Category Archives: Finescale

“Once you know, it has to be done”

The above is a wonderfully resonant quote from a model railway forum post.

It refers to the fact that the builder had made an assumption about a feature on his chosen prototype, but when he got around to checking up at his local club’s library, he found he needed to make some corrections. (This is a very minor example of the disruption caused by COVID-19, as he didn’t want to put the project on hold pending all the information.) Not everyone would have bothered, but that, perhaps, is the most succinct and compelling difference between a genuine “finescale” model-maker and someone who doesn’t want to get it right. I might add that wanting to find out these details is also a key part of the finescale approach.

There is also the point that pending full knowledge of prototype practice, a reasonable interpolation of the design was made – no hanging around waiting to “know everything”, just an acceptance that a correction would be made if necessary later. This applies to most things within our hobby, although once the track is laid, it can be difficult to change certain fundamentals of its design and construction without wholesale destruction!

Wanting to be better

In 1980, the scientist and author Isaac Asimov memorably commented on ignorance:

There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.

Well, I am fairly sure that this isn’t restricted to the USA: my language skills are not sufficient for me to be able to comment on other cultures, but it seems fairly widespread in the anglophone world, and very much so in our hobby. This does not just apply to knowledge of the prototype – although that in itself is a big problem (witness the number of times you will see layouts praised  on forums [fora?]for being “operationally challenging”, when the prototype wants exactly the opposite) – but also to skills. I am all for encouraging people to post their efforts as they start to learn the craft, and there to be positive encouragement, but surely that also includes advice on how to redress such basics as learning to cut in a straight line, and how to make sure basic assemblies are square, rather than offering uncritical praise? We aren’t at pre-school: most of us are adults, and if not adults yet, then anyone reading this blog is possessed of enough self-awareness to realise that the drive to be better is a sign of a healthy human being.

Let me re-phrase the quote:

There is a cult of mediocrity in the hobby, and there has always been. The strain of anti-finescale has been a constant thread winding its way through our media and clubs, nurtured by the false notion that “fun” means that my “near enough is good enough” is just as good as your desire for accuracy.


A different perspective

In responding to a comment on Mike Cougill’s latest thought-inspiring post, I made reference to one of my own. (I also found some typos!) Re-reading what I wrote, an extra “contrary wise” thought came to me, and it’s worth highlighting here (in bold) as the downside to accepting ready-made objects straight from the box, warts and all:

As René pointed out, “Marty is right: don’t sweat the details, unless that’s your thing, in which case, don’t expect anyone else to notice.”

I would add that if you don’t sweat the details, hope nobody else will notice!

S Scale History Revised!

We like to think that S scale, or what became S scale, was first conceived of in 1896 by Edward Bowness, with his model completed in 1898.

This appears not to be the case, as the following from Locomotive Engineering, Dec. 1893, Vol. 6, No. 12, clearly demonstrates – and look at the fine (scale) flanges! No toy trains here, and live steam to boot.

The accompanying text states:

The Very Smallest Locomotive

We have several times within the last few years given illustrations of extremely small locomotives that were complete in all parts, but that shown in the annexed engraving is the very smallest working locomotive that we have heard about.  It was built by a jeweler, and is the property of Mr. W. E. Gallant, Chicago.  This elaborate toy is built to run on a track 7/8 inch wide and has a total length of 9 ½ inches with tender included.  The cylinders are ½ x 3/8, the driving wheels are 15/16-inch diameter.  The boiler is ¾ x 3 inches.  The total weight of engine and tender is 9 ½ ounces.  Gold, brass, steel, and nickel are the materials of which the engine is made and the pilot is of wood.  It is a real working model and spins along in good shape with its own steam, a spirit lamp providing the required heat.

I wonder what happened to this – it is now at least 125 years old?