The title of this post conjures up images of a car. That machine that moves you from point A to B, or C, D and beyond. For most, it is a simple convenience, perhaps a necessity of life in a modern culture. Others attach a level of status onto to it, where it becomes a symbol of achievement or their station in life; a clue to their self-image and identity. A vehicle can also represent a metaphor. What if you considered your hobby as a metaphorical vehicle that takes you from one place to another in your life?

And now a word from our sponsor
Volumes have been written about this hobby, with most focusing on the objects: a layout, the trains, the technology.  Some write about its qualities, such as how much fun it is or whatever. Much of the discussion however, sounds like: “Hey you, check out this great thing. You should buy it, pay attention to it, participate in it because, well, it’s so great!” I used to get sucked in with that kind of rhetoric but, not so much anymore. Now I tend to say: “No thanks. I’ll pass.”

What would you like to do with a hobby?
I have reached the age where accumulating stuff has little appeal. The hobby used to be all about “Stuff,” for me but my interests and motivations have changed significantly. I no longer build models just to have the model, I build models to discover who I can be. This is a far different conversation. One I find more compelling and, it is one we are not having because we only see the hobby as Stuff.

As people realize that having more and more stuff is not the source of never-ending joy we were promised it would be, the desire for things with meaning and of lasting quality is felt by many. I am not unique in these feelings. Maybe it is part of growing older and, having laid a few youthful demons to rest, feeling more settled with who I am. Now I am drawn to the experience of learning and the growth that comes as a result of exploring what this craft allows me to do. I find this approach far more satisfying than filling my life with more stuff. Which finally brings me to the question: what role should a hobby play in a life, in your life?

Those are rhetorical questions. We are all aware there are lots of voices and opinions along with a disgusting quantity of rigid dogma surrounding this topic and, I am not opening things up for debate. Do that somewhere else please! I only want to share the role this craft is playing in my life in the hope that others may draw something useful from it.

Who would you like to be?
Seems a strange question to ask in regard to a hobby or other pastime but is it? I think it has great relevance to our craft. Model building in its many forms has become a source of motivated learning for me. Today, I am deeply drawn to understanding all I can about the craft of modeling. As a child and teenager, I built plenty of model cars, planes and ships and in those years was not aware that I could use my intense interest in these things as a source of motivation to systematically develop skills that would serve me the rest of my life.

What kind of skills? Observational skills, analytical skills, conceptual skills; the patience to plan and organize, the persistence to see a work through from beginning to end. These are rock solid skills that will carry you far in many walks of life and careers. We have used team and individual sports to teach young people life skills for decades yet, historically dismissed hobby activities as being of little consequence to the oh-so serious work of being grownups. We do so at great loss to ourselves and to each other. How many gifts in our lives go unexplored because playing with models is seen as childish or unimportant to real life?

So let us speak of that so-called real life. Of the many things I have explored, this craft has given me the focus and a means of finding my voice as a writer. I have written and sporadically kept a journal for years but that work will never see the light of day. Writing comes naturally to me and sharing the love I have for many aspects of railroading and the many forms of craft within the hobby, allows me to build an audience for my writing that I would not have known otherwise. This blog and my other works are all building into a “real world” career that is bringing good things and people into my life.

I love digging into the work of a post like this one. I love thinking through the topic and crafting the words to express it well. I am just beginning to understand the power of story and the ability of words to convey ideas. Writing is a craft too, one I never would have seriously pursued without my interest in railroad modeling but, life is funny that way.

This craft provides me with a rich variety of creative outlets, all of which bring enjoyment. Scratchbuilding has taught me how to plan, analyze and observe more deeply and, is helping me develop the persistence to see a project through to the end. The determination to fix problems at the workbench when they are still small is another lesson that is spilling over into the rest of my life. My exploration of the design possibilities with a small layout in a large scale taught me the value of establishing clear priorities, a useful skill in many situations beyond the basement.

I wonder often, why we treat our interest in this craft so cheaply? I wonder why we dismiss it (even between ourselves) as just playing with trains, when the potential it carries for bringing good things into our lives is so real and yet, so blatantly ignored by the majority. It begs the question: what are we gaining by clinging to this approach and, what is so precious that we cannot afford to lose it by thinking differently?

