Strangers on a model train

I’ve had the extreme pleasure of being a part of several conversations regarding design lately. As I work through my thoughts on those conversations, I find myself with some questions that might work well as blog posts. I think I’ll start this series with this post and see where it all goes.

In the earliest years of model railways, firms like Bassett-Lowke offered a line of scale model locomotives and trains to the first of what we now call model railroaders. These first models were sold during a time when railways were an exciting thing and people were keen to be a part of the railway scene in any way possible. The models were for a man who possessed means that may very well have made it possible for him to play a role in the development of real railways. For those who collected them, they offered an opportunity to connect with full-size railways in a way not otherwise possible. In the end, the size of the trains may vary but everyone played the role of the true railway man.

As enthusiasm for the models grew, a variety in terms of scale (size) would emerge and offer men of different lives and means to connect with each other over trains, real and model. As the models became more accessible, parents could invite their children to the conversation too. It’s this bond that underscores my own involvement in the hobby. I grew up in a house with a model railway and it was my parents would provide me with my own railway. They helped me learn how to create something with it and of it. In doing so, they provided me a place where I could feel proud of my work and identify with my skills. Much of what I consider my identity today is borne of these acts and I am so very grateful to have benefited from their gift.

I’m certainly making use of some broad generalizations in those opening words just so that I can introduce a thought on how model railways could offer an opportunity to connect people, places, and things, in perhaps no less an important a way than their full-size counterparts do. I know that I can’t actually climb inside an N scale model passenger car and ride from Charlottetown to Toronto to connect with a friend yet I feel like there is a tenable link here and evidence of how model railways can connect people together, doing so in no less an important way than their full-sized counterparts do.

When we discuss the role of storytelling as it relates to the model railways, these connections between people might themselves form the story that we are attempting to tell in the railway we create. I believe “the story” plays an important role in qualifying the scope of the model railway and that it plays a fundamental role in guiding its design and even its construction. However, when we ask what that story is, we’re faced with not knowing if we’re the kinds of people who write or tell stories, or even how we’d go about creating one if we were forced to.

So, the story starts: Who does it connect you to? Or how?



    1. Thanks Eric.

      I’m quite pleased with the new look. So far, I think it’s my favourite iteration of the design.

      I remember following Lil Puddy on he adventures. What a terrific idea. At the Maritime Federation of Model Railroaders convention in Moncton, Rapido had a booth and Lil Puddy was on display. Talk about a brush with fame!


  1. Model railroading connects me with my youth. My long gone grandparents. My Grandfather was a model railroader.. Also worked for Canadian Pacific Rail road his entire life… I remember the stories of how he started as a cabin boy and worked his way up to Conductor. They tried several times before retirement to get him a office job…You could not get him off that train. He retired a Conductor in Orangeville On. in the early 90’s..

    My first train set was when I was about 7 years old I actually still remember the train set.. Not as much how ever as the gesture my grandfather made.. He went into his train room and came out with a box of engines. That was the joy that Christmas. I still and will always have those memories. As I build my railroad empire I often wonder what it would have been like to run trains with my grandfather.. Or to work with him on the railroad.. I never got the chance as with most teenagers life got to busy to enjoy family things.

    Model railroading has changed my life. At present I took it up the hobby while being ill and it has kept me busy and active . Also has given me the opportunity to make new friends.. I have started moving beyond just running trains to studying the history and mechanical aspect of them.. Now more than ever I have the inspiration to run ops. To get together with fellow model railroaders and learn how to run a operation session has now become a new goal.. More detail to my models and studying each piece’s history is starting to become more and more prevalent.

    Weathering and building structure kits to look more and more real.. Sound not only in the engines but the rolling stock and the environment around the layout… Rail fanning.. and now photography to share with other the experience..

    Model railroading has to be one of the most complex and intriguing hobbies there is . With the levels of learning and knowledge obtained. Even the simplest layout provides knowledge in electrical ,carpentry and History

    In the end Model railroading connects me with family, friends and myself

    1. Superb story. Thank you for sharing it with me.

      As I read through your story I found it reinforced my interest in propogating these sorts of stories. I’m as big a fan of the typical model railroad magazine “Layout of the Month” article and I wish we could find a way to engineer more of these stories into the article itself – I’d gladly trade a column on how the modeller ballasted his track or built the benchwork. I get this feeling that we’re using the model railroad to connect ourselves with, well, ourselves and eventually others too. I get that sense from your comment that this connection is a big driver behind your work. Fueled with this, you’ll do great work.

      Thanks again.


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