Category Archives: Opinions

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!

Nothing new under the sun…

A lot of people seem to lay claim to the “less is more” concept: I see it frequently posted on the web along the lines of, “John Smith explains his ‘less is more’ concept” or even “I explain my ‘less is more’ concept”.

Anyway, I came across this wonderful quote from Seneca the Younger (5BCE-65CE):

It is quality rather than quantity that matters.

Sense of Place

I have written before about “love of subject”, and indeed mention it in the “about” sidebar entitled “Finescale With Feeling”. I think it provides a “grounding” for the modeller, and this shows in the results. That said, I wish I had done as good a job as Ken Karlewicz has in his YouTube video:

Our hobby needs more like this.

Thanks due to Trevor Marshall for introducing this to me.

Addendum: this layout is featured in the 2019 issue of Model Railroad Planning.

…and Standards

Engineers talk about tolerances, the degree to which a component can vary from a specification – and also whether that is plus, minus or ±. These two things, the specification and the tolerance, are the very definition of standards. The finer (smaller) the tolerances, the finer the standard and the greater the precision. Simple. But the standard is the standard, and the tolerance is the tolerance, regardless of the degree of precision.

And here, I think, lies the problem. When people hear or see the word “standards” they automatically add the qualification “high”, or even “very high” even if it isn’t there. But let’s be clear, even if you buy things off the shelf, they have been made to a standard: to ensure maximum sales potentials, track will have defined standards for gauge and flangeways, and wheels will have defined back to back and flange profiles. These can be defined in various ways, such as “track gauge equals check gauge plus flangeway” and “back to back equals check gauge minus glance width”, but the point is, by buying off the shelf, a modeller has already implicitly accepted these standards, albeit unknowingly in many cases.

Finescale is about accepting the degree to which perfection is unattainable. Whilst “exact scale” may be used to set an accurate track gauge, etc, the physical world of engineering tolerances means that is not fully achievable. This is liberating, as it points to the need to allow for a degree of imperfection. Finescale is therefore all about setting standards: not just for track and wheels, but about everything: level of detail, contemporaneously correct details, etc. It’s an attitude of mind. This acknowledgement and definition of standards is the definition of how we wish to achieve our aims. And the measure of success is gauged against these standards. And this is where the pitfalls lie and misunderstandings arise.

  • This is an entirely personal and individual choice: what works for me may not work for you.
  • Similarly, not consciously adopting or defining standards is a perfectly feasible alternative: if buying off the shelf works for you, then by all means do so, but please don’t think you have avoided having standards by accepting someone else’s.
  • The fact that I have defined my personal standards does not mean I think I am in any way “better” than anyone else. It’s just my way of doing my hobby. If you resent my active choice of standards, that’s says nothing about me but a lot about you.
  • Working to a tighter degree of tolerance takes more time. I might achieve “less” in terms of quantity, but that’s not what I want.
  • This in no way contradicts the “good enough” concept: it is entirely congruent with it.. I am not building an operationally-focused “basement empire”, so replacing cast details is fine by me: that’s how I enjoy my modelling. If I had the space and desire for a large operations oriented layout, I would be using RTR equipment, modified, repainted and weathered to be sure, but everything would be subordinate to the aim of creating that dream, which has to be balanced against the time I have available.
  • As a corollary to all the above, what works for you in your circumstances probably won’t work for me in mine, so please don’t force your secret of success on me, or tell me that it is the only way to happiness.

Fundamentally I get more from satisfaction than from fun. This takes more time, but is much more enjoyable.

This post, and the last two, was inspired by Mike Cougill’s recent post on inspiration, whose wonderful blog continues to a haven for the sane, rational and thoughtful amongst the hobby.

It’s About Time…

This blog, I freely admit, operates to no known timetable and is a bit like the proverbial bus service: you wait ages for a post and then two turn up at once! I can only blame myself as I did promise (threaten?) another one and at least one person is waiting to see it. (Thank you, René, for pricking my conscience!)

Another word for a hobby is “pastime”, literally a way of passing time. As such, there doesn’t have to be a defined end point, there is no requirement to “finish” anything, just so long as one is passing time in an enjoyable way (otherwise this is not a hobby, merely a chore). I suppose I could stop there, because ultimately it really is as simple as that, but there is a slight paradox as it also isn’t as simple as that!

To elaborate, the simple definition of passing time in an enjoyable manner applies in our case to the whole bundle that makes up railway modelling – however you define that end process, be it creating a layout, operating to a timetable, building individual models, etc. So, to use an example, René Gourley’s 24 year and counting project to model Pembroke in Proto:87 is by any measure a successful way of passing time, the more so in that the project still has many years to go, and will continue to provide opportunities for him to pass time for many years to come with many personal achievements along the way – which is what hobbies do. And at the end of this lies the enjoyment of operating a layout which authentically replicates a real place at a real time: fulfilling that goal is the end target, which is why the definition here is simple.

A less simple aspect is the individual steps along the way, for the way is not a straight line and twists and turns like a twisty-turny thing. It also includes uphills and downdales plus more than a few blind alleys. Some of these activities are not, at the time, an enjoyable way of passing time, indeed they may seem like a waste of time! Viewed on their own, it is easy to see such events as a lost hour, evening, week, month even years, but I refuse to see it like that. Everything here is valuable: whilst it is tempting to think that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, it really isn’t and blind alleys remind us that this isn’t so. Also, even if we don’t achieve what we thought we might achieve, we will at least have tried out new ideas or practiced new skills and we have an opportunity to review what we did and gain insight into why it didn’t work out. Hopefully we do that. As the song begins, the road is long with many a winding turn. But as the Chinese sage said, even the longest journey begins with but a single step.

Individual steps may turn out to have gone in the wrong direction and need retracing. But they are not a waste of time, providing the journey as a whole is moving forward, then there is progress and the time has been usefully and (mostly) enjoyably, passed.


I have come to realise that S scale presents a difficult conundrum. It can be hard to make progress (even harder to initiate it) when so much personal commitment to the future has to be made. It’s a kind of inertia – once it gets going, I suspect it keeps going. But once one has tried S and found it to one’s liking, it is hard to “go back” to anything else. It’s obviously not for everyone – some like the detailing possibilities of larger scales, others the “train in the landscape” opportunities of N, still others the commercial availability of H0/00 and finer things in 4mm scale – but when it bites, it really does bite. I am talking here about genuine modellers who are interested in creating an authentic scene, not those who just want to play trains. The vision in S has to be long term, and the progress can be very slow. I suppose it’s the difference between fun (immediate, transient, requires regular novelty to sustain, hence basement empires and constantly buying new equipment) and satisfaction (somewhat distant long term, enduring enjoyment of what one has).
I shall be returning to the matter of how long it takes and why that isn’t a problem very soon…