The Regression of Model Railroading

Discussion in 'Getting Started' started by Mountain Man, Sep 16, 2008.

  1. Mountain Man

    Mountain Man Active Member

    Over the weekend, I chanced into some old MRR magazines from 30 years ago, thanks to my wife's noticing them at an estate sale. After browsing through them, I came to the conclusion that the hobby isn't making progress; it's moving in reverse. These are my observations:

    Things being introduced as "new ways of doing things", such as making trees, were already being done 30 years ago by previous modelers. The "new methods" are merely re-inventing the wheel.

    There were a great many more LHS's 30 years ago, seven or more in Denver aloneat various times. Now there is one.

    Companies like Dremel offered a complete line of miniature precision tools, ranging from little table saws to miniature drill presses and metal lathes, for the serious hobbyist. There was an amazing variety of such tools available from several manufacturers. Those ads disappeared long ago, and those tools can no longer be easily purchased as they once were, if they can be purchased at all.

    As many or more items of rolling stock, particularly fine locomotives, were offered in scales such as N scale than are currently offered by anybody. Kits abounded everywhere, for bridges, rolling stock, buildings and locos - far more than are advertised today because simply perusing the ads reveals a plethora of manufacturers offerings goods, now reduced to only a handful of major players. Not a few of the N scale buildings featured electric lighting that came in the kit.

    The starter set that my wife bought me for Christmas was available thirty years ago, exactly as it is today, but for $29.99. Today the price has quadrupled but the product has not changed.

    The layouts presented were more imaginative and beautifully crafted than much of what we see today. Imagination, landscaping and visual presentation was emphasized to a greater degree than on the prototypical layouts of today.

    Overall, the hobby appeared to be more opriented towards fun and comraderie among modellers than the rivet-coutning mindset of today, leaving me with the distinct impression that the hobby has regressed, not progressed.
  2. iis612

    iis612 Member

    I find myself in agreement with you, to a degree. Just look at the magazine itself. Model Railroader magazine from 20 years ago was just getting to the meat and potatoes on the page that the same magazine now ends at.
    I think that the hobby has evolved with the changing demands of the consumer. There is more emphasis today on prototypical equipment and operations then the general landscape and visual appeal.
    Kits are harder to come by, as we now live in the "Microwave World". Most folks want immediate satisfaction with the least amount of effort. Manufacturers of scratchbuilding tools have either scaled back production, changed product lines all together, or closed their doors. That, too, is because the consumer base has changed.
    I still contend that for as much fellowship we get from this hobby, our layout is an expression of what we want, after all humans are selfish by nature, and it is our own artistic minds we are looking to satisfy. The equipment we use to get there is, at least now adays, more a matter of symantics.
    I also contend that the tools, kits and materials that were once advertised are still available to those who wish to look hard enough to find them.
  3. MasonJar

    MasonJar It's not rocket surgery

    Point/counterpoint. Interesting observations! I have recently acquired a whole set of MR from 1970 (plus a few before that) to 2004 (plus a few since), and have some similar thoughts.

    This is true for some things, but others truly do not change - soldering, for example. If you could solder 30 years ago, the techniques and even most of the material is still the same, so you can solder today.

    Other things though have changed - "zip texturing", lichen, dyed sawdust, although still possible, have been replaced with other landscaping techniques and materials, like hardshell, ground foam, and "super trees".

    30 years ago, there were no online stores. ;) :D

    There are still specialty tools available, through places like MicroMark and BusyBee, but maybe they are no longer advertising to model railroaders. With the decline of scratchbuilding, perhaps the margin is no longer there...

    I'd have to disagree there. I think perhaps there were more manufacturers, who have now been amalgamated under fewer banners (e.g. Horizon, or Walthers), but I'd say tehre's a wider variety of stuff available, especially in scales other than HO.

    But there are more ready to run items. And the improvements in casting means that there are indeed some new "cottage" manufacturers producing limited run kits of hard to find or prototypically rare rolling stock.

    That may be, but how's your salary today compared with 30 years ago? I am going to hazard a guess that relatively speaking, the starter set is cheaper now than in 1978.

    Are the "imaginative" layouts just an approach we do not see as much today because of the relative emphasis on prototype?

