Category Archives: Opinions

Satisfaction

I do not normally comment on model railway magazines: very few maintain consistently good output, but the latest issue of Model Railway Journal, number 284, contains a very nice piece of writing with lovely pictures by JohnDuffy concerning his 0 gauge layout, “Rosehearty”. Aside from the delightful and much neglected prototype railway (the Great North of Scotland Railway) as subject, the author goes to considerable effort to explain why he built the layout – something which the guest editor, Barry Norman, is always keen to explore.

You can see some photos on John’s thread on RMWeb, but to me the message was, understand why, and you will get much, much closer to personal satisfaction.

It’s a model. Deal with it.

When I look at a painting, the last thing I want to see is an exact re-location of real life: I want something of the artist to show through, and to be able to try to understand what the artist is showing me. I am happy to accept that this is a painting. I don’t expect it not to be. When I look at a good photograph, I know that what I am shown is dependent on the viewpoint (literally) of the photographer and the lenses used, and that is part of the appreciation. I don’t attend live music expecting to hear what was recorded in the studio, and I know that the play is an artifice.

When I look at an individual model, I personally look for a fairly authentic replication of the real thing, to within a certain (hopefully specified) tolerance of real dimensions, with believable colour rendition and clean workmanship. When I look at a layout, however, precise replication of the real place can be problematic, and sometimes frankly boring, so I look more for the interpretation of the scene, the composition of the model, and the consistency of the craft used: items like track clearances stand out to me, but I can cope with (say) 1:8 turnouts in place of 1:10, as they often look sharper in real life due to seeing track from just a few feet above ground level.

My models use electricity to run them, not steam. I have to manually couple and couple them, and I don’t tighten the shackles on screw-links. I could use auto couplers, but the real thing didn’t – even knuckle couplers need lining up manually – except on some multiple unit stock, which I don’t model.I can’t do anything about the periodicity of loose couplings swinging, as that is down to their length and has nothing to do with mass, and so on.

In short, it’s a model. I know that. I don’t mind that. I just want it to be vaguely recognisable as something prototypical and which reflects the effort that went into its creation to make it as un “toy-like” as possible.

And yes, when I see train set track nailed to a piece of plywood, which has been painted grey to represent ballast, playing host to unmodified ready to run trains, rushing past plastic train set buildings and through dyed sawdust fields, I generally take the view that not much effort went into creating it, and pass by before I start to feel insulted.

Do you get it?

Chances are, if you are in the very small minority of modellers who follow this blog, you probably do get it. Maybe I am whistling (or worse!) in the wind, or preaching to the already converted (or choir, if you are North American).

Anyway, I recently had the temerity to suggest that all the effort of making a layout with correctly gauged and highly detailed track was for nothing if a loco running on it wasn’t well-enough proportioned/shaped to capture the look of the prototype, even if it was nicely weathered. As the layout concerned has been built to “Protofour” standards by a member of the Scalefour Society, I even quoted their frequently used strap line: “it’s not just about wheels and track”.

The responses are, if you are not involved, an amusing display of self-righteous priggishness, not too far removed from the indignation a letter in the Railway Modeller created, when it was suggested that a minor detail on a layout was out of period, and the required information for correcting it was helpfully provided. I have been told I am wrong, I am petty, that the model concerned looks like the prototype, it runs really nicely, and that the weathering job makes up for it. And oh yes, that “P4 is easier once you realise not everything has to be precisely accurate” because proportion and colour are more important. Let’s go through those points.

Firstly, it was a genuine question, not a direct criticism: what is the point of going to the nth degree of accuracy in one part of a layout, if the rest isn’t at least proportionally correct enough to create a convincing display of verisimilitude? Secondly, if someone has gone to the trouble of making their own track and replacing the wheel sets on their models in an attempt to (presumably) make better models, is it not odd to then run something which is a bit of a caricature of the real thing on it? Thirdly, the model is inaccurate enough in two areas (the under frame of the prototype does not have pseudo-solebars running under the length of the body side, and the cab roof curvature is too shallow) to have prompted several articles on improving it and a new manufacturer to go into production solely to rectify the errors in the models of the whole series of related prototypes. Fourthly and fifthly, a nice weathering job and good running are irrelevant to the matter at hand: these are prime examples of the “straw-man” fallacy. Finally, I never mentioned the need for the loco to be a precise, accurately measured model: just to look like the real thing. (Colour is another straw man.) The “precision” of the modelling is relevant only because the layout builder has chosen to follow “finer standards” in his modelling, and I wondered about the consistency of the approach.

