mike cougill



Diesel Locomotive Modeling Techniques, Vol. One. Click on the image to read more about the book on OST Publications’ website.

Considering the people who collaborated to create this book I have no doubt that they could instruct me to produce a copy of the SW1500 that Tony built and when I was done, I’d write a blog post with a Prince Street-y title like “The SW1500 that Tony built that Chris built”. The book would be a good investment since a skill like those I’d need aren’t the kind that just fall from the sky to land on your hands. You have to practice and before that, you have to have somewhere and something to start from and where else to learn from than those masters of our hobby.

The hobby has a habit of describing itself as “art” and those who have invested in their practice, as “craftsmen” and as I just did: “masters”. As freely as we paste words like that on the models I like to think there is a conversation that the artist has as they wrap media around a naked idea; as the work arises from the translation of the Idea into the Form the artist is rewarded with something they can consider, both in terms of the investment of self and of stuff; of its ability to represent the emotional dimensions of their inspiration; and now that It is tangible, is It what they hoped it would be.

“This is not a how-to book but more of how I go about it book.”

It’s refreshing to read a book written from the perspective of the artist sharing commentary on his work. In the pages that follow that quote the story moves between what worked and what didn’t. As each stage of constructing the model is completed, it is evaluated and regarded not so much as an accomplishment but as a platform to learn from and build a next project on. “Project” here is not a complete model, such as the SW1500 in question, but component parts of the engine such as a radiator cover. I’ve never thought of models in this way and the more I do, the more I like it. Imagine returning to a finished model and cutting it apart to address something that never quite fit right?

“I spend a few hours comparing the out-of-the-box model with my photographs of the prototype. This begins the process for choosing which engine number or production phase I will do. Once that has been decided I’m able to focus on one specific engine. Then I start three lists”

As much as this book tells the story of creating this stunning model in the terms of what worked, what was learned, and what could still be improved on, it doesn’t completely ignore an opportunity to share good quality instruction. As Tony discusses in the opening pages, there is still time to evaluate the quality of the research media and catalogue those materials he’ll need to complete the model. It’s neat to learn how Tony prioritizes each component of the model and invests his resources. The design of the book forced me to read it as a contemplation and in doing so, I started to see myself in the work and I started to consider how I might try to make things like a radiator housing or how to make better handrail stanchions. Where I might have simply read this and thought it was above my abilities, the work is presented in such a careful way the work is divided into projects that don’t seem so daunting. Projects that even a modeller like me could attempt in isolation that could eventually result in my own SW1500.

The hobby has room for books that are greater than the work they instruct in the creation of. Books that discuss the relationship we have with our models, as we’re creating them.  Books that provide a place to receive a discussion on why you made the choices you did. I believe we learn more from others if we learn why they made that choice, how they arrived at it, and why it felt right.

Among the many books that form the body of our family’s library I’m certain we count favourite volumes that we return to for the comfort of their familiar pages, phrases, and personalities. Like an old friend that we can always count on to welcome us with a familiar story that we’ve never heard too many times. These are the books that are absent from our hobby. Thank you Mike and Tony for investing so heavily in the creation of a book that is all at once a guide you could follow that would indeed deliver a stunning model of an essential diesel and does so in a rich way that presents a story that need never result in a model at all. A book strong enough to stand on what it is.

I doubt I’ll build a model like the one described in this book but I don’t need to. For me, this is a book I’ve already read through several times and in its pages I find a story worth re-reading that runs richer than simply instruction and that feels pretty good.

If you’ve managed to read this far and haven’t purchased a copy of the book itself, please do so. This is the type of work that we need to support the creation of and the best way to express this support is by investing in it and work like it.

Through the course of this post I’ve quoted several passages from the book itself. I believe I have used those that have already been shared in places such as the OST blog so that I haven’t compromised the content of such a superb book.

“For a small shelf switching layout, the perfect engine is the end cab switcher.”

Speaking of quotes, I couldn’t help but pick one last one. A statement that caught my interest since it really stands out awkwardly in the book. Maybe it’s a teaser toward an upcoming volume. Regardless, why is this the perfect engine? Maybe that’s a conversation to have sometime. I hope so.


TMC 12. Thank you Mike.

I feel like I’ve read a lot of comments where a certain population laments that “no one is making anything anymore” or “…isn’t for everyone”. I don’t believe that this book was created to respond to those types of comments but in producing Scratchbuilding: Thinking it Through, Mike Cougill has produced, I believe, a truly unique and accessible guide to scratchbuilding and working to a finescale standard.

Mike introduced the book recently on his blog in this post:

TMC Volume 12

The book follows Mike’s project to scratchbuild a 1/48 scale model of a PS5344 boxcar. It would be easy to create a step-by-step recipe guide that leads the modeller through building their own copy of his model. We could start each chapter of that book with a title like The Underframe and in the pages of that chapter instruct the modeller to cut some styrene or brass a certain size and combine it a particular way. Following the work of the master, presented in that format, should yield a copy of that car. There’s certainly nothing wrong with those articles. Sometimes, I tend to look at them and think “Hey, that is neat…IF I wanted to make one instead of just spending twenty bucks on the Athearn model…IF I had the time…the skill…” The style provides examples of where there are alternate approaches and there is never just one way to make anything. (e.g. I really enjoy handlaying track but I would have never tried it had I not read the right article, and a method that worked with how I liked to build, no matter how many articles I’d read or still read.)

What TMC12 offers the reader is a rich and inviting conversation that shares what worked and what didn’t over the course of creating the model. Neither path is presented in the extreme of “works” and “would never work” but more in a humble sense of what worked at that time and based on the experience to date. Mike invites us to consider each approach in a very warm and conversational tone. It presents the idea of actually scratchbuilding the model in a way that ignores the fact that it is completely scratchbuilt or to the Proto 48 standards. The model is presented as a series of components and the efforts to build a model of a centresill, a door track, or how what seems to work to represent the corrugated ends on the prototype car.

It isn’t that we shouldn’t admire the work of accomplished modellers or otherwise respect their journey but I feel like we often install an artificial barrier in that distance between their work and our own. We seem to create groups for them and for us and it sometimes appears like only a special type of modeller gets to pass from one group to the other. Scratchbuilding, handlaying track, or modelling to “finescale” standards is no different in terms of decisions made than drinking one brand of coffee or another, or chosing HO scale instead of N. Perhaps it’s not the decision at all but in the way we involve ourselves in the decisions we’ve made.

Thanks Mike. The book is terrific.