I've been interested in Model Railroading (as compared to "Toy Trains" ;-) for ages now... it goes back as far as I remember, and got its start with an AHM train set and an oval of track one Christmas. As a kid of single-digit years, I saved up my nickels and dimes to buy the latest issue of Model Railroader or Railroad Model Craftsman from the local hobby shop—Bob Rankin's Hobbyland (talk about the proverbial kid in a candy shop, but I digress)—Anyway, Hobbyland is long gone, and sadly, Bob has passed on as well. But I remember many long hours pouring over the magazines, and running trains.
|An early scratch-built project|
Back then, my meager allowance didn't go far, so I was always drawn to the parts of the hobby where I could do things "on the cheap." That usually meant doing it myself. Scratch-building, by any other name. I remember seeing an advertisement for this craftsman kit—Shenandoah Crossing if I remember the name correctly—a simple three-building "western town style" corner kit, and realizing it was way out of my league price-wise. Undeterred, I saved up to buy some 1/16" and 1/32" balsa wood, and fabricated it myself, using an old ruler/straight-edge and blades borrowed from my dad's razor (kids, don't try this at home, as the saying goes!) Modeling in HO, I estimated dimensions using 1/8" to the scale foot; that's 1:96th scale, close enough to 1:87.1 for my tastes at the time. And I had fun making it.
In short, I like to do things myself. Hours spent imagining something, then making it become real, were always the most thrilling. That much, at least, hasn't changed... even if I can afford slightly fancier tools now.
That's at odds with the way I see the hobby going, though. Back then, the likes of John Allen, W. Allen McClelland, and Lynn Wescott embodied the epitome of the art. Nowadays, it's all prefab. The local retailers I visit all say that customers want everything pre-assembled: just lift it out of the box and put it onto the train set. And that's too bad.
Too bad for me, because the demand for scratch-building tools and materials is so small as to be hard to come by. Bad for the guy that wants instant gratification, because they don't really get "invested" in the hobby—they watch the train go 'round the track and then get bored. Bad for the hobby, because when the new blood gets bored, the whole hobby falls into decline.
So I'm sort of a fish swimming up stream here. And what I hope to do with this forum is maybe, just maybe, build some excitement in this hobby... the reward of doing it yourself, instead of just plunking some prefab purchase onto your layout. DIY is "cool" when it comes to home repair, and no less so for the hobby. Sure, it takes a bit of skill, but it's skill even a nine-year-old can get a hold of. And the payback—the "wow, I did that, and nobody else has one just like it!"—is really great.
On that note, read on, and I hope I can share with you some of the excitement that has kept me enthralled with this hobby for so many years.