20 ebay purchase, but would I touch a £100+ RTR model? I doubt it, and can you blame people for thinking like that?

    Many years ago MRJ ran a series about building a Manning Wardle tank from scratch, with a small pack of parts to buy to simplify construction. Perhaps that idea could be revisited but with the starter pack of parts packaged as a s freebie on the front cover.


  4. mike

    That’s a good point James, which is why Athearn “blue box” HO kits are still very popular. They’re cheap and easy to hack up for parts, or to add better details to. Lot’s of modelers cut their teeth on these basic models as a first step to more advanced work. But I also know several experienced modelers who won’t hesitate to cobble up a hundred dollar plastic loco. The key distinction being the word experienced.

    No, I won’t blame a rookie modeler for hesitating to rework an expensive model. I have a five hundred dollar brass diesel that needs to be modified to have all wheel electrical pick-up. It’s a relatively simple task but I hesitate due to the cost and the fact it’s brass. That intimidation factor never goes away.


  5. Matt


    Opened a package today. Wrote an article for local NMRA newsletter about my new module design and the newsletter arrived in an email. Planning on writing a follow-up for the next quarterly newsletter.

    Hope you and OST have a Happy New Year.


  6. renegourley

    Incidentally, Backwoods Miniatures makes a number of North American outline, but British-style locomotive kits. I built one of their Sn3 Porters over a decade ago, and learned so much about soldering and working in metal along the way, that I completely slew that particular dragon. The Sn3 Porter seems to be out of production, but they have many other interesting models to choose from.

    Even if one wasn’t fussed about North American narrow gauge, surely everyone secretly wishes they had one of the Darjeeling and Himalayan Ry engines….Must-Stay-Focused!

  7. mike

    That’s excellent news Matt! Congratulations.


  8. PKelly


    January 1, I opened a gift that will keep on giving…the door to the 21 x 13 foot C-shaped unfinished half basement the Missus cleared to allow a “train room”. Thirty years in the making and coming full circle from my unsuccessful first basement N-scale code 55 attempts, home relocations, 60+ hour work days and constant booting out of side rooms…I’m finally able to ply information learned from hours track side, the likes of your tutorials and blogs, the simple genius of Lance Mindhiem and James McNab’s Grimes Industrial Track layout. Semi retirement is but a 5 +/- year comfortable coast away and starting with a blank slate on this project will mirror the long-term growth and evolution process of my large backyard observatory. So it’s no more excuses time; my first O scale 2-rail switcher locomotive purchases have arrived and the land grant calls for on-track storage and testing. It’s gonna be one hell of a ride. Thanks Mike.

    Pat Kelly

  9. mike

    Congratulations Pat. I hope you’ll find a way to share it with us.



  1. One Screw = Game Changer! | Pembroke:87 - […] is a wonderful discussion going on between Simon Dunkley, Trevor Marshall and Mike Cougill about abilities and the assumption that…
  2. Practice Makes Perfect | Pembroke:87 - […] development (See a great conversation from last weekend by  Simon Dunkley, Trevor Marshall and Mike Cougill ), I realized…