“My modern-day pen pal”

When I started Prince Street, my motives were mostly centred around using the blog as a place to park ideas and to start a conversation with myself as I worked through the things I think about, with regard to model railways. Model railways are important to me. I could say “it’s just a hobby” but in truth my relationship with it runs much deeper. Sure it can still be just a hobby but it’s also a place where I’ve found respite during darker times when I needed the sanctuary, familiarity, and comfort of something more familiar and it’s where I found a medium to express myself creatively. Along the way, it’s even led me to so many amazing opportunities both personally and professionally to think of as only a hobby.

David Eaves publishes a blog under the tagline of “if writing is a muscle, this is my gym”. If this is my gym I’m proud of often I’ve visited over the years and surprised myself with how much I enjoy the workout. Pity the real gym isn’t as attractive! Along the way, I’ve met some really amazing people and made some terrific friends. I’m so grateful for this opportunity. Fast forward to about a week or so ago and in my inbox, an email from Rene Gourley. He was planning on a bit of vacation time on the Island and wondered if we could maybe get together for a drink and just to meet up. Last night, we did just that. Rene introduced me to a friend and fellow modeller of his who they were vacationing with, Marshall Ouellet. Rene introduced me to Marshall as his “modern-day pen pal” and it’s a sort of neat moniker to wear. I’ll quote him again as I reflect on the conversation: “A two-hour lubricated conversation was equal to a couple of years of blog posts.”

The conversation was both rich and dynamic. It seems we’ve each been so lucky as to have spent so much time in the hobby and exploring very different experiences of it and corners of it. It’s interesting to continue conversations that, at times, were started online, and to start new ones in new directions that I hope we’ll have a chance to revisit again somehow. Rene’s written a wonderful post already to mark the evening that includes a great group photo (I’m not a fan of the camera so treasure this one) and you can read it here:


Marshall is contemplating a layout in a more public installation, as I am committed to. It was fascinating to exchange thoughts on how this might work out for each of us and what we expect of it.We have different goals and comparing notes was very enlightening for the difference of perspectives over such a common shared space.

As the discussion shifted to the advancing influence that technological change is having on the hobby in terms reaching from control to 3D printing Rene asked what it might be like if something like rail ever got hard to get. Today, it’s easy to opine about the role of 3D printing in terms of individual models but how will we mediate a larger common ground for a commodity like rail? I don’t know but I’m excited to think about it more. Hopefully we come back to that conversation.

Since we were already talking about the future I couldn’t resist the urge to ask where we’ll find our inspiration as our relationship with real trains gets further distanced. I’ve met so many new modellers who are doing really great work yet don’t have that rich history with real railroading that so many of our model railway forefathers had. Clearly, the hobby itself is strong enough to attract new talent and dynamic enough to encourage their different approaches. I believe we’re on the edge of another cultural shift in the hobby right now and I’m keen to explore the subject more.

Thank you Rene for reaching out with the invitation.

Thank you Marshall for picking up the tab – I insist the next round is mine. It’s the least I could do.

As for that Group of Seven model railway, I think it could be done if we approach it from the right direction. Time will tell.

I guess, to make things fair, I need to get myself to their coast and across the nation. It seems only fair.





  1. Who knows – maybe the day will come where we can upload photos of our favourite prototype car and it’ll get 3D printed – just from the photos. It could happen! The hobby is changing so rapidly.

    “Modern day pen pal” – I like that.

    1. As excited as I am about the way these processes will encourage us to think outside the NMRA proforma I wonder what it looks like for everyone else?

      It’s easy to get excited about the ease of modelling the PEIR in some crazy scale-gauge combination and that certainly appeals to me. What about the guy who would benefit from an Athearn-style layout in the traditional style? There’s a balance.


      1. I guess the question is, what is a “traditional style”? If you look at the 1960s / 1970s Model Railroader type of layouts, they seem horribly dated now with their spaghetti bowl style of cramming as much track as possible in a given space, and their emphasis on “transition era” 1950-1960 dating.

        What I think you mean by Athearn-style layouts may be becoming obsolete too.

        I think what makes our hobby great is that there’s really nothing stopping someone from building any kind of layout they want. The sky’s the limit. The only limits are your imagination and your budget… and we are living in a golden age of steadily increasing choice and availability.

      2. Thank you for elaborating on my point and making better sense of it than I could.

        What I was trying to describe were a population of modellers who aren’t necessarily fascinated by the making approach to the hobby and more the collecting and operating end. Both are valuable to the hobby’s present and future and I wonder how this demand service will change. The question here is equally in terms of product and also distribution.


  2. There will always be the ‘Blue Boxers’ who like to run their train in circles. In some ways, I’m one of them, at times! Though admitting that today may be like admitting one still uses X2F’s!

    “…where we’ll find our inspiration as our relationship with real trains gets further distanced…” was a total ‘WHOA’ moment for me. I can honestly say I have never tried to unwind the DNA strands that link prototype to modelling. Mainly because that’s just my ‘railway genotype’. I see no reason why one couldn’t, anymore than understanding why people share videos on Facebook for things they don’t have experience with themselves. No, not cat videos.

    Modelling can be just modelling. Proto can be just proto, and may railfans say ‘someday I’m going to build a layout to express my interest in xxx prototype’.

    Though I didn’t see the group photo on Rene’s page, I do think that talking about modelling while drinking draft in the Kensington Station pub is a great mix of modelling and the prototype, one I’d definitely raise a glass to!


