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Modeling Philosophy

January 6, 2010

As I begin setting fort on the occasionally daunting task of modeling a prototype railroad, I find myself facing many choices.   There are so many products out there from this manufacturer or that manufacturer that vie for not only attention, but also hobby money, hobby time, and promise results of one sort or another.  It is, thus, in a world full of products and choices that it is important to decide what YOUR modeling philosophy is going to be.

Many things and people have influenced my philosophy, but by drawing on their statements and ideas, I have developed my own standing where I am comfortable and it gives me direction in my railroading.

If I chose to, I could do model railroading easily.  I could buy any steam or diesel locomotive painted for any railroad that I had heard of or fit the region where I live.  I could buy sectional track, and there are now products out there that we’re all familiar with that even have roadbed included in the sectional track, and use that.  I could use code 100 track and build something to just watch the trains run.  For many people, that approach is how they get into the hobby.  It’s how I got into the hobby, with that first train set nailed to a 4’x8’ sheet of plywood.

That level of model railroading occupies a large portion of what is done in the hobby.  Ready-built structures, weathered cars out of the box, locomotives that come with all the details already on them and ready to roll.  You can build a model railroad in an afternoon with grass mat, snap-together track, ready to roll equipment, and pre-built structures.  If that’s where you choose to go with your railroading, I welcome you to railroading and I hope you will enjoy your trains enough to want to delve deeper.

My personal idea of railroading is somewhat different.  An article by David Barrow some years ago in a long-lost railroading magazine stated that the idea is not to be a model railroader, but to be a railroad modeler.  Think about that for a moment.  What are you?  Are you modeling just the trains, or are you modeling a railroad?  I, personally, am modeling a railroad and that makes me a railroad modeler.  I intend to model not only the trains so they’re “neat” to watch run, but also so they do work.  My approach has already shifted away from that first 4’x8’ sheet and toward running a railroad.

Going back to the idea of the basically ready to run railroad, modeling a prototype line, in a set year, in a set season, as influenced by other modelers who I know, read, and talk to, I find that my focus becomes more and more what is right for the era, railroad, region, season, etc… and less just getting by with something that is just close.

It comes down to a few statements that point further toward the basis for my philosophy.

1.  If I wanted quantity of equipment or speed of construction, I am in the wrong hobby, modeling the wrong railroad.

2.  If I wanted inexpensive or easy to find equipment I am using the wrong brands and materials.

3.  If I wasn’t interested in accurate, near or actual museum-quality equipment, I wouldn’t be modeling the railroad that I am modeling.

My standards are high, aren’t they?  I intend to use high quality equipment, from the benchwork lumber, to the cabinet-grade plywood for decking to the milled homasote for roadbed to the code 70 track and so on and so on.  I’m buying the accurate, (and hard to find) brass equipment.  The equipment that is not commercially available will have to be scratch-built.  That’s the standard.  It is high.  Then, I’m embarking on one railroad that I intend to be working on for 30 years or more, not a railroad that I feel I need to have done in three months so I can move on to the next plan.

What it all boils down to is this:  I understand that the kind of standards I have for the railroad modeling that I am doing will mean two things.  First, it isn’t going to be cheap.  That, however, is relative.  Cost over time, at least in my life, isn’t a bad thing.  I am willing to pay what it takes to have the equipment and railroad be what I want it to be.  I’ll be happier with the end result if I have used quality and not cut corners.  Not because others will know, but because I will know and if someone who is knowledgeable about the prototype I am modeling (the Yosemite Valley Rail Road) visits the layout, they should be able to walk the line and recognize the locations without wondering why a building is a strange color.  Two, along with things costing what they wind up costing, it all takes time.  Lots and lots of time.  I’ve spent MONTHS now preparing my layout room.  It still isn’t done and I am determined to get the room to the point where I’m comfortable in there before I cut a stick of benchwork.

I may sound snooty, but I don’t think I am.  I’m not looking down my nose at anyone.  It makes me really happy to see people entering the hobby and progressing to whatever they find is their enjoyable level of immersion in railroading.  For me, the fact that my standards are high, with everything, means that I simply know what I’m doing, am guided in my decisions for the layout by those standards, and I am not willing to digress from them.  For me, it makes railroad-modeling fun.

Happy New Year!


2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 7, 2010 1:41 pm

    Here here! Starting the new year, I did a similar mental exercise – both lessons learned in 2009, and planning for 2010 that have helped me refine my modeling philosophy. Of course, I’m now nearly 3 decades older then when I started, and so I think my age plays a factor.

    Who, besides Dave Barrow, are your modeling heros, and why?

  2. daddooo permalink
    January 8, 2010 2:00 am

    Obviously, modeling the YV, Jack Burgess is one of my modeling heros. His model railroad is the standard by which any model of anything YV is always going to be measured. I enjoy reading Tony Koester and his ideas as well. THere are others with interesting ideas, but when I evaluate what I want to do, I try to borrow and emulate just a few.

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