At the same time, in another part of the same bulletin board, a comment was made about S scale modellers being concerned over as little as 1/64th of an inch. This amused me greatly, for two reasons. Firstly, in the UK we use a scale wheel profile and track gauges deal with laying track accurately: in this respect, the precision of the modelling is as good as the tools (and hence usually, a lot finer than 1/64th of an inch!) Secondly, getting things to within a scale inch or so is simply the easiest way to create a model with the correct proportions: getting the proportions and relationships between objects is more important than precise “exact scale” accuracy. Working to a high level of engineering tolerance is a means to an end, which is something that looks good and runs well.

Those who have read the S Scale MRS history page will know about Charles Wynne defining his level of accuracy for modelling: within a scale inch of the prototype dimensions. To me, that is what “finescale” is all about: defining your tolerances, and sticking to it. He did this 1919!

Which brings me back to my main point, and also takes me back – yet again – to the words of Cyril Freezer in the mid 1970s, which gave guided my thinking on “toy” vs “scale” vs “finescale” ever since, but acknowledging improvements in manufacturing processes since then, I am going to paraphrase things a bit – and besides, these are my thoughts on the matter: fundamentally the same, but refined in the light of 46 years of thinking, modelling and improvements in the quality of toys.

If you assemble a model railway using off-the shelf components, and base the layout around off the shelf “universal” track, then you are essentially trying to create either a toy train set using modern, well-made and reasonably accurate models, or are trying to create a scale model railway where the overall impression is of paramount importance. There are many reasons for doing this, and if this is your choice, then it is correct for you even if it isn’t how I would do it. I will be the first to support your choices and the last to apply my standards to your models. In this regard, the word scale is being used to say that the models look more or less like the real thing (“near enough is good enough”), and are reasonable enough representations of the prototype to be a model in that sense: i.e. this is a model railway, not a toy. Good luck to you: enjoy it. And I will be happy to operate your layout if asked.

However, once you decide to start move away from the out of the box experience, possibly with a bit of detailing (replacing cast/moulded handrails with wire, for example) then you are stepping away from this comfort-zone. This is particularly so when you start to address the issues of running quality and compromises required to produce models to “universal” model standards. It doesn’t matter if you are working in 4mm scale, and simply refining 00 track, replacing wheels snd moving up to EM or P4 track (even if it is the new Peco EM track) or work in H0 scale, and are using “code 88” or “code 55” wheels, and replacing trucks with better looking, more correctly proportioned upgrades, or dealing with similar issues in other scales (including North American S scale!). If you have decided to create models that are closer to the prototype in terms of colour, shape, proportion, fine detail, dimensional accuracy, or track which looks like the real thing reduced in size, then you are modelling to “finescale”, and getting things consistently right is important. If you think that an accurate track gauge is required, then displaying models with an incorrect shape is pointless, no matter how good the “weathering” or the running qualities. Once you know, it has to be done…

If you can’t see this, then you really don’t get it at all.

BLM

To a picture of the Dukes of Hazzard, with Daisy sprawled over the car roof, a friend recently said:
“Back in 1979, the most shocking thing about this programme was how short those shorts were … “

This is my reply.

No, the most shocking thing was how unaware we all were about the offensive meaning of that flag.
The fact that we weren’t shocked back then doesn’t alter the fact that it was actually shockingly crass to large parts of American society. 

BLM is a movement aimed at getting American Society to the point where all lives matter equally, and to address the systemic racism that the majority of us simply don’t understand – witness some of the discussion points on this thread.

I am 100% against people making everything they can into an issue, particularly when it leads to a whitewashing of history (I chose those words deliberately, as it is the whites who are washing racially-based slavery out of history), and I am all for recognising the simple truth that for most of human history slavery has been the norm, but that doesn’t mean we can simply dismiss it out of hand: we need equity (the same fair chance at success, with help to compensate a little via things like free healthcare, free education), not direct equivalence (we are all different, and we start from different places: diversity and variation are surely to be celebrated?) No, we have to work at being better, and not hiding the past, but showing that we are continually improving on it.



For the record, my forebears are working/peasant class as far back as history records them. Almost certainly some were slaves, their descendants serfs, and later generations were hard working and poorly paid. Greater social mobility and educational equity meant my parents were the first in either of their families not to rent, I.e. to have a mortgage and eventually to own a house outright, and I was the very first to toddle off to higher education and get a degree. None of that is because I am white and (now) “middle class”, just the result of greater equity in our society. The same is also true for many of my BAME friends (most of whom shudder at being labelled that way) but they have had to overcome obstacles – including from amongst their peers at school – because of their skin colour.

That’s what BLM is trying to achieve: not the re-writing of history (see Nelson Mandela’s comments about things like Rhodes Scholarships) but greater sensitivity and the opening of doors rather than the closing of them.

I got off my soapbox, and gave it to the short kid. Unfortunately he fell off, and now I am being pursued by lawyers for an injury claim… 😉