Historical Parallels

240 years or so ago, a group of people who were largely the descendants of English colonisers, but who felt increasingly estranged from their ancestral home, decided that taxation without representation was a drag, and decided to take actions to ensure their independence.

Last week, the descendants of those who stayed at home decided that taxation with representation was a drag, and elected to initiate a process leading to independence based on promises of “immigration controls” and reduced taxation, whilst maintaining a desire to remain part of a “single market”. The leaders of this movement, despite knowing full well that access to that market would have to be paid for and might well require free movement of workers, nevertheless played to the lowest common denominator of base ignorance. (If they didn’t know, one questions their intellectual capacity, rather than their disingenuousness.)

Effectively, one of the pioneering countries of liberal free market economics, and possibly the freest market on the planet, has voted for taxation without representation.

I wish I could proffer an explanation, but then again, I am certain some of the descendants of those colonisers might also struggle to “explain” Donald Trump.

We live in a mad world. Hobbies can provide a sanctuary from this.

Compulsive, not impulsive, communicators

In a recent email to a friend, I wondered why some people were so rude and uncivil on electronic media, and opined that hobbies are supposed to be an escape. He returned a simple question, which is worth repeating:
They are, but with a 24/7 society, and the demands of a modern lifestyle, is it possible to step back, really relax, and enjoy some quality me time?
My answer was yes, but it does take a lot of discipline. One way of dealing with it is not to use forums whilst at work. In fact, I generally avoid them whilst wearing my work clothes. The stresses of work are therefore carried over a lot less than they otherwise might be. The main problem seems, to me at least, to be the impulse to say something – anything – no matter how vapid, just to be seen to be there.
But let’s be clear about this. Human beings are social animals: as David Attenborough said, “the compulsive communicators”. We love to chat, gossip, catch up on events, share in the joys and console during the woes of other people. Electronic media have created a genuine world village. This is not a bad thing in itself, and no one is forced to join in the global conversation to any great depth if they do not wish to, but we are – as a species – still working out the rules for all this, and how it works. There is bound to be disruption: look at what happened when Wycliffe tried to introduce an English language Bible, even though very few people could actually read it. The idea that reading, writing and arithmetic should be available to everyone would be anathema to nearly all societies as recent as 400 years ago, yet it is only 400 years since Shakespeare died. We have at least moved to the point where universal education is a key aim of the United Nations, and a core marker of a would-be civilised society. (Which is why literacy and numeracy rates are so important, and why good grammar – the bedrock of clear communication – so vital.)
This is massive change, but one which will be easier for us to deal with than was mechanisation, as forums, email, tweets, messaging, etc, can be used for communication by anyone with access to the electronic world, whereas a spinning Jenny had but a single use, and a single purpose which was to make things more efficiently, and reduce the drudgery of working life. The Swiss, although they rejected a formal notion about a minimum income for all adult Swiss citizens 2:1, are having the right conversation about the minimum standard of living that should apply in a civilised society – there was no upper limit, and once the politics of “inverse envy” (i.e. “Why should they get a share of my excess wealth, when they haven’t done anything?”) are negotiated, this can become a reality. Give everyone a good, basic, standard of living; eliminate poverty and ill-health. And then allow people to learn to be better in and of themselves, to be valued for what they are, not what they have earned. Create time for hobbies, but value the intrinsic gifts of work – and if there are no intrinsic gifts, try to replace the work with machines. And then hobbies can become a key part of defining ourselves, and being better at being ourselves.
I can’t think of a hobby which has so many opportunities to offer as model railways. I could list the skills I have acquired, the different crafts and trades I have worked at, and the many academic disciplines I have come to appreciate in support of my personal hobby path, but actually there is no point: life is not long enough.

Fear of change?

Chris Mears has made an interesting post – not that he does any other sort – picking up on discussions about what it would take for P87 to become established in North America.

