Author Archives: Simon

About Simon

The only requirement is to think for yourself. The only condition is to not exploit others.

Details – they’re personal

How to approach the hobby, in your own way – and make sure you also read Marty’s post.


An entertaining post from Marty McGuirk reminded me that I wanted to expand on  Summons, which I wrote back in October.  There I argued that realism lies in the textures and colours between the details, rather than in the details themselves.

Consequently, some of the most realistic models you’ll find are taken out of the box and simply weathered by master painters.  Some freelance railroads ooze a sense of place that you believe you have visited.

So, why bother with detail?  The purpose of detail is to accurately portray the prototype – nothing more and nothing less.  Getting the accuracy of the model right is a personal quest for each of us.  Some of us prefer to go the distance, while the others prefer to stop off at the first pub.

But here’s the thing: once the model is painted, you and the other foamer who has also attempted…

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Taking the bait?

MRJ issue 259 is out, and features a lengthy letter from no less than Iain Rice in response to Tony Wright’s somewhat immature jibe at P4. Personally I think Tony was rather rude, having been invited to write for the leading finescale magazine, to then proceed to trash his hosts, but more importantly, I am not sure that it was worth dignifying with such a thoughtful and lengthy reply.

There are a lot of words in Iain’s letter, but essentially it boils down to the following, which can be applied to any general standard compared to “Proto:N”.

00 started out as toy trains for kids, and had to be robust enough to cope with uneven floors and carpets, as well as fitting onto table tops. Even after refinement, commercial 00 still has a lot of slop available to cope with less than perfect track and supporting structures, and will go around curves that are much tighter (in scale terms) than the real thing could, and therefore you can fit more layout into a given space. Mechanically, it is designed to be robust, requiring little maintenance and to simply ignore minor irregularities in the track.
P4 is different. It started out with the scale of 4mm to one foot, and asked the simple (!) question of how close could one take the model to (scaled down) prototype tolerances. As such, it requires greater precision in manufacturing so that it can accommodate irregularities in the track and supporting structures – which also need to be made to finer tolerances – and (depending on how well engineered things are) possibly more maintenance. Any layout based on a real mainline location will also need a lot more space, as although some physical forces scale down differently to others there is still a limit to what is an acceptable minimum radius.

Iain also mentions a private layout, but overlooks “Heckmondwyke” with a 42” minimum radius, and also the “Irish P4” layout Adavoyle, which apart from being an unusual subject, demonstrated that properly designed and made, Proto standards not only work, but work in such a way that the trains ran through the station (at speed) with just the right amount of movement, something which is not achievable in 00. And that the work involved to get to this level of reliability is not that great, either.

That is a shame, as simply pointing out that either Tony hadn’t seen either of these layouts, or had simply chosen to ignore their existence, means that Tony’s point was simply wrong, as well as being irrelevant.

Ultimately, this is simply yet another example of someone who has chosen not to follow a particular path inferring that those who do are somehow wrong. Psychoanalysts call this reaction formation (the tendency of a repressed wish or feeling to be expressed at a conscious level in a contrasting form), but to the rest of us, it is simply inverted snobbery or anti-elitism, possibly from someone who feels that they could have maybe done better.

The hobby is better without such childishness.

Those twin imposters

Mike Cougill has posed a very interesting question: how best to present ourselves to serious journalists?

I have long since stopped caring about such questions: some journalists have a genuinely open and enquiringly mind, but most don’t. How they, the rest of the world and indeed my neighbour who smirks at me because of my hobby view model railways based on preconceptions is their business, not mine. I am too busy enjoying it to really care; in such cases, short-sightedness is its own reward. (My world view: you get a better world view if you try to at least understand someone else’s sincerely held viewpoint, but you don’t have to agree with it.) And yet…

Mike got me thinking of how to answer that point. Mike is good at encouraging people to think, and it is no secret that I like his Socratic style of doing it. (He asks questions, but does not answer for you: you make up your own mind.)

I think the starting point would be to embrace the sheer range of interests and abilities encompassed by this most democratic of hobbies, from the 2 year old pushing a wooden train around the floor, to the determined retiree recreating yesteryear from scratch in his annex, from members of royalty right through to the poorest using the simplest of raw materials and tools to craft buildings from scrap paper and card, so that when he has a bit more money and can afford to buy some trains or more tools, he has a setting for his railway.

And then some honesty. Yes, there are those who just play trains with a train set, and if that helps them relax, to get away from the stresses and strains of everyday life, then so what? But there are also those, like Gordon Gravett and Trevor Nunn as two personal examples, who build it all with the minimum of ready-made components and then – and here’s the best bit – they share the results of their endeavours at public shows, and their techniques via the model press and to anybody who asks. The rest of us fall somewhere between these extremes – both of these gentlemen have created artwork for photo-etching, and patterns for casting, so even when they use such components, they at least are building from scratch. When it comes to building models of locomotives, Trevor buys in the motor and the gears, and that’s it.

Everything in this picture other than the wagon wheels is made by Trevor. Even repeat items were cast from his own patterns, or etched from his own artwork. And the engine has working inside valve gear (Joy’s, just to complicate matters!)

When asked why, I simply say that ultimately I don’t know, but I like trains and building models provides an outlet for my creative side which is completely different from, and free from the demands of, using my brain and computers when working for a living.

Related to this, my brother brought to my attention a LinkedIn* posting by Guy Kawasaki, “How never to fail“. The crux of this was that there are two outcomes to ventures, which most classify as “success” and “failure”. Guy suggests that there is success, and an opportunity to learn, “the opposite of success is not failure, it’s learning”.

Well, excuse me but this is hardly news! Any good railway modeller got to be good by having a go at new techniques and learning from mistakes, by treating success and failure as the imposters Kipling so described. Who would not want to employ someone like that?

And that really is worth presenting to the world.

*If you are unaware of LinkedIn, it has been described to me as “like FaceBook for grownups”.


That thorny perennial subject, “armchair modellers” (I have been here before!), has cropped up on the Model Railroad Hobbyist forum. I have copied my response directly:

I watched a film recently. I felt that the script was weak, the direction poor and the acting wooden. I have never been involved in producing a film or video. Does that make my opinion invalid?

I have been involved in amateur theatre in various forms, although not for many years. Am I “allowed”, therefore, to comment on plays?

I used to play the guitar, and have even appeared on stage in a couple of bands, Does that qualify me to be a music critic? Does that make my opinions somehow more valid than a non-musician, but less valid that a professional musician?

Surely we don’t need to have “qualifications” to be able to express an opinion about our hobby? Yes, if one has never made anything, then it is hard to credibly tell someone else how to do it, but to comment on how good something is, or to suggest an idea of how a problem may be solved, surely that is nothing more than taking an active interest?

I’ll accept the opinion anyone who has an interest in the hobby, a brain, and thoughtful respect for the opinions of others. I might disagree with it. I might not even be interested in it. As long as it is clear whether it is the voice of personal experience, a reference to someone else’s successful technique, or an untried idea, then who cares whether it came from a workbench or an armchair?

There is enough division and bitterness in the world already. Do we really need to bring it into a hobby, our avenue of escape from the outside world?

But, horror of horrors, I am writing this on a tablet, sat in my armchair. Ah well, that at least qualifies me to comment on this topic…