Construction Articles

While my mum’s here, and the railroad room is temporarily given over to its guest room function, I’m working on a few articles for Model Railroad Hobbyist.  My recent rant about the tedium of North American model railroad magazines is still fresh in my mind, and it’s making me wonder if I can steer clear of the trap.  How can we describe a sequence of steps so that there is an engaging narrative and perhaps a little entertainment?

Along the way, I’ve been thinking about other literature that skirts the same trap.  About the best parallel that I can think of is biography.  Lots of people enjoy biographies, and there must be some that stand out for their writing, and not merely because they describe an inherently interesting individual.


8 thoughts on “Construction Articles

  1. Rene:

    You write well and it is enjoyable to read and often quite thought provoking. The idea that model railroad magazines are out of touch with current oportunities to use mixed media and direct interaction with the author is interesting but I have to take a bit of a contrary view.

    First I believe that editors are absolutely necessary. Too many articles are either cut to the wick or ramble on. Worse are those that cliche and really don’t add anything new – you know the type.

    Photos now are cheap in digital form but videos can be exhausting. I can rarely watch more than a couple minutes. Someone needs to write a script, plan the shots, and edit out the excess.

    The second point is with regard to prose content, and as you point out – entertainment. Maybe I’m old school but I enjoy reading articles on operation, history, planning, concepts, and many other subjects that do not need photos or videos to explore. My 2c’s.

    I agree completely that a descrcription of “why”would be way more interesting than what was done. The “Layout at a glance” is interesting but overdone, way overdone.

    One thing that I find as I become an older modeler is that I have more specific tastes and interests than in the past. A music teacher once told me to focus on what got me interested in playing a (full in the blank) instrument and explore that. If I try to learn everything about every era and genre then I become the master-of-none.

    1. Thanks Neil,
      Your comments regarding editing of both text and video are spot on, and I won’t disagree that some articles should have more text – just not construction articles.
      I’ll have to think about design and operations articles another time. Some of them may be interesting, but again, they are seldom entertaining. I find they are difficult to get through unless I have an interest in the specific topic of the article.
      I will take issue with your specificity of taste, though. Sure, nobody expects anyone to be a master of every topic, but by exposure to a broad spectrum of ideas and techniques, we learn much that we can apply to our own narrow strip of the world.

      1. I missed this reply but a topic came up in an MRH thread regarding depiction of the world one models. I understand the desire to create a utopia where everything is beautiful on a sunny summer (fall or winter) day and there isn’t any poverty or racial issue but some things existed that we can’t ignore. In my narrow view of Hawai’i the majority of workers were people of color who lived marginal existences. Although not like Jim Crow, a layout that depicts the area would be pure fantasy.

        I would be curious if you had ever given thought to this or other “realities” we tend to ignore.


      2. Thanks for the thought-provoking question, Neil.

        The answer depends on what you make of the hobby. If it is simply an escape, then I can respect that and I’ll happily approve of the rainbows, lollipops and unicorns on the layout (provided they are well executed).

        However, prototype modelling is a form of history, and as historians our role – in fact our responsibility – is to depict the ugliness alongside the beauty. To shuffle objectionable parts of history under the rug is to deny its existence and I think then perpetuate the underlying ugliness. Owning up to the fact that we are not perfect, that we have been (or are!) racist, that there is poverty, that many are disenfranchised is the first step to reconciliation. From there, perhaps we can do something about it.

        On a personal level, if I ever build the other end of the branch, I will have to depict the Golden Lake Reserve. I’ve never seen any photos of it, but most First Nations reserves were pretty dire in my era; indeed, many continue to be so today. If there is room, and it makes sense, I believe I will model that location with the same sensitivity that I aim to apply to all my modelling.


  2. Rene, I had not read the original blog post, MRJ is very much an exception rather than a rule, but its a good point. Our modelling press, although having quite a large selection, is getting a bit stagnated. Sometimes I read stuff and I genuinely believe I have read it before as its either almost copied or edited to sound identical. Oly

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