I just read a thought-provoking post over on Tony Thompson’s excellent blog, modeling the SP. Then I took the dog for a walk, which is an excellent time for thinking about something, if you’ve been so provoked.
Tony identifies a spectrum between operations-oriented and prototype accuracy goals that I think resonates with many in the hobby establishment. Like Tony, my own layout falls on this spectrum, but where Tony has a clear love for the Southern Pacific, I’ve never been as enthusiastic about the Canada Atlantic. For me, the CA is something to model, and now I’ve sunk so much into the research, it seems wasteful to do something else.
So, if Tony one day comes to operate on Pembroke (he’s more than welcome, although no wheels are turning these days), I hope he will find a layout that leans toward prototype accuracy on the spectrum, but not so far that it is boring to operate, despite its size. I think he will be satisfied that the goal of the layout is clear.
Tony’s post is great, but I think he leaves out a whole category of model railroaders. Indeed, I think he’s omitted the vast majority of hobbyists who tinker with rolling stock or fuss with scenery. Many of them are casual model railroaders for whom this is one of many hobbies.
I think the bulk of the hobby is probably people who might otherwise paint, or make music, or garden (okay, I have no idea why anyone enjoys gardening). For them, this is an outlet for creativity. They manipulate materials to create their vision and build amazing dioramas through which trains happen to run.
There is another type of creativity, which I think might be the reason I am in this hobby. It is the engineering problem-solving type of creativity. You know someone at the pinnacle of this part of the hobby: their’s is the plywood pacific that houses a thousand mostly-finished ingenious gems.
This axis between problem-solving and artistic creativity does not explain the motivation for the spectrum that Tony identified, however. For that, we need another axis that spans between cooperation and competition. At the zeniths of this axis are the society volunteers who, for example, keep the NMRA running, and the collector-hoarders who relish finding the last item before the other guy. Prototype research lies along this axis somewhere, as the achievement can be seen as personal competition.
Using these two axes, I think the universe of model railroaders shapes up like this:
Why is this important? Probably it isn’t. It’s model trains, for crying out loud!
Yet, if we consider only the single axis from operator to prototype modeller, then we force everyone else to project their experience of the hobby onto that line. You see this all the time in the layout tour articles in the magazines: the builder clearly doesn’t care about operations in their beautiful imaginary world, but they are compelled to include an apologetic paragraph or two about their plans for operations. A single-dimensional view of the hobby excludes many valid and valuable experiences, and if you believe that model railroading will save the world, then we want to include everyone we can into the hobby.
So, let’s consider – no, embrace – the full breadth of the hobby. We are a complex bunch of people, with artistic passions, competitive tendencies, problem-solving genius and cooperative leanings. Our propensities are manifest in many different expressions of the hobby, and we need them all if we are to save the world.