In a recent post, I explored the similarities of dioramas and model railroads. Having just returned from a local model railroad open house, I was reminded that not all train layouts (and model railroaders) are created equal.
Ducking through a tight doorway into what looked like a converted warehouse space, I observed a very large model railroad with lots of trains and track, bisected by a narrow walkway which zig-zagged through the layout. A few visitors had come on their own, and a few had brought their kids.
My initial positive impression, which was driven mainly by the sheer size of the set-up, turned to disappointment as I noticed that much of the track was laid directly on the layout table without any roadbed or ballast. The spartan looking track was occasionally flanked by mostly unpainted plastic structures perched on unadorned plywood, which did nothing to create even a basic sense of realism. There were some attempts at landscaping, some successful and some not.
All in all, it looked like the half-baked creation of a dull eight year old whose parents had never learned to say “no.” Hobbled by a short attention span, this easily distracted child had kept expanding the size of his layout without finishing the earlier sections he had started.
But wait you say, maybe the guys operating the layout were having a good time. Maybe they were handyman types who liked to roll up their sleeves and route wires, oil locomotive engines, etc. In other words, mechanic stuff rather than artist stuff. That would have been great. But these guys weren’t very good mechanics either. They seemed to be in over their heads, exchanging heated complaints about derailing trains, electrical glitches, and other gremlins of the model railroad world. Not a pretty picture.
What bothered me most about these model railroaders was not that they were grumpy and talentless. The worst part was that as ambassadors of model railroading, they were failures. Their open house did nothing to inspire interest in model railroading. If anything, it was like reading a list of things to avoid for anyone starting out in the hobby.
Looking around, I noticed that the kids, whose eyes should have been wide open in awe, looked bored. They were probably hoping they could cut their visit short. Which is exactly what I decided to do.