Barriers to Model Railroading

Like many people in today’s world, my hobby time varies from a little to none at all. Everyone can certainly add to the list of why this is the case for them. Recently though I listened to Mortise and Tenon podcast #10, “Barriers to Woodworking”. A great discussion going through the many different things that can be a barrier to doing more in your hobby. Space, tools, source of wood, techniques were some of the barriers discussed. Some of those barriers probably sound familiar to most model railroaders.

Today, I would like to share some of my barriers and what are some of my solutions to these barriers. So let’s look at COMPETING HOBBY(IES), TIME, SPACE, SKILLS, and a big one which will be saved for last

One of my barriers to model railroading is a COMPETING HOBBY, woodworking. Now to add to this is a decision to move to using hand tools in woodworking versus using power tools. A few weeks ago, I spent two days away at Joshua Farnsworth’s woodworking school taking a class on restoring wooden planes. A great class for me as I would like to use my wood bodied planes, both bench and mounding planes in my woodworking projects. All of my wooden planes I have purchased on eBay, flea markets, yard sales, or antique stores. All of them are in various states of repair. However, I did learn many skills in two days to fix my planes, sharpen my metal tools, and even use some tools that I currently do not own. It sounds like a hobby all until itself, but it is just part of a bigger one. Imagine having to fix a plane to flatten a piece of wood. Sounds like fixing a model locomotive to run a model train doesn’t it?

A few of my wooden planes. @H Mathews 2018

Finding TIME to do both hobbies is a barrier. What about time? Is time a barrier for you? At times it is for me. I currently work eight nights in a row and have six off. So my hobby time varies. To overcome this barrier my plan is to have several 30 minute modeling moments during the week. The little blocks would certainly focus my attention to the project at hand.

As the commentators on the Mortise and Tenon podcast pointed out, SPACE is an issue. Both woodworking and model trains can eat up some serious space. I have a decent sized basement, however it is full of stuff that does not allow a dedicated space for doing either hobby. So as I cut some plywood for my Chili Line modules this past weekend, I had to move other things around. Even a dedicated space to assemble my modules is a problem. As I stacked my 3/4 inch plywood for the modules and replaced other items I moved I thought this is ridiculous there is no room to do anything. My solution is to start now and create a dedicated space for my hobbies. I do have a very nice desk to do research and model building on. However, to do any model building, I have to move any research items such as book and papers out of the way. Behind my desk chair is several overcrowded bookshelves of trains and woodworking books. Since this area of my basement is more conducive to research and keeping my books, I am going to use it for this purpose. Someplace to build models will have to be created.

Even if my space was cleaned up, a workbench to do wood working and some sort of area to work on modules is lacking. My very tiny woodworking bench my parents gave me as a Christmas present about 30 years ago has been a good bench for power tools. However, it’s size now restricts me from planing wood of any size beyond say 6 inches by hand or even trying to assemble modules for model trains. It is good for assembling small sub parts of the modules but its lack of depth restricts the construction of 24 inch deep modules. It’s underneath storage cabinet though will make it an ideal place to store model train kits and module templates that I have made. Although too small to assemble modules, it is a good table to actually work on assembled modules as well as repair, sharpen and clean my toys.

SPACE or really layout SIZE always seems to be a barrier. Having a large layout sounds nice to many modelers. My choice is something smaller centered around my interests of switching and scenic realism which allows for a slow paced operation. Even modeling a standard gauge branch-line or short line allows for limiting layout space rather than completely filling an area. My rather cluttered basement is a large space, but the task of filling it with a model railroad seems to me to be a daunting and laborious feat. I’d rather place space restrictions on myself and build small layouts. One thing about limiting one’s layout space is being able to dedicate to building the layout, trackwork, scenery, and equipment. Having to build say four buildings vs forty allows you to both complete all of them and to also do a good job on each. Same goes with your equipment.

SKILLS is a tough barrier. As the gentlemen at Mortise and Tenon point out, one can struggle to learn certain tasks for years. However, if you can attend a woodworking class at a woodworking school you can gain valuable experience. My recent experience with my wooden plane class and a timber-framing class in the past both helped me gain valuable experience and a comfort level with the correct process to do the task whether cutting a mortise in a 12 inch by 12 inch timber, or flattening the sole of a wooden plane. Model railroading doesn’t have schools to attend. Certainly one can go to NMRA regional and national shows and attend workshops at those meetings. Some local train shows may have vendors demonstrating a task such as placing decoders into HO scale diesels. However, the opportunities to develop skills in model railroading are not quite the same as in woodworking.

What are other barriers to model railroading? Let’s call it PARALYSIS. I have started more model railroads than I have completed. My decision to do my Chili Line was based on the fact I had most of the equipment in working order, I just needed to build the modules. How many times have you said that to yourself?

One of the solutions to the barrier of never completing a model railroad is just get started and stop stockpiling for the ultimate layout. Yes, it can be easier said than done. From the boxes of stored equipment and kits that I own, I could say that about myself very easily. Prototype narrow gauge railroads fascinate me and I would like to model several of them from different parts of the world. This fascination though is probably my barrier to completing a working model of any one of those prototypes or freelance model railroads based on a prototype. I know I still want to build my Beckleysville project and build a Maine two footer but will I ever have the time to do more than those?

My first look at prototype narrow gauge railroads was checking out Silver San Juan from the public library way back in elementary school one summer. I poured over the book until it was time to go back and I asked my Mom if we could renew it the one time so I could really get a chance to look it over. The Rio Grande Southern has always been a favorite of mine and over the years I have acquired enough Sn3 equipment to model its post WWII era. Yet, I have never once modeled it. I made two small plans, one for Lizard Head and one for Pandora and continued to collect boxes.

Is it time to get rid of the engines, cars, kits, etc for all those projects I thought I may like to do but I don’t think I’ll ever realistically get to. So while building my hobby room and cleaning up I decided to take a hard look at all the trains I have and decide to keep or sell. I am doing a similar hard look at my woodworking tools. Someone else could very well use those boxes I’ll never get to use to build a nice layout. Perhaps that someone is new to the hobby and does not have access to the equipment of a favorite prototype. Give those boxes a chance to do what they were intended to do, become models of buildings, equipment, etc. Let them bring some enjoyment to another modeler if you are really never going to use them.

What are some of your barriers that keeps you from model railroading?

Barriers to Model Railroading @Nov 2018

By: H Mathews