Intelligent Discussion

Unless you have stumbled upon my blog for the first time, Mike Cougill will be no stranger to you. As I have said before, the thoughtful postings on his blog have helped pull me out of my modelling doldrums more than once. And not because he gave me answers, either – not even because he gave me questions – but because he guided me to ask myself the right questions. Mike is very well read on matters such as “thought leadership”, which is not as nebulous a phrase as many might think – see my previous sentence about guiding someone to asking themselves the right questions – and has identified a niche in the model railway hobby for thinking. If you want to see how this operates, then have a browse at the excellent O Scale Trains Magazine website (out of print back-numbers are free), and read his column in issues 37, 38 and 39. If you like what he wrote there, you will enjoy the rest of his output, which produces such scenes as this:

Still life with gold bricker

Still life with gold bricker

Modelling Masterclass

Under the series title “Masterclass Modelling”, Mike has published 2 books so far: the out of print “Pieces of the Puzzle” and the sublime “Detailing Track”. As an e-book Covered Hoppers, Volume 1 of a promising series on modern freight cars, has also appeared and provides detail photos that every modeller of these vehicles need. I don’t model these vehicles, but being fascinated by the prototypes, I bought it and learned quite a lot in the process!
“Pieces of the Puzzle” was Mike’s first venture into publishing, and as he admits, was a “learning experience”. It is now out of print, but Mike feels that issues 1 and 2 of The Missing Conversation make a fuller and clearer exposition of his thoughts on this title. I will review this no further, except to say that I really enjoy re-reading it.

If you want to learn how to achieve this, then the book is for you.

If you want to learn how to achieve this, then the book is for you.

“Masterclass Modeling Series® #2 -Detailing Track” is a masterpiece worthy of a much wider audience in the hobby. Here is a book which deals with the prototype and how to model it, and is written for a discerning audience. How discerning? Well, if you wish to model track rather than simply lay track and ballast and paint it, then you are discerning enough to buy the book, and you will not be disappointed. It is profusely illustrated, informative, and helpful. Mike’s aim is to encourage modellers to “take the first step toward making that dream of a railroad in your mind a reality”, and this he does via the simple 3 stage process of outlining the design and use issues for the prototype, how these might be modelled, and then he actually does this, step by step. For a flavour of Mike’s approach, read this blog posting, and learn how to start producing work such as this:

"Hand laying turnouts isn't hard. Getting over your reluctance and internal fear is the hardest part."

“Hand laying turnouts isn’t hard. Getting over your reluctance and internal fear is the hardest part.”

I would have liked a bit more information on track from 100 years ago, when things were less standardised, and more generally on the placement of switch stands, but if you think track is a model in its own right and a key component of the whole modelling scene, then this book is for you, regardless of the country, period and prototype of your modelling, and I would advise that you order it now!
On page 46, Mike offers the best piece of advice I have ever seen, not just about modelling track, or indeed about modelling: stop before you go too far. (In this context, do not file too much off, do not over-detail.)

The Missing Conversation

Having identified a gap in the market for “folks looking for an in-depth discussion about the hobby” Mike has created The Missing Conversation with the simple aim of speaking to this “deeper, more thoughtful” audience. The Missing Conversation is built on three basic principles, which are fundamental to Mike’s approach to the hobby:

A scale model should be consistent from top to bottom, including the wheel profile and track gauge.

If the hobby is worth doing, it is worth doing well.

Details matter.

Apart from the publisher’s piece on the “back cover” (it is not a book, but a pdf) there are no distracting adverts. There is also no letters page – the OST blog serves this function, after all, and provides a forum for the conversation. The layout of the book is clean, simple, and elegant, including a reasonable amount of “white space”. The latter is important, as any student of Japanese art will tell you. It creates in this case “thought space”, i.e. it encourages thinking. There is no visual crowding to be carried over into the mind, so there is space to think. Reading The Missing Conversation is not to be hurried. Like good poetry, it repays careful thought about the phrases used, even the very words – and like good poetry, it can also be enjoyed as a leisurely read in its own right. It is not for everyone, I admit, but personally I think it is worth every penny. So far, The Missing Conversation has had the following issues:

Volume 1 – Layout Design: Asking why instead of how
Volume 2 – The Essentials
Volume 3 – Standards. Finescale standards in Proto:87 and Proto:48, with a feature on Warner Clark’s outstanding Proto:48 layout
Volume 4 – Craftsmanship. Featuring the work of Tony Sissons in 1:87 and Tom Mix in 1:48.
Volume 5 – Switching: More than meets the eye. Operations from the perspective of real railroaders.

There are also two free special editions, Starting in Scale Modelling and Questioning Normal, and Mike has produced two useful short introductory pieces on track, Handlaid Track and Turnouts, which are free to download and disseminate (which is what I have done here.

In short, if you want someone to tell you what to think, Mike’s published output is definitely not for you. But then, if that was the case, I doubt if you would have read this far. Would you enjoy The Missing Conversation? I cannot say, but download the free articles, and if you enjoy them, you can ask yourself the correct question!

The Missing Conversation provides thought leadership for the hobby.

Pictures reproduced with kind permission of OST Publications.


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  1. Pingback: Can’t see the trees for the wood… | The Erratic and Wandering Journey

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