Since April of 2011 I have received a copy of the Model Railway Journal, a British magazine dedicated to finescale modeling. With the currency exchange rates and international postage, I’ve happily paid quite a sum of money for a single modeling publication over the last nine years.

The value of the Journal for me is not just the exposure to new ideas and methods but in the ethos of the magazine itself. It’s refreshing and satisfying to read in-depth articles that respect the genuine craft of model building and the readers’ intelligence. The domestic model railroading magazines lost me as a reader years ago. I’m sick of being told that the aspects of craft I truly enjoy and value are an irrelevant waste of time. (In the opinion of many within the general hobby population.)

What’s It For?
Questions around value in this craft are often answered in terms of the convenience or degree of play promised by the latest product or shortcut. Those are valid answers of course but hardly the only ones.

What is this craft for? It’s a fundamental question that seldom gets the consideration it’s due.

Is it for you alone?

Is it to impress others?

Are you chasing bragging rights for the biggest layout in nine states?

Are you focused on entertainment and escape? 

Each of these choices and the hundreds of others not mentioned, represent a different value proposition for the person involved. It’s good to be clear about what you’re doing and why, otherwise you could wind up with something you don’t actually want.

 What we value most is where our attention goes.
The work of modelers like Bill Clouser and Bob Hegge among others, inspired me as a teenager. They both followed a road less traveled with their modeling and there was an indefinable quality in their work that wasn’t present in other models. Looking at their work today, that still holds true for me.

As an introvert, model building is a way to relax and express myself freely. As a form of creative expression, I determine the standards and quality that I want. Working in quarter-inch scale has instilled a different set of values, where the mental challenges of working toward higher standards are more important to me than speed or convenience.

I’ve always done things in my own way or felt drawn to subjects that others tend to ignore. Sometimes this is frustrating and isolating but, with understanding, it can also be a source of great strength. In an interview with Bill Clouser, he shared how an absence of other modelers forced him to develop his own working methods early on. He felt this was a good thing in that he didn’t copy their mistakes or adopt another’s viewpoint about what was possible. To this day, that statement speaks powerfully to me.

I’ve grown wary of group mentality. There’s no denying the bias toward conformity in model railroading. We are given to believe that everyone is chasing the same dream. Truly original thinking in this craft is often met with resistance or ridicule, unless it reinforces an existing status quo. Yet, original thinking is what made the craft what it is today and what it will be tomorrow.

Obviously, there are a number of ways to approach this craft but here’s an interesting question: What do you value if the marketplace makes every decision for you? It isn’t for everyone but moving the conversation away from the material stuff toward an understanding of what the work can do for us and, what we can then do as a result, is a step worth taking in my view. Or you could just watch my 1000th Unboxing video. You won’t believe what I bought for cheap at the train show!!!!!!!!!!!



  1. steve hurt

    Funny Mike, having talked to you so much at length I never think of you as an introvert. Maybe I am just long winded talking at you? HA

    I liked what you wrote here like usual, just because, being different is what I value most modeling. I never want to walk into a show and set down a model and have another just like it there. I want to make sure when I display that the chances of another (insert subject matter) is not there. Or if by some chance there is another guy that scratchbuilds 1/25th scale MoW trucks I probably need to meet him right?

    I know that many of my pieces are not something people are interested in. but I always figure if I can get someone to just stop and look for a minute then maybe they get drawn in for a closer look. Then still maybe look at lots of little pieces that are there and fill in the story of “why”. I like having things like worn out seats for example. Someone can look at that, and know it shows years of use just from that. Or mud on the steps, where boots get scraped off. Showing that even if this model is displayed on a plain wood base that somebody scraped there boots off climbing in the cab. Things like that I know are not picked up by everyone. But if someone slows down and doesnt just think ” why would you build that” they might find a little inspiration to add micro stories to there models too.

  2. mike

    Hi Steve,
    I’m fine in one-on-one conversations or a small group. However, large crowds and noisy, congested settings tend to tire me out quickly and I need to find a quiet corner to recharge.

    Your strategy of displaying unique models certainly worked with me. I was immediately drawn to your logging truck from a few years ago. It’s a masterpiece of modeling and storytelling.