My understanding is that “code 64” wheels and P87 wheel and track components are available for freight and passenger cars and diesel engines, but steam is a different matter. Also, it isn’t just about the wheels and the track: with scale wheels, the truck frames can – and arguably should – be brought slightly closer together. In a reply to Chris’s post, I touched on the fact that what it needs is for someone to actually get on and do it. The biggest obstacle seems to be fear of becoming a “lone wolf”, unable to run stock on friends’ layouts and vice versa. That is a poor excuse, as most of us have more equipment than we need, so why not have a few extra items to the other standard? This enables the P87 modeller to run finely detailed engines elsewhere, and encourages the H0 modeller to have a go at P87. For passenger and freight cars, it may be as simple as having a few spare trucks and swapping them over now and then.

I can think of several possible subjects which be ideal candidates for a reasonable P87 layout that would not be too demanding, yet interesting enough once built to enjoy operating them. Some are real, some are models, and some are inspired by the approach taken to modelling a real location. All bar one have relatively few turnouts and require little in the way of equipment: if modelled in the diesel era (which might be stretching things a little for a couple of the suggestions) then re-wheeling would be neither expensive nor time-consuming.

The obvious candidate would be Port Rowan, or Port Dover: already done in S as we know, but in the same space a model of Port Rowan station could be modelled more or less to scale length, with a longer tail track than Trevor Marshall could accommodate.
Another prototype-based model line which lends itself to adaptation for a P87 first layout – not least because it can be built in a modular fashion of discrete scenes, as confidence builds up, is James McNab‘s Grimes Line. (Yes, two links: one for the blog, the other for the site)

A couple of Eastern Seaboard prototypes come to mind, partly because I have already mentioned them on my own blog, are the North Stratford RR and the Edgemoor and Manetta.

For a trio of Proto-freelance layout ideas, two small and one moderate – and the small layouts could be connected to the moderate – then I think there is serious potential in some (or all, if you are brave enough!) of Mike Confalone’s Allagash Railroad. The rickety track and backwoods nature of what is now the Andover branch is a great starting point (the video demonstrates the rapid starts and stops of an Alco RS3, together with DCC sound). The original “Woodsville Terminal” layout, being a long, thin shelf, is relatively straightforward to fit into a house, or as a portable layout built in sections: UK practice would fit this onto four sections 48″ long, pair for storage face-to-face. The Regis Paper mill at New Portland is anther candidate for a small but satisfying start in a limited space. But New Sharon Junction, with the branch and the yard, wold make a great centre-piece for a moderate layout in P87, especially if there were a few yards of carefully crafted scenic running either side of the main station, and if there is room for the branches for pulp wood (off the “Atlantic” branch on the plan) and the paper mill (as is, coming off Carrabassett Junction) – indeed, one could supply the other. Staging at each end for a small number of trains would provide for a very satisfying scheme, capable of leisurely solo-operating (one train at a time) or a handful of friends coming round for a full-session with trains on the main, the branches, and a switch job in the yard. He has published some e-books, available from the MRH site, which I can thoroughly recommend (usual disclaimer).

Finally, what about Ryan Mendells’ Algonquin Railway? A perfect example of a layout design which could be used for a P87 layout.

The only thing a P87 requires more of than a “standard” H0 layout is time: a few hours extra to build the turnouts and plain track (if ready to lay flexi is not acceptable – it can always be replaced, piecemeal, at a later date) and a bit more time putting in new wheelsets. But even the latter is good practice, standardising on a single tyre profile is the first step to better running and using P87 sorts that out – otherwise, it is better to standardise on a single manufacturer and make sure the track matches it (so doing it properly probably requires hand-built – or at least hand-tuned – turnouts anyway). All the extra detailing is likely to be of interest to anyone prepared to consider P87 in the first place.

The rewards are immense: a railway that looks and runs like a real one.

So, what is really holding back P87? I suggest inertia, not of the physical kind, but of the psychological variety.