Tag Archives: Being better

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.

Personality

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 [for 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?

Elitism: in the mind of the accuser

Whilst driving to visit a model railway exhibition, I was listening to the radio. I always enjoy listening to “Desert Island Discs”: the format is superb, the host (Kirsty Young) perfect for the role, and the guests are varied and interesting (although sometimes, not quite how they think they might be interesting!) The guest on Sunday 26 May, 2013, was the dancer Deborah Bull. Now, I will be honest: ballet and dance, like opera, are not my bag – but I suspect my life is the poorer for not really understanding them. However, it is always interesting to listen to someone who is among the best in their chosen profession.

It was an interesting and pleasant interview, but about two thirds of the way into the programme (round about 32 minutes if you wish to jump to the relevant part of the podcast), Ms. Bull said something which really caught my attention, in response to a gently provocative question about funding for what is seen by many as an “elitist” art-form:

“Arts are practiced by elite artists, but are not intended for an elite group of people… …Everyone has the right to expand beyond their immediate horizons.”

Wow!

I don’t like the use of the word “right” in this context, preferring “opportunity”, but I have to say I agree wholeheartedly with her on this. It also applies to model railways. Just because my magazine of preference is the “Model Railway Journal”, just because I know some pretty outstanding modellers, just because I prefer to give honest feedback if someone asks for advice, in short just because I want to take the opportunity to be better and exchange ideas with others who wish to do this, doesn’t make me elitist.

I mean, why would anyone want to be a champion for mediocrity?

If you don’t, please do.