Friday, January 3, 2020

Freedom Thoughts on Model Railroading in 2020

Freedom from the tyranny of model railroading convention.
Freedom from the dissatisfaction of not being happy with your efforts.

                                                         A GOLDEN AGE?
I enjoy keeping one foot in the prototype world and one foot in the model railway world; reading about both worlds and inter-relating them. Reading online descriptions of model railway layout work, I'm struck by the contrast between a few excellent operating layouts, and many who are steadily but frustratingly slowly striving to reach that point. If we are indeed living in a Golden Age in terms of products available to model railroaders, I wonder if we're taking full advantage of those in order to reach a new nirvana of operating enjoyment?

Reading Kalmbach's Great Model Railroads (GMR) 2020, I was struck by a few candid lines in the description of the layouts profiled therein: 
  • The admission of a very large layout's owner that he had never held an operating session! The layout was 48x72 feet.
  • Another big layout was built by a professional layout builder, though the modeller did add junk in some of the ditches and super-detailed his telegraph poles!
  • One layout employed a nolix. That's a multi-level layout that uses a constant grade throughout the mainline run to achieve the required elevations. The whole layout is on a 2% grade!
  • Meanwhile, in Canada, a respected modeller used an 8-foot straight edge to get his passenger platforms perfectly straight! That's another trend I notice - long, straight, parallel reaches of tracks in layouts under construction. Lots of track!
There are major exceptional standouts; those who are getting it done. I recently had the opportunity to meet Bob Fallowfield. For quite awhile, I've enjoyed his Galt Sub. Bob and I chatted on a chilly station platform along the Kingston Sub. Listen here: The Platforum Episode 4 - especially if you're having trouble sleeping because my voice is as monotonous as a burbling MLW. Two other Canadian modellers, Justin Kafal (above) and Jason Baxter (below) are doing great work with CN equipment, trackside scenery and backdrops. (Find them on Facebook - where these photos were shared)
Check out the backdrops and progess on the BArailsystem:
Nick EH's Algoma Central - that road repair car! (above and below - video captures)

When I read the current MR press and read social media posts, I feel my own exhilarating rush of counter-cultural freedom. I have declared my Exhilarating Eric Emancipation Proclamation from the following tyrannical concerns:
  • a helix. I'm just not a believer in the sacrifice of much layout room for multi-levels.
  • layout analysis paralysis. Creative tendencies stunted by everlasting construction
  • technology tangles. DCC, switch machines, decoder problems, endless wiring.
  • having to conform. To industry standards. Steel wheelsets, certain couplers.
  • fear of operations. Much is said about the technical. Little about the operational.
  • not enjoying entering the layout room. Should be a 'happy place'.
  • an unclear layout purpose. I've really enjoyed learning about and representing in scale a specific prototype.
  • stops and starts. I've tried to schedule operating time regularly - most weeknights for 30-60 minutes.
  • clutter. After each construction bee, I clear away as many tools and materials as possible, then operate. Tracks are always kept clear!
And it's been that way for the last few incarnations of my HO scale layout, be it Winnipeg, Vancouver, Vermont or Kingston as modelled locale. 

Every good opinion piece should end with a call to action! Otherwise it's just words. If you're a fellow modeller and reading this, you may come back with one of the following responses:
  • my layout, my rules - though this is sometimes a way to avoid facing the situation!
  • you're right - I'll consider your thoughts on Freedom!
  • you're wrong - I'm proceeding on a progressive track and I'm enjoying the journey!
What is holding you back, if anything? Is it something you can let go, work around and forge your own path to freedom? Break free! Think about it and then highball on to modelling enjoyment this coming year!

