Mike Cougill has posted a very pertinent post on our connection to real trains, and asks if we need it:
Do we need the connection to real trains? I believe we do without a doubt. Without inspiration from full-size railroading, I’m not certain what this work would become other than a flight of fancy. I believe a connection with your subject is vital but in the absence of first hand experience, friends and mentors can help us understand our strengths and help us explore the form our interests might take. Historical research can provide a strong sense of a different era. That said however, you still have to do the introspection required and make your own choices.
I posted some time back on a personal memory, way back when I was 13½, and yet although the sound, heat and smell of a class 08 shunter or a class 25 Bo-Bo is probably what ties me to the prototype, it isn’t what I model, or indeed want to model.
It’s a sort of chain reaction: that inspiration takes me back to my youth, when I was starting to find my way in the hobby. It is an essential link to my history, but the chain is longer than that. From this starting point, I became more interested in my local railways and their history, and that in turn expanded my horizons further, both in time and geography, and my modelling interests evolved away from that starting point.
And do you know what? That’s great. Trying to recapture my youthful starting point in model form won’t work. Sure, I can get the sound, but not the smell, and model smoke looks like model smoke and not like a model of smoke. And visits to preserved lines are fine, but the context is different: it doesn’t have the same impact on me as – it is slightly ersatz, and not real. But the connection to the trains of the past is still there for me, via a nearly 40 year old memory, still evoked by the smell of (of all things) the diesel fumes from buses of a certain age.