In a round-robin Email between a small group of friends (whom I like to think of as “The Unusual Suspects”) Matt LaChance, not even speaking in his mother tongue, came out with several superb insights, not least of which was this:
I’m still looking for my personal approach to this the… …Temiscouata project even though I know deep inside all the key ingredients are there. Making a good layout right now would be easy, but making it a special layout with personality, that is something else. I have a blurry vision in my mind, I can almost feel on my neck the slightly chilly wind that sweep the St. John’s River valley, but have yet to translate it on the canvas.
Now, isn’t that a grand, poetic way to view the creation of a Model Railway?
That’s my emphasis, but what a great phrase, “a special layout with personality”.
When you think about it, isn’t that what precisely (and yet indefinably) defines a great layout?
I saw this on a forum I use:
But, as it seems I don’t build etched brass kits or even whitemetal ones some will say that I’m not a modeller
Who are these “some”? I haven’t met any of them.
Anyone who goes beyond simply opening boxes is a modeller and the idea that you have to build etched brass kits to become a modeller is nonsense.
This is akin to those who refer to, for want if a better way of putting it, “finescalers” as elitist. Well, I know some of the best modellers in the country, and not one of them is in anyway elitist. Sure, they want to make their models as accurate as possible, to the finest possible standards, etc, but not one of them has ever told me that everyone else must do the same, or that anyone who doesn’t is somehow not worth anything. And all of them, and I do mean every single one, are prepared to share their techniques with anyone who is interested. The only complaint I ever hear from them is that too many are afraid to try.
Personally, I am getting sick and tired of it. We all have limitations, be they time, money, space or skills, but we can increase and improve our skills given time a degree of time. And time can replace money, too: start with raw materials and learn their properties, and acquire the basic tools to work with them. Cutting out and embossing takes longer than buying etchings, yes, but the mistakes and hence the lessons learned are your own, and with time these mistakes are replaced with new ones, and new lessons.
The only times I see the idea that what someone is doing isn’t good enough to be “proper modelling” is from their own minds. There are no right and wrong ways to be a modeller: just putting some personal effort into making a model look more like the real thing, which is as much about careful observation of the real thing as it is about anything else. And you don’t have have to go back in time to see how dirt and weathering affect things.
No, when I see people refer to “some”, I generally incline to the view that the speaker is the “some”, and rather than admit that they feel they could do better, they project their disappointment onto a perceived elite which doesn’t exist. Feeling that you could achieve more and better is quite possibly the defining characteristic of the human condition: it drives us to self-improvement, to every model being slightly better than the previous one (in the early stages, to every model being significantly better than the previous one) until we reached a point where the law of diminishing returns starts to kick in.
From what I have observed, that doesn’t usually happen until one is well advanced into one’s dotage.
As the Bard put it,
From this nettle, danger, we pluck this flower, safety.
Over on his blog, Mike Cougill has been raising some interesting points about the diverse range of activities available to those who are interested in our hobby, and the similarly diverse level of involvement that enthusiasts can enjoy. Indeed, I would go so far as to include those with a “passive” level of engagement – you know, the so-called “armchair modellers” and indeed armchair critics.
So what, then, am I to make about the latest issue of the Model Railway Journal? I picked this up and saw that the “lead”/layout article was about Tony Wright’s “Little Bytham” (which is not far from where I live). Tony is an excellent modeller who knows what he wants from his hobby, and unlike all too many of us has set about arranging his life to achieve it. The results are impressive. I say that as someone who has no desire to in anyway approach what he has done (it simply doesn’t float my boat) and who looks at the photos and can see that the track is 00 and not EM or P4. Not a choice I would have made, personally, but Tony has built up a large collection of engines and rolling stock over the years, and as he was happy with 00 to begin with, and remains happy with it, he hasn’t changed. His train set, his choices, and he is happy to live with the compromises he has made in order to achieve his objectives. The track is well laid, and to reasonably fine standards in terms of clearances, and looks good, and by his own account it runs well. An LNER P2 (passenger train Mikado) with 13 coaches on can replicate the prototype’s performance by running through at a scale 90 miles per hour. Good. That means he has achieved his objective.