    I know in Ottawa there are at least 6 or 7 formal clubs, and many, many informal operating groups representing all scales and interests. There are at least two historically-focussed groups, and there are a variety of places to see and hear the real thing, whether passenger, freight, historical or present day.

    I don't know if it's a question of progression/regression, but rather simply that it have changed...

    Interesting discussion! :)

  4. yellowlynn

    yellowlynn Member

    Changes: good or bad

    I have lurked here for quite a few years, commenting only once in a while. In one of the MRR magazines, they told about one mans layout. From what I read, he was pretty much a professional. The deadline for print was fast approaching, so they shot the pictures, found out that pics looked quite different than it really did. They made a batch more trees, made a few changes, etc., and finally got it to look right. Now remember, these were pros working on a project, even the photogragher.

    Your memory goes first so I can't recall all, but I'll put EZDays, Drwayne, Shaygetz,etal up against them any day. And they do EVERYTHING themselves, even the photography. That is THE reason I lurk here and am able to constantly read about many new thing. I can only dream and wish I was capable of doing only a small part of what these "amateures" are doing.

    What it boils down to, in my opinion, is that individuals have progressed far and beyond many of the pros of 30-40 years ago.

    Also, I'd like to make another point: many of us lurk, (I check this forum 8-10 times a day) because we are incapable of doing very much. At 78 and too many physical problems, I do what I can, and believe me, this forum is a great inspiration to me and I'd be lost without it.

    I could really get up on a soap box about how impressed I am with everyones work, and how great the moderaters are, but I'm not much at speechifying.

    God Bless you all

  5. Mountain Man

    Mountain Man Active Member

    I have yet to come across any mega-layouts costing small fortunes and requiring entire custom-built buildings. Apparently that is a current thing.

    Thirty years ago my salary was smaller, but the dollar was worth a great deal more. I actually lived better and had more disposable income than I do today, and I was married and in the military at the time.

    Thirty years ago there were many automobile manufacturers of brands not seen any longer; the automotive industry is now dominated by the Big Three, who aren't doing very well. Loss of competition does not lead to increased excellence.

    Many airlines offering excellent service are gone and the surviving giants are crowded, expensive, hostile to passengers, no longer offer service in any sense of the word, stopped serving all but major airports and frequently can't even operate on schedule.

    A host of businesses offering excellent products and concerned with customer service and satisfaction have now been replaced by WalMart, which depends on sheer volume, cheap labor and cheaply made goods and couldn't care less whether you come back or not.

    LHS's have fallen by the wayside in droves, and again, consolidation of the many into only one, as in the case of the Caboose in Denver, is not condusive to healthy competition or even customer satisfaction. When you're the only business in the area, what do you care?

    Consolidation and dominance of the few to replace the many is not a good thing. When it approaches monopoly status, it is considered enough of a problem that there are even laws against such occurences.

    Individual and club layouts once created for pleasure are now mega-layouts costing small fortunes requiring the expertise of highly technical specialists and apparently more designed to impress than to enhance any personal sense of accomplishment.

    Today it is entirely possible for someone with a lot of money but absolutely no knowledge about the hobby to come up with an award winning mega-layout, merely by hiring experts to do all the work. I didn't see many ads for all those experts-for-hire in the magazines of thirty years ago - the hobby was still an individual hobby, or the collective efforts of a club.

    The mood of the magazines was more relaxed and much less strident that the magazines of today, and I did not find those unforgivable lines that dominate the product presentations made today: "our sample model arrived in damaged condition, or with parts missing, or..."

