Eureka. What he said.

I’ve been mulling over the direction of my modelling. It’s a subject I enjoy reflecting on I don’t feel like I’ve ever wasted a minute talking to myself over a beer or coffee about the hobby, my place in it, and what I want to do next. The layout I’m currently working on was never supposed to be a long term solution. It was something designed to support a style of operation that I enjoy and to get me back in touch with techniques I just wanted to practice. It’s now at a point where I’m ready to think long term. I’ve been working on a post about my own succession plan for this layout for some time as a sort of modeller’s therapy so thoughts on that subject can just stay in that box. In considering the questions that lead to that resolution though I knew that I needed to start thinking about the ideas themselves in a different way.

A little while ago Trevor Marshall shared a terrific post announcing a new magazine (Finescale Railway Modelling – my issue is here now, by the way, and it’s great) and in that post also opened up another terrific thread spanning the future of model railway magazines to the subject of the finescale railroading scene in North America. It’s a really enjoyable thread loaded with some really terrific insight. If you haven’t already read it, check it out:

I was just getting caught up on the thread when I read this comment by Mike Cougill:

We talk a lot about the medium (magazine, blogs, forums, etc.) or the format -paper and/or pixels. I think both miss the mark, because as a reader, I’ve raised my hand and said: “inspire me.”

I see he’s further expanded that sentiment on his own blog:

I’m not a beginner anymore. I can lay track and build kits. I understand scenery and the effects of weather on objects and I can make something credible from a pile of raw materials. As a reader of the general mags I was raising my hand and saying: “Inspire me.”

Wow. Yes. That’s what I wanted to say. In particular, “Inspire me” is where the hammer strikes the nail. I’d like to read more stories about the “why” side of the hobby. Why model in that scale? Why is the layout this size? …and on and on. My query here isn’t simply stemming from my own internal voyeur, I’m trying to find my way in the hobby. I’m trying to settle on a plan and theme for a layout. Everything I’ve ever done in the hobby was a result of things “I could do” based on finance or availability of product. In settling on ideas based on these criteria I’ve removed emotion from the design and along the way failed to engineer in my own enthrallment. In a way I’m failing myself since I’m starting at the software and working back to the user to see if I can warp their needs to suit the capabilities of the tools. I know, professionally, that’s wrong. Since I’m not doing such a great job of this on my own, I’ve gone looking for help and ideas. What I am reading is a lot of “…I grew up alongside the Santa Fe and the memories of steam engines pounding their way in and out of Los Angeles Union Terminal left a mark on me…” sort of stuff. What do the rest of us do? With fewer and fewer people exposed to real railroading, where are they drawing their inspiration from?

I’d like to get a little deeper under the skin of the modeller. We all like trains but the way we like them is different. I believe that more than anything else, we are all storytellers. The only reason we ever build a model railway is out of a need to explore and share something that really speaks to us inside. It makes us comfortable and feels good. Instead of another layout review in which we’re surprised to learn that a layout is framed is 1×4’s or L-girder benchwork; or the owner handlaid all his turnouts; or how he kitbashed another Heljan brewery into another brick industry. What I’d love to read is what drove him to do that? You don’t have to have mastered the art but how close are you getting?

I’m a fan of the television show Inside the Actors Studio. Regardless of who you are in the industry, the host ends every show with a standard set of questions:

What is your favorite word?
What is your least favorite word?
What turns you on?
What turns you off?
What sound or noise do you love?
What sound or noise do you hate?
What is your favorite curse word?
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
What profession would you not like to do?
If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?

Maybe that’s a start for what I think I’m looking for. Could we develop something similar for the model railroader?

Categories: How I think

3 replies

  1. An interesting challenge, Chris. The actor questions are fascinating because they don’t particularly seem to have anything to do with acting. Yet, perhaps they help you find your way as an actor, or just in life. I don’t know if I can be as subtle, but here is my attempt:

    – What is your favourite photograph?
    – What was your most enthralling railroad experience?
    – when someone views your model, what would hope that they think?
    – when someone operates on your railroad how would you like them to feel?

    • I think that’s a great start.

      I agree that the questions need to be subtle enough to get you to pause long enough to get you to think about why you are about to answer what you will. Further, I like how the Studio questions are not optional – you must answer them all in that order.

      So, since you asked:

      – What is your favourite photograph?
      GO APCU’s on their trains at Willowbrook yard. I love the contrast of heavily re-purposed vintage equipment in a very functional role but then I’ve always been a function over form kind of guy.

      – What was your most enthralling railroad experience?
      I sat on my hood watching a New Hampshire and Vermont RS11 switching at St. Johnsbury, VT. It was railroading that really reminded me of what I remembered from the Island but I’d matured enough to know how rare these moments were becoming.

      – when someone views your model, what would hope that they think?
      I hope it reminds them of something. I hope it makes them want to make something or feel better about what they make, when no one is watching.

      – when someone operates on your railroad how would you like them to feel?
      I’d like them to learn more about the style of railroading that I enjoy.


  1. Destination Anywhere | Albion Yard

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