So why the cheap jibe that he hasn’t seen a P4 (4mm scale, 18.83mm track gauge) model do the same? Maybe such a layout doesn’t exist, but as long-standing readers of MRJ will know, Chris Pendlenton’s LNER A1 “heavy” pacific can reverse a rake of coaches through a crossover at speed, and with the elegance and grace only possible with fine track and wheel standards combined with sophisticated springing. Surely that’s a bigger test, but more importantly, doesn’t it just reflect the different choices made by another excellent modeller?
Once in a while, you come across a really interesting discussion on the net, and very recently I stumbled across a lovely thread on the RMWeb forum, where one of the members is recording part his recent switch to 0 gauge (7mm:1ft, or 1:43.5 ratio). Because he is sharing his progress, his trials and tribulations as well as his success, there has been a lot of great support and advice offered, as well as humour and friendship. It is a great advert for the web, but I was particularly taken with this post, where Chris describes the “learning opportunities” provided by a kit for a GWR 1366 small pannier tank. To quote him directly:
The 1366 was a steep learning curve/baptism of fire. It would have been very easy to have given up at multiple stages but perseverance and determination generally won over lack of skill and the right tools. I have invested in a few more tools but what I have is still just a step up from basic. This does mean I have to think carefully about the solutions I come up with – those with fully fitted workshops will no doubt be able to turn out more elegant things quicker but it’s not a race.
I’ve said this before but the 1366 has done more to move my skills on than a simple straightforward kit. It has sorely tested my resolve and, despite the current trial separation, will be completed once the confidence has been restored with a few completed projects under my belt.
The main things I’ve learned though are that it’s fairly hard to hurt brass and NS with solder. If something doesn’t work take it apart, clean up the bits and have another go. Keeping the areas to be soldered together clean and well fluxed is important. Most important of all is that you won’t gain skills over night: they come from having a go and keeping trying until you find what works for you. What works will be different for everyone and personal preference comes in.
“Most important of all is that you won’t gain skills over night: they come from having a go and keeping trying until you find what works for you.”
During a discussion on the cost of track, I came across this commonly uttered phrase on a well-known UK-based model railway bulletin board:
I think hand track laying is one of those talents which is limited to those that can.
That’s one of the most depressing things I see and hear, not just about track, nor the hobby, but anything.
Yes, the are a few people who have that something extra, an insight, natural pitch, whatever, which set them apart, but for every singer with perfect pitch there are hundreds if not thousands who have worked hard and trained hard and then finely honed their abilities until it becomes a skill – as Gareth Malone demonstrated on BBC’s “The Choir”. Assuming that you don’t have a “special ability” without trying to find out, or assuming that without a natural “talent” it isn’t worth the effort of learning, is simply giving up without trying: “If you think you can, or think you can’t, you’re right.” – Henry Ford.
I am not saying that anyone has to hand lay track, just that like anything else which is not dead easy (and laying flex track well is not dead easy, as it requires a little care and application) it requires time, patience and practice, and it can be improved upon cosmetically by the addition of jointbars, etc. We do not always have the time to put into this, which is where good flex track comes into its own: for most modellers, this is a trade-off against time they are more than willing to make, especially when the cost is not much different. Similarly for turnouts: the reliability of many brands is very good, and what is more some of them even look vaguely like the real thing. Unfortunately the agreed “universal” standards for the most popular scales have somewhat large flangeways, which stand out clearly to anyone who has studied real track: not just at the common crossing, but also the guard/check rails and the amount of clearance required at the point toes.
It all depends on where you place yourself on the building—operating continuum, and where you get your personal enjoyment of the hobby.
Happiness in The Hobby – just like everything in life – is all about the choices we make, the priorities we have, and the resources we have available. We each have our own combination of these, and being honest with ourselves about the decisions we make. Nothing wrong with that, but there’s no need to hide behind a self-deception of “I haven’t the ability”.