The answers have always been yours to choose but returning to the metaphor of the craft as a vehicle that can take you from one place to another in life, here are your thoughts for the week: What role does a hobby play in your life? What role do you want it to have? Who would you like to become?



  1. Simon

    Very thought-simulating.

  2. Simon

    Stimulating, even…

  3. Matt

    I agree with Simon. Thank you for sharing the thoughts Mike.


  4. mike

    Thanks gentlemen.

    I have a sense that I stretched the boundaries of credibility with this post. Whether you agree with my premise or not isn’t the point. It’s good to flex the mental muscles now and then by looking at things from a different direction.


  5. Matt


    I don’t think you have stretched the boundaries of credibility with this post. Rather, I think it was an excellent piece of writing to make modelers question “why” and “what do I gain from this……”


  6. Simon

    Who would I like to become? Me.
    But the real me.
    Our hobby helps me do that.

  7. Aultsville Lad

    Hello Mike, first let me thank you, not for this post perhaps but for opening the doors and windows of my mind to the possibilities of the hobby. Several years ago I sat on the precipice of “O” trying to decide, standard or P-48, thanks to you I chose the fine scale route and along with a friend am now busily and happily building to that end.

    This will be my first response to you as I only recently found the blog and your end question poked me into action. “Who would I like to become”, I have never wanted to be anyone but me but I have never wanted to be the me I was yesterday, I have always been a somewhat restless soul and this is reflected in my railroad interests. Once a challenge is overcome I am always looking for a new one whether within a scale or with a change to a new one. Even now I model in both P-48 and 00 English and use each to hone skills for the other. I doubt I will ever seek to build a “layout for life”, that in itself seems too limiting to my creative needs.

    Keep poking at the mind and the soul as we explore this great hobby and drift along with its outcomes.

    David Higgott
    Ontario, Canada

  8. Riley Triggs

    Excellent post/question.

    For me it has something to do with providing a scaffolding for engaging and understanding the world better. It has become an outlet for me to stretch my academic muscles in the prototype research and my system/product/graphic and experience design muscles in the delivery of an idea of place. These are things that I often consider in my everyday practice as an architect, but that I don’t get to explore with room enough to caper in those other design disciplines.

    You mention the many naysayers out there who can’t fathom model railroading pursued as an art form beyond that of a craft activity. They are much less credible than you are from their first word because they refuse to see an alternative condition beyond their own. If they were to more rigorously apply their intellect in the same ways they rigorously apply their modeling acumen, they might realize that they are already performing the reflection and embodiment of meaning in pursuit of a formal representation of the world. The only thing that keeps them from pursuing model railroading as an art is their giving themselves the permission to do so.

    That alone will transform their end product from a finely crafted work into a meaningful work of art.

  9. mike

    Welcome to the blog David.

    Perhaps I should clarify my intent behind the question of who do you want to become. As others have noted, they don’t want to be anyone other than who they are but as Simon suggested, the craft can help you become a better version of yourself. I tried to convey this in the text of the post but perhaps failed to express myself clearly.

    My own goals are to use the craft to help me explore new skills in a deliberate manner. This runs counter to the idea of a hobby as a casual activity done for recreational fun. As I’ve often pointed out “fun” is a multi-dimensional term. I assure all concerned that I am enjoying the craft immensely in a way that suits my personality and temperament. And, that is my point, that we should practice the craft in the manner we choose, whether that means casually, or in a more disciplined, structured way.


  10. Aultsville Lad

    I believe that I am in line with your philosophy as I drive myself by my own desire to achieve above average results and by the work of those, like yourself, who have paved the way to excellence. I too consider myself a storyteller but seldom do I choose to put this into words in a formal manner. The layout we, friend Mark, are working at will tell a story that should captivate its audience in a thoughtful way and provide a “vehicle” for our creative interest too. I look forward to both your creative efforts and your thoughtful insights to the inner ideology of this art.


  11. Chris Mears

    Hi MIke

    I really enjoyed reading this post. I have tried to address the relationship we have with this hobby before in my own writing and see in your’s a result I wish I’d been able to discover and realise in my own. We invest in this hobby so much of ourselves but never give ourselves a chance to credit our work appropriately. It’s our work. Why the heck aren’t we celebrating it?

    This is among your finest Mike. Thanks again for sharing it with us.