This Bruce Nelson photo is one of my favourites. It’s March 1970 on the Branford Steam Rail Road. That track, their internal fleet of twin hoppers; this railroad has held my imagination since first discovering this railroad in an article in Railfan & Railroad magazine. It’s this I have in mind when I’m putting my two On30 hoppers on my little piece of track.
“I can do this” feels so good compared to the same intentioned but sometimes easily overwhelming “I should model this”. An unhealthy part of my experience is the space between those two simple phrases. The power of emotional attraction to a moment harnessed to our hobby’s one great and unique superpower is the ability to go there and live precisely in it.
“I started as a model railroader.”
The Carrabasset & Dead River was probably the first railway I feel in love with. When I first saw it and first read its story it was the way Frary and Hayden composed their scenes, the way they built up the colour palettes of their scenes, and I still believe this, no one weathered like Frary and Hayden to communicate that look of machinery of work, at work. A C&DR engine or train was worn but worn like any preferred tool of work from our collection. Worn like work. Worn by hands.
For years the C&DR was my single source for narrow gauge railroading. As my exposure increased it would be joined by the passionate writing of Moody and his Maine Two Footers. I discovered a love of the Prince Edward Island Railway but even this is informed by “first love”. When our interests are forged in passion and emotional aesthetics those become the important dimensions describing the real world and their completeness makes trivia all the silliness of build dates, track gauges, or “how the prototype did it”. An importance born in why something feels right and feels important over one inherited from pragmatic evidence alone. Laying in a hammock on a chilly Saturday afternoon in Cape Breton I thought about my favourite references in our hobby and how they are almost always “proto freelancers”; those modellers who model the real places but in their own voice using the medium of model trains to tell the story of their experience, modulating the way they present their model railroad increment by increment and through part or whole iterations as they refine their relationship with the story they need to tell those they share it with. Among the things made clear from my blanket cocoon inside in a cozy hammock by the ocean, in Cape Breton, a couple weeks ago was that sense that I had found clarity and moved on.
At home I’m spiking down probably my most stripped down layout project. Same space as Coy and its relations but even more simple. I apologize because I have no want to project a message of exclusive ambiguity like some crazed provocative artist but a calm that washes over you when you realise your work is to tell your story in your words. No one knows your prototype like you do so starting from language that is an inventory of the physical plant of the railroad might just be a distraction overpowering your voice. No one was there with you. Even if you visited together with your best friend the uniqueness of that journey is yours alone: you were with them, they were there with you; you both saw it and the decision to see it was enriched by being tempered by the influence of your friend yet coloured by why you decided to be present that time so same but different. Once you’ve let go of those points it clears your vision as powerfully as cleaning your workspace to prepare it for your next session.
Practice your craft and in that practice your voice so you can breathe your voice into your work to animate it with why and welcome. Ted Chiang’s beautiful quote above changed me. Of course that to speak we are modulating breath and without breath we are without life…giving and receiving life. We don’t need one universal way to do anything and waste our energy insisting on one rule for all. It’s just that it’s not so far-fetched to move toward practicing this in a way closer to our claim. Because this hobby could be art we can reference outside the hobby. Songs and stories; poetry, painting, and sculpture. All detail the sound of someone’s relationship with an event.
At seven PM, a main hatchway caved in, he said “Fellas, it’s been good to know ya”.
The captain wired in he had water comin’ in and the good ship and crew was in peril.
You don’t need to know anything about the Edmund Fitzgerald beyond the story Gordon Lightfoot told. Colour of the hull? How many portholes were there on the cabin? How was it fueled? There is no one way to be a model railroader and never has or ever will be a right way. There is only your way. Use this hobby to say what you need to say in your own words.
Categories: How I think