Friday, November 22, 2013

Modeling to Escape Versus Modeling to Engage

The latest Marker Lamp for Fall 2013 is posted on the Lone Star Region web site. In it I have a couple of items, one of them is my editorial reprinted here about two kinds of model railroaders:

A long running discussion with a friend of mine, Gerry Fitzgerald (a C&O modeler in Virginia), produced a crystallized thought for me this week. Our discussion has involved many people over the course of several years dating back to an article he wrote in issue No.36 of the Layout Design Journal on modeling Jim Crow railroading.
The discussion has centered around how to model historically accurate segregation found in railroads, but it also has included whether or not it should be modeled at all. I’m not going to discuss that topic, but rather the root cause for this difference of opinion: there are those that tend to pursue model railroading to be comforted by history, and those that tend to pursue model railroading to understand history.

These differences in approach to the hobby are often the cause for tension in general model railroading forums amongst those who feel threatened by ‘the other.’ We name our others as rivet counters, roundy-rounders, static modelers, freelancers, prototype modelers, etc.

As in the world in general, there is plenty of room for different pursuits in modeling railroads, and it is unproductive to discount any of them simply because one does not subscribe to the same pursuit. In the end, we are all some form of model railroader.

This is an issue of concern at the national level where groups have splintered from the NMRA for feeling like they don’t belong, and there is a concerted effort to try to make them feel more welcome as part of a general membership focus. But what is at the heart of this tension? I think it comes down to the differences in the way people pursue the hobby.

One way to categorize these pursuits is into two basic groups. I think of as those who are modeling to escape and those who are modeling to engage. Both are equally important and relevant to having fun, and I, like most, enjoy and deliberately practice varying levels of both methods in my modeling time. Modeling to escape and modeling to engage are both recreational by definition as the activities are generally different than those one pursues in everyday life. But both kinds of pursuits of modeling are similar. They are both closely linked forms of nostalgia.

I believe most use the term nostalgia to mean a ‘general interest in the past’, but there are different connotations associated with nostalgia (wikipedia). The first type, which aligns with modeling to escape, includes an element of sentimental longing for a better history that did not actually exist.

Modeling to escape is about removal of things that remind, or are too similar to undesirable everyday conditions - especially those things which one finds disturbing, taxing or unpleasant. One refreshes or re-creates oneself through removal (or distancing) oneself from the everyday.

I completely sympathize with, accept and applaud those who do not wish to model things they find disturbing, taxing or unpleasant in the pursuit of re-creating oneself. It is simply unproductive recreation for them to do so.

This restorative practice is meant to do exactly what recreation is all about: feeling better. This is accomplished by fulfilling the wish to return to what one believes was a better time. Of course, there is nothing wrong with feeling better about yourself and your world. It does not, however, allow you to accurately understand the world any more than you already do.

If your interests are in understanding, then one must practice the second form, reflective nostalgia, which suggests a more active and critical participation with history that leads to a more accurate reflection of how things really were rather than how we desire them to have been. This form aligns with what I call modeling to engage.

Modeling to engage is about trying to get as close to the truth and to reality as possible in order to feel what the time and place were actually like. Even though it is not about feeling good about the past, it is still about feeling connected to it. It is, however, equally re-creative, and is not a lessor nor a higher form of the hobby. It is simply a different form of enjoyment. It does not negate nor threaten modeling to escape, and, in fact, modeling to engage may be a subset of escape or a more particular form of it.

Some resist modeling to engage and believe that deliberate research, planning and ‘rivet-counting’ is a waste of time and not fun, but very deliberate and rigorous pursuits are equally re-creative such as sport, art, music, etc. The ‘buzz’ enjoyed from modeling to engage comes from the accomplishment of gaining knowledge and the skill to communicate that knowledge through models, which connects us empathetically to our subject of interest. The more rigor put into it, the more buzz one gets in return. The rigor involved in the engagement of learning about a subject requires effort that many may find ‘too much like work’, while others find it very satisfying exactly because of the rigor.

