“Four spikes per tie because the camera never lies”

How many of us shave off the cast-on plastic grab irons on rolling stock and replace them with wire? It’s picky work, often to the point of being mind-numbing. But advanced modelers do it for one good reason:

It makes the car look better.

Making things look better – and by that we mean, more realistic – also drives decisions to scratchbuild structures and improve our scenery techniques. But we tend to gloss over track: Whether it’s prefab or hand laid, we put down rail in three foot sections… add an enormous rail joiner… and then move on. Many of us can’t even name the parts of a turnout – let alone detail them.

People used to argue that such details were too small to see. And at one time, that may have been the case in smaller scales like HO. But over the past decade, the advent of digital photography has changed all that.

If you’re listening to The Model Railway Show, you’re online – and that means you probably have a digital camera, too.

Good SLR-style digital cameras have come down in price and taken a lot of the technical pain out of shooting models and layouts (which tend to have lighting and depth of field issues that were challenging, to say the least, when shooting with film).

What’s more, there are plenty of opportunities to show off your work online through forums, newsgroups and galleries.

What do digital cameras have to do with detailing track? Everything, because the images produced can be magnified to several times the size of the models photographed. That makes the lack of spikes, tie plates, joint bars, rail braces, and all that other neat stuff painfully apparent.

Cameras have always been an important modeling tool (and we’ll talk about that on a future show), but they also show up all of our shortcomings.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Next time on The Model Railway Show I’ll be talking to O Scale Trains editor Mike Cougill, who has just published a book on detailing track called – appropriately enough – Detailing Track. While his examples are O scale and Proto:48, the lessons apply to any scale. Tune in when we broadcast our January 15th show to find out more.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my copy of Detailing Track and I recommend it to anybody interested in giving their well-detailed locomotives and rolling stock an equally well-modeled place to run.

– Trevor

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