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Monday, April 09, 2007

The various crafts of model railroading

What is model railroading? Sure, it’s a hobby, but all sorts of disparate activities are admitted into the big hobby tent; some are sports, some are arts, some are crafts. All of them are leisure activities that one does for fun rather than for profit. So cooking, for example, is a hobby for some, a job for others, a profession for a few. Model railroading, as I said, is a hobby — very, very few make a living from it! — and it encompasses a remarkable number of crafts and technologies.

Some model railroaders are really toy train enthusiasts; they “play with trains” as adults, having enough of a layout to be able to enjoy operating their not-particularly-realistic trains without worrying about scale realism or scenery. At the other extreme are the true railroad modelers, who can be fanatical about scale accuracy, faithfulness to the prototype, and detailed scenery and structures. There’s a whole huge range in between. But almost everybody finds himself (or occasionally herself) spending time on a wide variety of crafts, some of which may be more enjoyable than others, and all of which can turn out to have the side benefit of being educational and absorbing. There’s construction of benchwork, buildings, roads, terrain, and scenery; there’s the sometimes complex task of wiring an entire layout; there’s the artistry involved in creating backdrops and scenic details, as well as the routine painting of almost everything; there’s laying and ballasting track; there’s controlling the trains, with or without the aid of a computer. And there’s a large side of the hobby that I have very little to do with: realistic operation of a railroad, completing with timetables, picking up cargo, switching, and delivering the cargo. Quite an amazing variety of crafts for one hobby!

“Model railroading today is a great exercise in systems integration,” says joe.daddyo in the Layout Construction Yahoo newsgroup.

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