I tend to like prototypical model railroad operation and accurate, scratchbuilt prototypical modeling, but I also very much enjoy “just running trains”, putting together a manufactured kit, or buying something just because I like it.

In my view, there is room enough for escape and engagement, and we should support each other in whatever way helps us to enjoy the hobby on our own terms. Making a fellow model railroader feel bad about their kind of pursuit and disenfranchised from the hobby is simply the wrong thing to do.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Outdoor Photography of [Exquisite] Models

Some great models and photos from professional model maker and photographer Michael Paul Smith. He builds classic car models and photographs them in a fictional 1950s American town called Elgin Park. His models are so detailed that when placed in miniature dioramas and photographed using forced perspective, you'll think that they are real vehicles. His Smugmug gallery has a lot more examples.

A simple board with modeled concrete and great models in front of a strategically framed location is all that it takes to create a stunningly realistic image.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Operation weekend at home

Check out Lance Mindheim's recap of a fun weekend of guest operations on two of our local layouts. Then read the rest of his web site, buy his books, and pay attention to his spot-on model railroading sensibilities. Lots of fun having these expert operators in for some prototypical operations. Turns out they are fun to hang out with as well.

Friday, August 16, 2013

New Marker Lamp

Latest issue of the Marker Lamp, the quarterly publication of the Lone Star Region of the NMRA, is up on the LSR web site. This is the largest issue I have edited coming in at 43 pages.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Lightweight Bench Work Thoughts

Erie's Harlem 149th Street Terminal in HO scale

I'm contemplating redoing my Erie 149th Street pocket terminal so that it is more manageable to move around. I had a few minutes this morning while waiting for software to update to get started on testing a couple of material options.

This morning I am looking at framing members. Each member is 12 inches long and 3-1/2" wide. I will weigh 1x4 Pine, 3/4" 11-Ply Baltic Birch Plywood, and a composite construction of 1/4" Luan Plywood w/1x4 Pine Spacers. Another option is to cut weight-reducing holes with a large hole bit in the solid materials (think aircraft wing ribs), but that won't be tested here.

The 1x4 Pine, a traditional bench work framing member is a soft, relatively lightweight wood that is easily found at big box retailers. Individual members are not always perfectly straight, and because they are soft, they can present some minor challenges associated with crushing and clean edges, etc. The weight of 12 inches is 7.9 oz.

The 3/4" 11-ply Baltic Birch Plywood is somewhat more difficult to find, and requires preparation work to cut into the 3-1/2" strips for bench work use. The advantage is that it is an efficient use of material (I have not done calculations of cost), it is stable, strong and works more like a hardwood in terms of drilling, etc. It is heavier, though, as the 12 inch piece I am using weighs in at 8.6 oz.

The composite member of 1/4" Luan Plywood and 1x4 Pine spacers is a technique I saw described in John Chivers' article on a British web site of the Barry and Penarth Model Railway Club. This intrigues me because I do have a bunch of 1/4" Luan at my disposal at the moment. This seems a very efficient use of material, although preparation time is greatly increased. Stability should be good due to the composite construction and the materials are easy to work with. For a 12 inch section, this assembly weighs in at 6.8 oz.

Roughly, each member section is about 1 oz per foot difference from the next. I currently have approximately 42' of framing members in 1x4 Pine (this is for the support of the top only, and does not include the base.) Current weight, then, works out to 42 ft x 7.9 oz/ft = 331.8 oz (9406.37 grams) or 20.74 lbs (9.4 kg). The same framing plan in 3/4" plywood would be 22.6 lbs and the composite construction section would be 17.85 lbs.

So the pine is not too bad start with, but there is some savings with the composite section, maybe as much as 3 lbs. This assumes that the framing is the same and there are no other additional members needed for stiffness.

