Yesterday morning I checked out a bunch of model railroad sites I hadn’t been to in months. For the most part I haven’t had a need to venture back but a friend sent me a link of something to check out. While there I figured I’d check out a few other places as well. Twenty five minutes later and I’d lost half an hour out of my life. Still the same.
A better plan if I had wanted to see railway models by model railroaders would have been to break open my cases of old Model Railroader magazines, which is what I did in the end. Forty five years ago the “golden age of model railroading” as touted by so many rivet counters today was a world away. And yet the modelling was worlds better – the actual modelling that is. Two HO finescale models with working brakes in the same issue. Two scratchbuilt 3-unit gas turbines in the same issue. Numerous homemade steamers. And then we get to 1994 and the “Resourceful Russian Modelers” article. Wow. Real modellers. Skill, will and push all wrapped up in one small group of people. 21 years later and I’m still mesmerized. These people had ideas and the grip to shape them.
Rivet counting today is usually just that – people quietly counting rivets if you’re lucky – people talking about counting rivets if you’re not. It’s the in thing at the moment, a club, a privileged clique if you will. Count the most and win a prize. It’s an embarrassment really. North America has some of the finest living miniaturists in the world and I haven’t heard any of them say that they’re model railroaders.
But this isn’t an attack writ large on model railroaders, on the enthusiastic train show hordes that everyone likes to shit on, nor is it a missile launched at the operating crowd. No this one is for the experts; the “holding the manufacturer’s feet to the fire” types, the “details matter” crowd. When people look back on this period what are they going to make of all the IKEA models? What of all the specialized knowledge divorced of measurable skill? The work that wasn’t done and the infrastructure that was left to evaporate?
I guess the most you can say about right now is that we’re pulling a pretty good vacuum.