    1. Man, am I ever glad for the comments. Reading through yours I was surprised again by someone who could communicate my idea better than I can. Well said, Eric. Thank you.

      René suggested an example of layout he’d seen that was based entirely on a Punch cartoon strip. It was an example of inspiration seeded neither in “real” trains or in model. It’s a third version of “why?” Listening to him describe this layout it was clear the amazing impact it had on him and in the positive reaction it provoked from him.

      For myself, my reason why is deeply seeded in inspiration I have from seeing other models. I realize that
      I think there’s potential here to regard inspiration from even just these three different streams as equals.

      The hobby has a wonderful ability to provide a common ground for all of us. In the hobby’s past these certainly existed but when we wanted to interact with real trains it was just so much more inviting both in terms of proximity and access – today both have changed. It’s harder to get to a train for many of us and when we get there it isn’t as easy to get as deeply involved as we once might have been able to. It’s this relationship I’m curious to watch and then wonder how it will impact the hobby if at all.


      1. I agree that it will be interesting to see how the hobby will evolve as people lose our “first person” experience with trains. It is becoming more and more possible to have never physically seen an area or a railroad, yet model it accurately based on photographs, video, Google Street View, satellite images, insurance maps, books… the volume of available information is growing rapidly.

        People like Eric Gagnon who publish what is a little unconventional – basically masses of data in some cases – are doing a great service to today’s and tomorrow’s modellers and historians by sharing valuable information. This kind of data is useful to modellers who don’t have that direct experience. For example, I can’t model the 1980 Canadian based on my experience – I never saw it – but I could model it pretty accurately based on photos, consists from Eric and others, books, and so forth.

        We live in magical times.

      2. Eric’s books stand as an equally unique and truly wonderful resource for the prototype modeller. I’ve spent so many hours happily combing through those consists and mapping patterns waiting to be found. I feel like I’ve learned so much about VIA just from observing it and it leaves a sentiment that feels like the one I might have had, if I’d had the chance to be there trackside.

        I’m lost for words to describe the diversity of information that is little more than a few mouse-clicks away for any railfan. I’ve watched hours of vintage rail footage that generous railfans have shared on Youtube and read through blog posts written by those who were there and are keen to explore ways to take us, back, there.

        I’d wager that the current tense of the model railroad world and the trend in prototype modelling owes a lot to this highly social experience. I can’t wait to see where it goes.


  3. In many ways we are approaching a point where the fundamental definition of model making will change.
    What will we have if/when 3D printed objects become recyclable, much like aluminum cans? How will a modeler impart himself to a 3D model as he can do with a hand built one?

    There’s been some wonderful and thought provoking discussions about what we stand to gain from new tech but, what might we loose in the craft when any object is a mouse click away?

    In my studies of art, it is often stressed that to render a subject one has to immerse yourself in it. To capture the essence of an orange, one needs to understand its “orange-ness” if you will. I understand the changes that have taken place. I understand that many people no longer have a daily encounter with railroading but I can’t help but wonder what the outcome of approaching a subject two or more times removed will be. It’s an interesting topic.


    1. I agree on the sense of connection to the work. From my own limited 3D printing experience, I know I have time invested in the design and engineering of the part on the screen but it’s not the same as time spent with actual materials. It just feels different and that’s personal and not commentary on the technology or trying to rank each. In model railroading we can be a population who like definite positions as extreme as for-against.

      What I am intrigued with is the way it could extend my workbench. A particular example is not 3D printing but if we could have a Shapeways for metal etching or decal printing. It’s not that I can’t do these at home, but they represent things that I don’t mind farming out to someone who has the tools, is comfortable with the process, and keen to immerse themselves in that craft. We sort of have a start here with already existing skilled firms in both arenas but what we don’t have is someone who can manage the user/customer experience as well as someone like Shapeways can.

      As for the future, I have an unwavering belief that model railroading is successful both for the way it appeals to the person with equal architecture and engineering mindsets and interests as well as its ability to wrap a community around the central idea of the hobby. There no doubt it’s changing and I doubt this is really the first time it’s experienced a major shift. What we could use are stories from folks who modelled through the last shifts. Was it that the hobby died or just the way it was practised that changed?


    2. It’s funny, Mike, I see both sides of this question almost equally.

      On the one hand, I couldn’t agree more: producing a 3D drawing of an item and printing it is not nearly as satisfying as hewing it from a solid block of material. This was my conclusion after building my passenger car: it would have been more fun to make the sides up myself, rather than getting them printed. The next cars I will print the roofs, but scratchbuild the sides (he says now!).

      On the other hand, any serious model is not simply a few mouse clicks away. I’m over a month into designing my next locomotive, which will rely heavily on 3D printing, photo etching, die cutting and yes some cutting, filing and gluing. It is a complex process that marries drafting with understanding materials and production, the limitations and capabilities of each. The way I see it, 3D printing enables me to close gaps in the Precision Scale Co catalogue, but at the end of the day, I will still need to assemble the model.

  4. I agree Rene’. I’m not a Luddite. I agree that new technologies have a place at our workbenches. I don’t believe they are the panacea that a minority want them to be though. I also think it’s still early days with 3D printing and we’ve yet to fully understand how to use it to its fullest advantage. Using the process to supplement other sources seems like a sound approach.

    I’m following your build and I agree that the design process to get a printable file is no cake walk. I’m quite comfortable with pencil and paper but CAD programs are well over my head.


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