    Kinder, gentler times.
  6. Russ Bellinis

    Russ Bellinis Active Member

    Much of what you say may be true, but anyone who wants to build it the old way can do it. The cheap, "shake the box" type kits are not as common because many who would have bought those kits want r-t-r now. On the other hand, all you have to do is peruse a Walthers catalog to see how many structure kits are still available. The availability of rolling stock kits is reduced, again because the market is not there. On the other hand, everything Intermountain offers in r-t-r form is also available undecorated in kit form. You just need to special order it because the local hobby shop won't stock what they have trouble selling. In effect every complaint you have raised has been market driven. The situation we have today is a direct result of the American people speaking with their wallets. The counter point is that anyone who wants to do it can always scratch build, and it doesn't need to be expensive. Go to the academy and look through "Robin At His Best". Everything he built was made from old cereal boxes. The cereal boxes are still available. You may look at his work and think that you can't do that, but Robin didn't do that well when he first started. He practiced and learned to scratch build amazing structures from cereal boxes reinforced with corrugated cardboard.
  7. nachoman

    nachoman Guest

    Mountain man -

    I can't comment on whether I agree or disagree with you - but sometimes it's good to just turn off the news for a few days, go somewhere and sit amongst nature, and crack open a few beers. This hobby has changed, but I think it has nothing to do with the "hobby" but rather the "times".

    One point of illustration is that 30-40 years ago, people spent more of their hobby time on the rolling stock. Detailing, painting, weathering, kitbashing... There is much less of that going on now, mainly because you don't have to. I remember an MR article about kitbashing a GP60 out of a GP50. Nobody would do that anymore, because GP60s are available RTR. And you can buy lots of stuff pre-weathered. I can't say this is a universally bad thing, because it means more people have weathered trains on their layouts, whereas before many people would never get around to weathering.

    There are still plenty of "old fashioned" folks out there, but they just don't get the press in major magazines. Just compare the work of the people on this forum to those on the Model Railroader forums. It seems like two different worlds.

  8. Art Decko

    Art Decko Member

    For what it's worth, here's a great site for calculating the relative value of any dollar amount between any two years, from 1774 to the year before the present one (benchmarking data not yet available for the current year).

    It offers six different ways to do the comparisons, the method you choose can make a big difference (they offer advice).

    If you use the Consumer Price Index as a benchmark, a piece of merchandise with a price of $30 thirty years ago would have a price of about $95 today.

    If you campare it against the GDP per capita (better for measuring relative affordability), spending $30 on something thirty years ago would be like spending about $133 on something today.
  9. iis612

    iis612 Member

    This is a great discussion.

    There is a song called "Time Marches On".
    It is true in every aspect of life, to include commerce.

    We are living in the digital world now. There is not a major store, be it grocery, shopping mall, whatever that does not have a website. This promotes a different kind of society of 3D anti-social (or rather unable to socialize) self centered, self serving, "why bother" individuals.

    Like Kevin said, sometimes it is good to shut off the news and the computer and get back in touch with the world. There are places and people that still embrace the values of old. There are still stores that value their customers, to include the Local Hobby Shops.

    The people who are having their mega-layouts built for them are the same folks who want what they want, how they want it, and they want it last year. They are depriving themselves of some of the best aspects of the hobby, but it is my strong contention that these people are very few, and very far between.
  10. pgandw

    pgandw Active Member

    Looking at Model Railroader is not a good way to get a feel for the pulse of the hobby - much more so today than in the '60s when I started reading the magazine. To me, what made MR special disappeared in the '80s - perhaps it was me changing and not so much the magazine. But certainly in the last 15 years the number of advertisers and advertising pages has gone down (content pages have, too). Only the bigger companies advertise in MR any more because of the relatively high rates, and - dare I say it? - those who read MR are not necessarily the target audience of the small manufacturers.

    Read a copy of Narrow Gauge and Short Line Gazette or NMRA's Scale Rails for a very different view of the hobby and vendors. Look at both the content and the ads.

    Mega layouts were very difficult to achieve in the '60s because of the lack of RTR. If every loco you own has to be built from a kit, are you going to have a stable of 100+ locos? If every car is built from a craftsman kit, are you going to have a fleet of 300 cars? I remember a Linn Westcott editorial in MR in the '60s that strongly urged that home layouts contain less than 20 turnouts because of time to build and time to maintain after building. Very few model railroaders with more than a 4x8 for space are willing to limit themselves to less than 20 turnouts these days.

    The kits, tools, and craftsman supplies are still there - but they are not advertised in Model Railroader. I guess I would be pretty much old-school in the present age. Luckily, I model an era where extensive kit building or kit-bashing is still required if I want to be reasonably realistic, even in HO. The alternative is brass, which is out of my price range now, and was then, too.

