Letter to the editor – Two steps to save our hobby

This post is hi-jacked, with apologies, from the Model Railroad Hobbyist forum.  It’s worth a read and seems to make a lot of sense to me.  It’s another, if lengthy, plea for small model railways…..

Letter to the Editor

Reversing the Decline in Participation in Model Railroading Depends on Taking Two Steps

Participation in the model railroading hobby will expand if we take to heart some lessons from military modellers. While admittedly anecdotal evidence, a look at the ages of authors published in Kalmbach’s Fine Scale Modeller reveals military modellers, or more broadly plastic modellers, to be a generation or two younger than model railroaders.

Military modellers, as I will call them for shorthand, seem to be fellows who had variously some or no introduction to model building as children; so far so good, they seem to fit the mould of model railroaders. They then abandoned the hobby for girls and cars; again just like model railroaders. They get back into the hobby after marriage puts an end to their wilder days.

Here are two ways where our paths diverge.

First, while some of us mirror the military modeller and get back into model railroading once a more settled lifestyle takes over, others of us see a large model railroad as something we must put off until the kids go off to college and we have settled into our dream home (read “big home with big basement”). This is a major cause of the shrinking of our hobby. Yes, that Americans have a reduced relationship to real trains plays a role too. Indeed, American ridership on railroads is down from its glory days and so many rail yards that dads visited with their sons have disappeared.

Just what feeds the above mentioned inertia of the armchair model railroader?. Sadly this inertia is too often fed by the modelling press. While the long term interests of the model railroading press is in growing our hobby, editors’ short term interest is in holding the attention of their readers. I would posit their long and short term interests work at cross purposes — to the detriment of the hobby. Big layouts sell magazines – not a problem in itself. However, reading and then dreaming about big layouts too often seems to confirm armchair modellers to stay right there – in their armchairs.

A second difference between military modellers and ourselves is that while they would never think of modelling tanks, for instance, of a make believe nation, model railroaders create our own fictional railroads. We go so far as to name them after spouses, etc. Perhaps a younger generation sees this as immature? Younger folks have so many avenues for fictionalized amusement, those who turn towards modelling seem to want fidelity to a prototype. Could our fictionalized railroads seem childish to them? It is a question worth pondering.

Heretofore efforts at reducing declining participation in the hobby may be misplaced. A recent Kalmbach publication quoted John Nehrich as maintaining that our efforts to recruit children to the hobby are counter-productive – such efforts only working to reinforce stereotypes that model railroading is a childish pursuit.

While efforts such as the participating in the Boy Scout’s railroading merit badge (which has a modelling component) will probably not harm our efforts, I think Nehrich is on to something if we place too great an emphasis on children. So here are my suggestions.

So what seems to be the fork in the road — apologies to Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken (1916) — that makes model railroading if not “the road less travelled by” then a road that we could improve upon? Military modellers can pursue their hobby with less room (a small workbench suffices); at less cost; and with more modest yet attainable goals in sight. So how can we as the model railroad hobby learn and thrive from this? I offer two solutions that complement one another.

Perhaps if our magazines and the NMRA extolled the benefits of the smaller layout (and honoured such layouts with generous coverage), then a golden age of model railroading could lie ahead of us? Smaller, even European-style exhibition layouts, or I dare suggest even the micro-layouts Carl Arendt popularized at his web site http://www.carendt.com, can solve most of the challenges facing someone considering entering or re-entering the hobby of model railroading.

Micro layouts would allow young adults (in their 20s and 30s) to enjoy our hobby with minimal space requirements, minimal time investment, and minimal financial outlays. For many years some pointed the finger at declining participation in the NMRA at the problem of smaller houses — this has been debunked by the fact that American homes have been growing in recent decades (though often the expanded space is spoken for with finished rooms dedicated such uses as home theatres, etc.).

That said, those young men (and yes model railroading seems to attract more men than women) do indeed reside in smaller homes or apartments and will only participate in model railroading if can be tailored to their circumstances. Yes, many of them will trade up to larger living accommodations as the decades of their lives roll on. But we want to get them at an earlier age so some restraint in what we call a great model railroad is called for. The Europeans seem to have worked this out better than we have.

Rather than all the talk of despair, let’s give a chance to appealing to younger men by encouraging them in more manageable modelling goals and eschewing fantasy modeling (there are plenty of alternative modelling and computer venues for that).

Nicholas Kalis
McLean, Virginia

Nicholas is building a Fn3 layout of the Oahu Sugar Company set in 1943. His previous layout took the cover of September 2007 Railroad Model Craftsman

About snitchthebudgie

Secretary of the East Surrey N Gauge railway club
This entry was posted in Inspiration, Jon's layout ramblings, Layout design and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Letter to the editor – Two steps to save our hobby

  1. Reblogged this on By the Mighty Mumford and commented:


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.