I will be here if you need me for anything:

UPDATE! On a New Year's Whim, I asked about modellers' #1 modelling resolution for 2020. Social media responses came in fast and furious: 20 in the first 20 minutes! 100 in the first two hours! 225 in 24 hours and counting! And they say 'the hobby is dying'...NOT. I was able to group the responses under several headings. The results, tabulated rather unscientifically:
  • 53 Start a new layout - find space
  • 47 Complete existing projects - enlarge, more equipment, more track
  • 41 Specific new projects - bridges, scenery, workbench, weathering, wiring, details, more books, structures, trackwork
  • 38 Spend more time on the layout - get it out of storage, finish, keep working
  • 11 Operate - prototypically, get trains running
  • 11 Enjoy freedom - existing layout, involve family and friends, simplify
  • 6 Spend less (+2 spend more!)
  • 3 Improve realism

Biggest take-home from the above is the huge number of responses dealing with actually starting a layout! 

I will be checking back with all these people throughout the year....also NOT. Like any resolution, expressing them aloud theoretically helps us to realize our goals. Note that not all the responses equate with spending more money or acquiring more, as few responses even mentioned any new equipment. Very few specific manufacturers or brands were mentioned. I get the sense that most of us already have lots on hand, and it's just a matter of feeling positive about the hobby we've chosen and being able to allot some time to it. And that is all about FREEDOM (back to top!)

Running extra...

After christening previous years as The Year of Photographing the Blisteringly Mundane (2015) and The Year of Revenue-Neutral Modelling (2018), I'm christening 2020 The Year of Model & Railfan Local. I don't mean you can never leave home - instead I'm suggesting you do 'a moustache' and look at what's right under your nose{ 
  • Railfan what's nearby, hiding in plain sight, instead of thinking you have to go all the way to Tehachapi or the Spiral Tunnels. 
  • Model what you know, whether it's your town or local railway, instead of thinking you have to model Horseshoe Curve or Bayview Junction. Unless you really want to. 
The latter is something I've experienced on my own layout - after changing my modelled locales from Manitoba to British Columbia to Vermont, I'm back to Kingston surrounded by the most available information and the most 'comfort' with what I'm representing in scale.

When I railfanned Portage la Prairie (definitely not local!) my aunt and uncle would troll the local yards to see what was moving or sitting. My uncle Wilf recently did the same, catching VIA 6445-6425 at Portage, rerailed and coupled to the five cars of VIA No 692 which derailed near Katrime last year - December 31, 2019 while on CN's Gladstone Sub. The consist was: 6425-6445-8615-8125-8135-8510-Chateau Lasalle. The derailment was found to be due to a broken rail.



Jstars said...

Thanks for sharing the picture, for some reason it looks much better on your blog than it does on FB.

Justin Timber-Lake

TrainGuyJim said...

Really enjoyable post! Maybe I'm too late, but my resolution for the year would be to just keep plugging away at the layout.

Jim @ jssxrailway

Eric said...

Hi Justin and Jim,

Both of you are fine examples of just doin' it a la Nike!

Justin T+L, I'm convinced that photo would look good anywhere. As someone who watched those F's round many a corner, and even being pulled by them, it looks spot-on.

Jim, your JSSX is inspiring. Weathering and structures just right for the era and locale. Those DT&I cars really pop. You've done more 'plugging' than most.

Keep up the good work and thanks very much for your comments!


Steve Boyko said...

My modeling resolution for 2020 is to do some modeling when I feel like it. And not to feel guilty when I don't feel like it.

So far, so good.

Eric said...

Well, you'll be innocent until proven guilty. Model on! Winnipeg has to have more interesting and varied prototypes than most boring Canadian cities: CN, CP, VIA, CEMR, PDC, even GN back in the day! And much, much more!

You're already doing lots of Railfan Local!

Michael said...

I must have been reading your mind. I finally got around to working on my set late last year. I was so surprised when I worked on the electrical that the operations ran much more smoothly. I have a Seaboard System GP38-2 and a Chessie System SD40-2 both pulling reasonably long strings of cars as test trains for when several of my spurs and the main yard are eventually installed. But for now, test trains are better than nothing!

Eric said...

Great to hear, Michael. You're happy with what you're doing and I think that's where the feeling of freedom originates. I can't stand the thought of having to feel pressure in a hobby. That ain't a hobby at that point!

Sounds like some neat motive power you've got there!
Happy New Year!