    So I maintain a locomotive roster of 5 or less, all of which are kits or extensive bashes of low end models. My HO examples are a Tyco General kit, a Roundhouse Climax (converted from diesel with kit), Roundhouse Shay kit, and Model Power Baldwin 2-8-0. The last will be combined with a Tyco 4-8-0 kit for a decent drive and mechanism. I do have a Rivarossi Heisler which was a gift, and my most expensive loco. The Heisler will eventually be sold as too modern/too large. There is also a Tyco 0-4-0 Shifter and AHM RS-3 from a garage sale (to be parted out or sold?)

    There were mega layouts in the past in MR - Dr Dohn's Victoria Northern and John Allen's Gorre & Daphited come to mind. Or Whit Towers's Alturas & Lone Pine and Bruce Chubb's Sunset Valley layouts. Large club layouts were featured every couple of months. And the V&O and Allegheny Midland. Each of these had groups - almost clubs - of regulars who helped build, operate, and maintain the layouts.

    The recent surge of RTR has made it more practical to own, build, and maintain large layouts, as have larger houses. The surge has also brought an incredibly diverse offering of locomotives and rolling stock that never existed before. Although I am not a large layout owner (and likely never will be), I am grateful for those who pursue the large layout dream. It is their purchases that sustain the model railroad businesses, and make it possible for a bottom-feeder like me to accumulate the left-over crumbs at reasonable prices.

    Will the present incredible demand and supply last? Probably not for more than another decade. In the meantime, I'm enjoying the hobby, and I'll worry about the next decade when it comes.

    my thoughts, yours may differ
  11. Mountain Man

    Mountain Man Active Member

    I think you are confusing the issue with the actual act of building kits. Old time modelling was a different kind of experience, period. It has progressed over the last thirty years from a real free time hobby to a professional and commercial venture for many.
  12. Mountain Man

    Mountain Man Active Member

    I think that is due to technology, not the actual hobby of modeling. My first train was a Marcklin which came with sectional track and was fully RTR right out of the store in downtown Munish. If I wanted a siding, I simply pulled track appart and stuck in a swtich, flipped the little lever with my finger and it worked perfectly, every time. Turnouts today require circuit diagrams, soldering irons and a PhD in electronics, and we still see numerous complaints and warnings about problems.

    One of my concerns, if you will, is that the philosophy of instant gratification and get-it-done-time-is-money attitude that permeates our culture has spread to our hobby as well. RTR is nothing more than a manifestation of the I-can't-wait-and-haven-t got-the-patience mindset - they guys who thought about it two hours ago and want it up and ruinning by tomorrow morning at the latest. But time and again forum members stress out about meeting deadlines, leading me to wonder where the fun and relaxation part went. It's like a journey for me - a lot of the pleasure is simply getting there, not instantly arriving, and if everything on a layout is RTR, then is isn't "modeling" at all; it is purchase-and-assembly of someone else's work.
  13. Mountain Man

    Mountain Man Active Member

    Narrow Gauge and Shortline is my favorite magazine, and the only one I subscribe to regularly. However, it may not be a thoroughly valid comparison as it targets a more restricted sector of modeling - narrow gaugers - not the backbone of the hobby.

    I not sure it fair either to suggest that there were no great modeller's or layouts until the modern set came along. That's a a bit like saying there were no great movies or directors until modern times. It overlooks the fact that the innovations and techniques were derived by the early modelers, and as I pointed out eqalrier, most of the so-called "new" ways of doing things are merely the old ones all over again. In fact, I recall a couple of great techniques in those old magazines that no one uses any more, beause we as a culture are obsessed with the "newest and latest" of everything. Trees are trees, and the old-timers, without all the off-the-shelf struff, were much morei innovative than modelers of today.

    Back when I was a kid, Lionel trains had smoke and whistles - I know because I had one along with my Marcklin. The magazine articles and ads today tout this as the "very latest" technology available, but it isn't any such thing. just a new high-tech way of doing what has been done for along, long time. A whistle is a whistle, and a lot simpler if it doesn't require microchips and logic circuitry to make it work.