The main weight of the existing bench work is in the top, which is 3/4" 15-ply Baltic Birch Plywood. This really nice cabinet grade plywood is about 40 oz/sf (about 2.5 lbs/sf). The top of 149th Street is approximately 25.5 sf, so it weighs 1020 oz or 63.75 lbs. Total weight of the top with framing therefore is approximately 84.49 lbs. That's heavy already, and doesn't include anything else like track, wiring, structures, scenery, etc. I would imagine that could add at least another 10 lbs. This means we are talking about 100 pounds. Not impossible to move on one's own, but given the size and shape of the layout, it is not easy to maneuver.

Alternatives for the top would be 1" foam insulation (maybe .13lbs/sf), 1/2" Gatorfoam at about .625 lbs/sf) which would mean a weight of approximately 4 pounds for foam insulation and 17 lbs for Gatorfoam board. The lightest combo would be composite framing members and 1" foam insulation for total weight of approximately 22 lbs or about 62 lbs lighter than the existing layout construction.

Hmmmmm. That sounds worth the effort at this point as I stare at the layout with the thought of moving it by myself...

The story continues over at the PoNY blog.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Film Friday: WWII Shunter Film

A British train video diversion for Film Friday from during World War II.

Shunter Black's Night Off (1941), run time 7:01, Ministry of Information

Southern Railway worker Joe Black is enjoying an evening at home that is interrupted by a Luftwaffe raid on the marshaling yards. A train catches fire and it is up to Joe and his co-workers to save the day. Southern Railway "N class" steam locomotive number 1414 is used to help move the wagons.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Freight Car Trucks

From Richard Hendrickson's Freight Car Trucks, June 26, 2013

I shouldn't assume that everyone else knows about this kind of stuff before I do, so it bears pointing out that Tony Thompson has posted an update to the really fine compilation of HO scale freight car trucks by Richard Hendrickson. Richard provides an invaluable tool to anyone who is trying to model rolling stock in a prototypical manner. 

Someday I'll turn my attention to these finer points, but at the moment I'm deep into trying to translate a prototype track plan into a layout. The nuances of balancing reality, operability and presentation are challenging enough at the moment, so the fine scale modeling is on hold.

Oh, and in case I haven't said this before, Tony's blog always provides thoughtful, well-researched posts especially in the areas of freight car modeling and waybills.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Fading signs

General Pencil Company, Jersey City. ©Frank H. Jump
I ran across an interesting blog about fading signs called Fading Ad Blog. Besides finding a couple of good New Jersey and New York signs (see above), there are a whole host of images for inspiration. If you are really interested, the author Frank Jump also has books called Fading Ads of New York and Fading Ads of Philadelphia in hardback, paperback and Kindle. I'm going to check them out.

*Edit* As pointed out by Frank in the comments, it is actually Lawrence O'Toole's Philadelphia book in the Fading Ads series, which now includes a Fading Ads of Birmingham. A great resource for modelers and excellent reference and/or entertainment for anyone interested in signs, history, business, architecture, cities, graphic design, etc.!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Convention Logo

Getting really close on the logo for next year's annual Lone Star Region convention in Round Rock. I've been designing this with a student of mine, Lauren Griffin. She does great work!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

New Marker Lamp

The latest issue of the Marker Lamp has been posted. Go get it!

This quarter has an interesting article by Art Houston on using smart phones and tablets for operating you layout wirelessly using your existing DCC system. Includes a link to a video.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

New York Subway Inspection

One of the design blogs I follow is called Bldg Blog, which covers the poetics of the built environment. The latest post shows the track geometry car used by the NY subway to test track in the middle of the night. I like the imagery of the last paragraph that suggests the brightly lit vehicle is "like the subway dreaming of itself."

We modelers spend a lot of time trying to bring life to our railroads - what would your layout dream about?

