In the past few weeks I’ve encountered a recurring topic from at least three different sources.
It started with a thread posted on the O Scale Trains Magazine Forum by Joe Giannovario titled: “What Will You Tolerate?” Joe’s central question was how much error, inaccuracy, etc. will you tolerate in a (commercial) model. He began with acknowledging the fact that traditional O scale has a six percent error (by his calculation) built into it from the start, being gauged at five feet or 1-1/4″ instead of the correct 1.117″ gauge.
Joe went on to cite an example of his own that revolved around a model with undersized drive wheels. He then asked what level or degree of error would people accept before rejecting a model as too flawed. Among the twenty-one responses as of April 20, 2013, the loose consensus seems to be that a model must be accurate in the basic proportions and key details such as driver size, dome shape and number, piping, appliances such as pumps, injectors, heater and so on. (Given Joe’s example, the discussion centered on steam engines.) Consumers are paying increasing amounts for any model and have a right to expect basic accuracy.
The other take-away from this thread is that there really isn’t a single view. At least one P48 modeler noted that the inherent six percent gauge error was intolerable for his tastes. Others among the traditional O scale camp had a range of opinions as to what was acceptable in a model and what wasn’t.
My second encounter came when reading an article by Jacq Damen about his scratchbuilt Mumby Lumber Company Mill model and layout in The Logging, Mining and Industrial Annual 2013 from Westlake Publishing. In the article, he outlined his desire to build a logging themed layout and his reasons for rejecting the many sawmill kits and related products on the market. His central reasons were that said kits were typically not based on full-sized mills and the machinery details lacked the quality he desired or such details were absent altogether.
Jacq’s remarks were quite matter-of-fact and not snide or sarcastic in any way. What caught my attention was a note from the editor and publisher, Russ Reinberg, at the end of the article. Russ made several very strong points about the state of the hobby and pulled no punches in his remarks. I will quote one very brief passage:
“Manufacturers of scale models, on the other hand, have a responsibility to offer accurate, highly detailed, excellent quality replicas, reflecting knowledge and research.”
I realize that I have taken this sentence out of the context of Russ’s full remarks and I encourage readers to seek out this issue and read his thoughts on page 76 in their entirety. A link will follow at the end of this post.
My third encounter was just the other day in a post on the ProtoModeler Forum bemoaning the inaccuracies of an HO model and the manufacturer’s seeming lack of research. It isn’t just O scale that suffers this malady.
What are we to conclude here?
I think this situation is a two-edged sword that cuts both ways. It’s easy for ill-informed people to blame manufacturers for all the ills in the hobby and its products. Yet, enough of those same people keep throwing hard earned discretionary income toward these very same products, claiming that an imperfect model is better than no model at all. So are we equally culpable for enabling this dysfunctional situation to continue? Yes, we are. Enough of us anyway.
Simply put there are numerous camps of people with widely varying degrees of interest. There are those who simply don’t care. Period. Give them their toys, trains, models, whatever you wish to call them, and let them play. They’re happy. End of discussion.
There are people who do care but only to a point. “I’ll accept a six percent error, or a ten percent error; I don’t really care one way or another. If it’s too hard to fix, I’ll just ignore it. After all, they’re nothing but fancy toys and I’m having my fun.” End of that discussion.
There are people who care a great deal. Their satisfaction and enjoyment of the hobby is centered on building accurate models that are well researched and finely crafted. They do the arduous research needed to produce such models to their personal standards. They do it out of love and dedication and for numerous other reasons. Enough said, except they are the clear minority regardless of the scale chosen.
Where do things go?
The reality that I see is that there are innumerable “markets” within this hobby. The word consumer speaks volumes to me. I picture one who consumes, literally and figuratively speaking. “I don’t care what’s in the boxes, just keep the boxes coming.” As long as this segment keeps buying product, accurate or not, more such products will flood the market. This also applies to those who only care up to a point. As long as they keep buying product, more of the same product will follow.
The people who care a great deal also buy product. Perhaps not to the degree that others do, but they’re not without guilt in contributing to the situation. This group demands more from manufacturers. They are the ones who reject many products over flaws the others would readily accept. Furthermore, within this group are those who go their own way and ignore the mass market completely.
Within any segment or activity of society, there are consumers and producers. Consumers just consume resources. Producers make it possible for consumers to consume. We are both. To think that there is one “market” in this hobby is a delusion. There are subcategories of subcategories within each of the broad segments I’ve suggested here.
In a mass market economy, it is inevitable that lowest common denominator products rule. That’s the definition of mass in this context: stuff that appeals to the widest range of people as possible. Modelers who demand the utmost from themselves and the products they purchase aren’t going to change that no matter how much they complain. Most accept this as a fact of life and move on.
What’s become clear to me is that the hobby has changed a great deal as it reflects the changes in people’s attitudes. Yet, we still want to think of it in terms of the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s when we all had far fewer distractions competing for our attention than we do today.
Furthermore, we’ve abdicated much of our personal responsibility toward how we derive satisfaction from the hobby. Too many become complacent in the abundance of choice now available in even the most obscure genre of modeling and scale. Yes, compared to fifty or sixty years ago, there is an abundance of everything.
I am as frustrated as anyone (probably more so than most) about what is being passed off to modelers, especially in quarter-inch scale and I’ve made my views well known on this blog. That said, I’m one lone, opinionated voice that few listen to. I’m not going to change anything and, while I personally and strongly agree with Mr. Reinberg’s views about the current state of the hobby, I don’t have a magic wand. There aren’t quick fixes or simplistic one-size-fits-all answers to satisfy everyone. I will just say as I’ve often said, this is a hobby of personal choice. You have the power to make choices regarding any and everything related to this hobby. Whining about it (I’m profoundly and inexcusably guilty as charged.) does nothing to resolve your dilemma. If I don’t like something, I don’t buy it. It’s that simple for me. If I truly want something, I will learn how to make it or make do without it. That puts me out on the fringe. Your mileage will vary.