Modeling Notes: About the Hobby

Although many of us are deeply ingrained into the hobby of model railroading, do we ever ask ourselves why we are into it so much? What benefits do we get out of the hobby? Why is this a hobby that we should encourage others to pursue? This article was inspired by a conversation that the webmaster and (former NASG treasurer) Jim Kindraka had via e-mail.

Is It Really a Hobby for All Ages?

Houston S Gaugers club member Rusty P. and his grandson Asher
(on a stepstool)
(copyright © Peter Vanvliet; used by permission)

There are, of course, exceptions, but for the most part a typical person's life that involves the hobby of model railroading includes a number of years spent as a child, slowly dropping the hobby for "cooler" things during High School. College, work, marriage, children, and career will dominate the typical person's life during his or her 20s, 30s, and 40s. However, when these things start to slow down, the hypothetical typical person may find some idle time on his or her hands when they approach their 50s, and starts to look for a more fulfilling hobby. So, the reality is that we may get introduced to the hobby as children, but the vast majority of our time and efforts engaging in the hobby will be later in life. Certainly the spending of discretionary income on this hobby primarily only happens in the latter half of one's life.

Creative arts are a good way to spend one's free time. Model railroading is one such hobby, among lots of others. What makes model railroading such a good and rewarding hobby to engage in?

Cognitive Skills

As we age, our minds may not be as stimulated as when we were younger. We move at a slower pace, we're not so caught up in all of the latest gadgets, and we may be looking forward to a more relaxing life, possibly even retirement. However, it is important to keep your mind active as you age. Emory University reports that intelligence, recalling of past events, singular-focused attention, language skills, and problem solving all remain fairly constant as people age. What tends to suffer due to aging are recalling recent events, paying attention to two or more things at the same time (multi-tasking), speed of spoken-word-retrieval (e.g. names), handling of new problems not previously encountered, and the speed at which mental processing occurs.

Roger Nulton's Track Plan
(copyright © Roger Nulton; used by permission)

Remaining engaged in a hobby such as model railroading encourages one to keep one's mental skills sharp over time. Prototype research, looking for and studying models, and engaging in informative discussions with others helps people to stay mentally active.

If you decide to build a model railroad, time has to be spent on the planning, visualizing, and designing of the layout, module, or diorama. These are purely mental exercises (even if one uses pencil and paper or a CAD software application to capture the ideas). As construction of the layout begins, certain compromises and unexpected changes will require additional time spent updating the mental image and refining the ideas.

When the layout is built, or at least when most of the track is down, you may elect to have operating sessions. These require planning on your part. Staging trains, get the room ready for an extra number of people, getting the rest of the house in gear, having snacks and drinks on hand. When the session starts, you need to inform your operators who are not regulars on how the layout works, how to interact with the throttles, where the restroom is, etc. During an operating session, things can go wrong, so you need to jump in and quickly figure out what the solution is. After you have recovered from your operating session, you need to figure out the solution to the problems that the session presented to you.

Manual Dexterity

Both buildings were scratchbuilt
(copyright © Peter Vanvliet; used by permission)

As you build the freight car models and the structure kits, you continue to use your hands, your arms, and your eyes. These remain flexible and fluid because you continue to be active. Watching television with a remote in your hands does not count! Scenery is another area where fine motor-control is required to get all the detailing parts to be positioned just right, keep them in place while the glue sets, and carefully remove your hand without damaging any other scenery items.

Physical Exercise

Marking parts for building the layout's benchwork
(copyright © Peter Vanvliet; used by permission)

Armchair modelers need not apply! If you think building a model railroad is a simple task, guess again. You will be hauling products from your favorite big-box hardware store or lumberyard. You will be bending over. You will be crawling around on all fours. You will be upside down under the layout. You will be leaning over the layout to work on that scenic detail in the back. You will be balancing on top or over your layout to reach that lightbulb that went out last week. These are all good things, and, yes, you will be sore for a while due to using seldom-used muscles.

Creative Outlet

If you enjoy being creative, this hobby certainly has plenty of ways of allowing you to express it. The concept of freelance modeling allows you to build a railroad just the way you want it. You can build with all sorts of materials, and paint and weather to your heart's content.

Even if you decide to follow a prototype for your model railroad, you will need to come up with creative ways on how to build the models to match the prototype. To figure out how to model the other side of the car, engine, or building that is NOT shown in the photo.


Houston S Gaugers club member John O. (left) listens
to audience member, while keeping an eye on his steam engine
(copyright © Peter Vanvliet; used by permission)

As we age, we may experience more loneliness or isolation for various reasons. There are plenty of people around who enjoy model railroading, so we can have something in common. Since the hobby can be enjoyed by all, people of all walks of life enjoy getting together at local train shows. Some may develop a common objective, and so form a local train club. The club may hold regular meetings, meet at members' homes, or participate in local train shows. How-to sessions can be held in members' homes or garages, where we can all learn from each other, or just visit.

If you don't live close to a club, or don't like the local people, there is always the Internet. There you will find discussion lists, forums, and Facebook for all sorts of topics. It is easy enough to join one or more of these, and they can lead to much insight. Some people become good friends through these online formats.

Dealing With Aging

The same car in S-scale and N-scale
(copyright © Peter Vanvliet; used by permission)

Getting older is not fun. Body parts aren't functioning the way they used to. Some people develop diseases that limit their abilities. Eyesight may worsen over time. These impact the enjoyment of the hobby. However, the beauty of model railroading is that you can always change to a larger scale. Back when you were young, Z- and N-scale had an appeal. They are small, so building a large layout isn't necessary to still capture the big scenes. If you really want all that the hobby has to offer commercially, then HO-scale may be your ideal size.

However, once people hit their mid-40s, the smaller scales aren't as much fun anymore. They are harder to see and harder to handle. It is much easier to scratchbuild or kit-build in the larger scales. We may also have more space as the kids have moved out (hopefully!). Larger scales generally are more expensive, but we may have a bit more discretionary income than when we were young.

So, if you are looking for a fun, creative hobby, model railroading may just be your cup of tea. It is our hope that you find the size of S-scale to be "just right". You can see it, without it being too big, you can have fun trying to find the models you are interested in, you can easily build structures or models from scratch in this scale. Let's all have some fun!

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