Friday, April 12, 2013

Voice modeling

"Morning, Bud. This is Hank down at the Maxwell plant..."
Trevor Marshall just posted a nice entry on his blog about operations. In particular he discusses the possibilities of modeling the time it takes to do brake tests per car and how that helps to slow down operations. The key, in my opinion, is to provide interactions to simulate activities. 

These provide the operator continuous 'doing' activities and should entail some sort of feedback component to 'reward' the behavior. I would love to see a throttle that had a button labeled 'brake test' that could account for number of cars, etc., and provide feedback sounds of compressor, and an "air test OK" voice reply when done. The possibilities are numerous. This could be easily modeled if one used a mobile computing device as a throttle through JMRI interface, but I would prefer a physical throttle that had such things programmed into it. 

Along the same lines, Tom and I have started brainstorming something like this for customer interactions with the railway agent/dispatcher on my layout. In particular, the idea that a customer calls the agent when a car is loaded or unloaded and ready to be moved.This would be triggered by a timer started when the car gets spotted, or via a random call generator during a session.

A pre-recorded voice of an 'actor' (probably not officially affiliated with Screen Actors Guild or any other professional organization - in other words, me) would say something like, "Morning, Bud. This is Hank down at the Maxwell plant, and we need an extra box car today for a special order." The agent then writes up a waybill and/switch list for the locomotive crew combined with previous calls before the call time and off they go. At the plant, a crew might also get an earful from Hank telling the story of the fish that got away while they are trying to secure the brake lines for that special delivery box car, and they can't leave until he is finished.  

On a very short line (1.9 miles) like my Hoboken Shore RR, customer interaction was an arguably more direct personal component of everyday operations. Having the voice of a particular customer letting you know what needs to done provides prototypical modeling and operational interest. What you model all depends on what you think is interesting about railroading.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Lone Star Region's Marker Lamp

Cover of the latest Marker Lamp

If you are interested in what is going on in the Lone Star Region (LSR) of the NMRA, the latest issue of the Marker Lamp is available online. This is my first issue as editor, and I am currently taking suggestions for how this publication can move from print to digital with all that the virtual publishing realm has to offer. These new features will be discussed and developed over the course of the next several issues and then thoughtfully incorporated into this new form.

If you live in the area of the LSR, you should consider becoming a member of the LSR and the NMRA to help support the efforts to improve the hobby, to meet, enjoy and learn from the other members, and to participate in the many events the local, regional and national organizations produce. Of course you should also consider joining if you live elsewhere (regional memberships are processed through the NMRA according to where you live), and you are always welcomed to get a digital copy of the quarterly Marker Lamp. Next publishing date is May 15.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Railroad Conspiracy Theories

There are many stories of how passenger rail operations in this country were killed by American automobile interests. One of my favorites is the biggest one about General Motors and the Los Angeles streetcar system that has its own Wikipedia entry, and has been retold in various formats, including at the Huffington Post. The original story comes from Bradley Snell, who has devoted many years to researching GM and its history. this week, a noted design blog, 99% Invisible suggests that this story is not true, but rather that it was the Southern Pacific railway that was responsible.

A two and a half minute snippet that sets out the conspiracy theory for those in a hurry, with a full-length feature below for those that are really interested.

"Taken for a Ride" is a full-length feature that was produced by PBS several years ago where a case is made for the theory that the dismantling of mass transit was spearheaded by General Motors:

Whether or not either theory is true, it sure seems plausible, and the extension and ramifications of just the possibility that it is true makes for interesting conjecturing on how things happen in this country.

Further reading
  • Bradford C. Snell, American Ground Transport: A Proposal for Restructuring the Automobile, Truck, Bus and Rail Industries. Report presented to the Committee of the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Antitrust and Monopoly, United States Senate, February 26, 1974, United States Government Printing Office, Washington, 1974, pp. 16-24. 
  • Cliff Slater, 'General Motors and the Demise of Streetcars' published in Transportation Quarterly vol 51, 1997 (Eno Transportation Foundation) puts forth the argument that the streetcar was eliminated by the market.