    John Allen's incredible work isn't a valid comparison, either. John Allen did his own work; he didn't bring in technicians, artisans and craftmens from all over America to handle the hard parts. One of the most frequent comments in mega-layout descriptions is "such-and-such was done by so-and-so's friend, who is an expert in the field working at pick-an-industry." Take advice and instruction from a firend who knows how? Sure. Have him do the work? Not if I want my name on the layout.

    It's become an atmosphere of competition rather than one of simply pleasure and the enjoyment of sharing.

    My feelings, this time.
  14. Mountain Man

    Mountain Man Active Member

    And we knew and trusted the people we bought from, who stood one hundred per cent behind their merchandise, which we could see, handle and watch operate right there in the store. :cool:

    I see complaints all the time on this forum from members who have had bad experiences with on-line buying.
  15. railohio

    railohio Active Member

    Nothing is stopping any one of us from getting out of the hobby what we desire. Someone who wants to build toy trains and visit the local club to run them is free to do it. Someone who would rather build a model railroad and engage in operations is free to do it. The simple fact is that we don't have to let others dictate how we enjoy the hobby.
  16. seanm

    seanm Member

    That is all true, but my local hobby store charges full boat retail for engines. I can save 20%-45% AND not pay sales tax if I go online. I still frequent the local shops, but I could not afford my current roster if I had to buy it all at the local shop. When I need to make a large purchase, I go to a local shop and tell them I have a large purchase and show them the list and ask if they can cut me a deal and that I don;t need it right now. This give them a chance to get some profit and not hold too much stock Win-Win! I still buy fill ins for my need at the local shop and engines and medium priced one off items I buy online.

    I am an N-Scaler and 20-30 years ago my scale had TERRIBLE quality and reliability. Now I can get a nice loco that can crawl as good as any HO model, I have knuckle couplers and code55 and smaller track. None of that was available to an average moder like me. N-Scale has a larger number of craftsman kits now then it ever has.

    I will take now over 30 years ago thank you!
  17. kitsune

    kitsune Member

    Silly lurker me, I'm just trying to figure out how and why someone else's ability to buy anything they want pre made in any way takes away from my ability to enjoy the hobby?

    A pox on your '70s MRs. Go get a 1940's MR. Back then things had to be built from cardboard and spit. And guess what? Both of those are still quite available.

    Okay, okay, so I'm exaggerating. But the point holds: scratchbuilding is no further from us than it ever was. If Joe Richbags can buy himself a complete 1:87th version of the Wisconsin & Southern, it doesn't bother me. Good for him. Why do we as hobbyist have to measure our personal enjoyment based on what others are doing?
  18. Mountain Man

    Mountain Man Active Member

    Quite true...but that's not the real point. :cool:
  19. Mountain Man

    Mountain Man Active Member

    A POX?! Gadzooks! I suppose next time you will accuse me of being a Luddite.

    The fact that people are starting to get hot under the collar makes my point quite well, however. Where is the informal and relaxed discussion, by equally relaxed members? A littrle too much stress and strain, I think. This started out as a simple commentary on my part, not an invitation to a gunfight.

    Since it appears that I have somehow pushed everyone's buttons, something I did not expect to do with this group, I will bow out as gracefully as I can.

    Thank you all for your contributions to the discussion.
  20. brakie

    brakie Active Member

    Looking back over the 55 years I been in the hobby I can say there been change with every decade yet,nothing as changed all that much its the same hobby with a wider selection of engines and cars.You can still use Athearn BB locomotives and cars or one can opt for the high end models.One can buy kits or RTR.The choice is yours to make.

    RTR isn't anything new it dates back as far as the 50s and was rampant in the 60s from several manufacturers to include AHM,Varney,Mantua,Atlas,Cox, Lionel...

    See these building kits? They date back to the 50s..

    These 2 kits was first produce by Revelle in the late 50s.

    What's my point? Simple..One can still model "old school" in 2008 if one chooses to.

    No kits? What about the available BB,Accural,Branchline and other freight car kits? Nothing changed.

    Even with all the hoopla it still possible to model using the very basics-I am living proof of that except now I perfer RTR over kits..sign1

    So,then..How to you want to model? Its your call and your alone to make..

    Remember this.Have fun in what you allow in your choosen modeling style and above all model to please yourself.

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