In Mark’s response to my post earlier this week about the Importance of Model Railroading, he pointed out that the hobby is also beneficial in developing the skills that we need to tackle the world’s hard problems. Several local tech innovators got their starts in model railroading, and Mark is fond of pointing out that the original hackers came from the MIT Tech Model Railroad Club. As Mark says, “If Makers will save the world then we need more Makers and MR’ing teaches valuable Maker skills.”
Maybe this should be the goal of organizations like the NMRA. Today, “the purposes of the National Model Railroad Association are, in part, to promote, stimulate, foster, and encourage by all manner and means the art and craft of model railroading.” [NMRA Executive Handbook] This is a self-serving mission akin to “make money by selling sugar water.” It’s no wonder the membership is dying off. People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it [Simon Sinek].
What if we turned the NMRA’s purpose on its head? What if our goal were to support the growth of Maker skills through model railroading? That is, rather than being a self-serving inward-facing hobby and organization, we look outward to be a world-serving organization. Model Railroading could save the world!
What would this look like?
I imagine a course similar to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training. The L&LS’s purpose is to raise awareness and funds for research, but you could be forgiven for thinking their purpose was to create healthy people who exercise. To effect this, volunteers provide standardized local training programs that build peoples’ skills toward a goal, such as completing a race. The key features are that the course is a social opportunity, it’s relatively short, and it successfully enables the team to accomplish something they didn’t think they could.
The model railroad equivalent would teach some basic and (mostly) transferable skills – planning, measuring, carpentry, soldering, CAD, model building, electronics and scenery. The project that could initiate all these skills is a Freemo module, and the goal of the team would be to build and display a Freemo layout at a Maker Faire. The key is not to sell it as an introduction to model railroading, but as an introduction to making. I’m calling the program “Get Off the Couch and Make Something, GOTCAMS.” It’s a working title, a slight improvement over GOYAAMS, which was its name as I rode home this evening.
Maybe some of the participants would take up model railroading, and that would be fine. Maybe some of them would go on to save the world, and that would be amazing!
The Photo shows my colleague and I hope friend, Darryl Hodgins, who claims not to be a Maker, but is. He may go on to save the world, or he may go on to run a triathlon.