My dad worked as a machinist. After his discharge from the Army at the end of World War II, he returned home and found work in a factory that made gears for all manner of vehicles. For the next forty plus years, he worked various machine stations, made supervisor and prior to his retirement he managed the tool cage where the men came to check out the gages and other precision tools needed to do their machine setups. He retired in the 1980s and kept busy mowing grass for people and puttering around in his wood shop. He had a life full of friends and family and passed in 1998.

These days I think of my dad when I’m puzzling over some operation needed to fabricate a part for a modeling project. He could have figured out the procedure in a matter of minutes, where as it usually takes me hours and days.

While I work with styrene and dad worked steel, the working principles and techniques are often the same. He would have happily shared anything he knew, if I had only asked while he was still around. He’s not around anymore and as a younger person, I was too much of a know-it-all to ask. I missed out because I couldn’t give myself over to a position of humility, of admitting I didn’t know everything and of having to ask for help. I’m not proud to admit that and my heart is often heavy at the lost opportunity to have shared something meaningful with him.

Reflecting on the memories of my dad, I also think of Greg Amer, a contributor to this blog and to The Missing Conversation. He enjoys the hobby for its own sake but also uses it as a way to spend time with his boys; teaching them skills they can use for the rest of their lives and building memories together. Whether or not the boys continue with the hobby later in life isn’t the point. The point (in my view at least) is that he is engaged with his sons while they are young and impressionable. Model railroading is but one of the vehicles he uses to do that with.

A couple weeks ago, I was on my soapbox (again), ranting about telling better stories of the hobby, or our craft, as I prefer to call it now. One of the missing elements in our narratives is the human one. We are so focused and fixated on the trains that we forget to humanize the hobby for others, even for ourselves.

Like Greg who is strengthening the relationships with his sons, this craft provides numerous opportunities to grow and learn from others. Every week I exchange ideas with thoughtful people from the UK and other points across the globe via their comments. I will likely never meet any of you face-to-face but nonetheless, have developed friendships that wouldn’t exist were it not for the Internet and a shared interest in craftsmanship as it relates to model trains. That’s the power of a hobby to bring people together.

Yes, it is about the trains and such but it is also more than that. Like any relationship or endeavor, what your receive is directly related to what you bring to it. Bring a casual attitude and you will get casual results. Bring openness to learning and you’ll be the better for it in short order. Bring all of your enthusiasm and humanity and you won’t be disappointed.

My view of this craft goes beyond casual entertainment. I see it as a practice and a tool for learning. There are many roadblocks to learning and two of them are a lack of motivation and hubris or pride. A lack of motivation often comes from not seeing how the knowledge gained is relevant to your life. The teenage lament of when will I ever use algebra, or when the War of 1812 was fought is typical of how they view that knowledge: largely irrelevant.

Contrast that attitude with the enthusiasm we bring to a new found interest like railroad modeling. What’s the difference? Motivated learning. We see the knowledge and learning process as highly relevant to our future enjoyment and progress.

Hubris is a beast of a different stripe. The cure for pride is painful to the ego. If you’re too proud to ask for help, as I once was, you will limit your understanding and enjoyment of the hobby until the day you die. I’m humbled to report that I learned my lesson the hard way but, it didn’t have to be that way.



  1. Simon

    Thoughtful as ever, Mike!

    There is an old saw, “Pride comes before a fall”. Like all such sayings, it has elements of truth, but like many it is incomplete. The saying almost certainly dates back to the days of the ancient Greeks, and their tragedies, which consist of three stages:

    Hubris: pride;
    Nemesis: downfall;
    Catharsis: resolution.

    In life, resolution leads to knowledge and wisdom, which on the face of it is a pretty depressing thought as it suggests sagacity is a consequence of ageing, so there is not much hope for the youngsters amongst us, but I beg to differ.

    Many years ago, David Attenborough produced his extraordinary series “Life on Earth”. The finl episode was about humans, and was entitled “The Compulsive Communicator”. This is the major difference between us and other animals, the ability to share abstract ideas, including past experiences and also the conclusions to be drawn from them. The net is a wonderful thing for such as us!

    Consequently, we can learn from each other’s mistakes as well as our own – providing we can overcome our pride, and ask for help when needed.

    I suppose the message is, share. Share experiences, share mistakes, share failures – which only happen by having a go.

    Ultimately, pride is its own worst enemy: it always leads to nemesis. Thankfully, as compulsive communicators, we can learn from the catharsis of others, and learn humility, and short-circuit the whole process.

    Here’s to sharing!


  2. Simon

    To quote the late Lou Reed, “You’re going to reap just what you sow.”
    Similar thoughts are expressed in most religious belief systems, too.



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