I found myself nodding along today as I read the latest blog post from Mike Cougill on his OST Publications website. The post – “How do you add value?” – explores how, when talking to others, we often offer up what Mike has succinctly called “biased opinions thinly disguised as ‘advice’.”
We are all guilty of this, I suspect. I know I am, although I try to avoid it. For example, we often advocate for our favourite scale(s), gauge(s), or theme(s) – the ones in which we like to work – with no regard for the preferences of the person to whom we are talking.
This happens a lot in the niche corners of our hobby. Somebody will decide for themselves that modelling the D&RGW in On3 or the CNR in S is the perfect choice and then try to convince everybody they encounter in the hobby to do it, too. Or, they don’t bother to help others see the light – they simply turn up their noses at the HO scale, standard gauge, modern era layout or the live steam loop in the garden. Wouldn’t it be better to ask questions about the builder’s vision, than pass judgement based on one’s own prejudices?
At this point in my journey through the hobby, I find that 1:64 is the perfect scale for me. But I try very hard to not proselytize about it. It works for me – it may work for you, or not. And I’m fine with that.
I do advocate for simpler layouts – and even write about them on occasion on my Achievable Layouts blog. But I try to do this in a way that I’m offering choices for people to make up their own minds about whether such layouts are right for them. For example, I try to highlight how my Port Rowan layout, while simple in design, is satisfying to build and entertaining to operate. I also try to convey how this layout fits comfortably into my life, rather than dominating it to the exclusion of other interests and commitments.
There is one aspect of the hobby that I encourage everyone to embrace – and that’s experimentation.
I’ve written previously about the Lesson of Bendy Elm:
(Click on the image to read more)
Today’s blog post from Mike reminded me of that lesson – specifically, a comment in “Conversation No. 3” near the bottom of the piece, about taking ownership of the work.
I meet a lot of people in the hobby – at conventions, hobby shops, operating sessions, social events, train shows and elsewhere. I’m reasonably well known in the hobby thanks to dozens of features in Railroad Model Craftsman magazine, my co-hosting of The Model Railway Show podcast and, more recently, several appearances on TrainMasters TV. But that notoriety often gets confused with being an “expert”.
I’m not – I just find it easy to blather about what I’m doing, and I’m not afraid to look like an idiot when it goes wrong.
However, this misconception that I’m an expert at anything means people ask me questions such as, “What’s the best way to lay track?” or “What products did you use to make a tree?” or “What DCC system do you use?”
If the questions are being asked because a person is gathering data, then I’m comfortable in providing answers. I can usually tell if that’s the case because the questions don’t ask “What?” but “Why?” – as in “Why do you use this type of leaf material for your trees?” or “Why do you like the DCC system you use?”
But if the question is, “What did you do – because I want to do it exactly like you?” then I start to twitch. This is a hobby, and I can’t tell others how they should engage with it. I can share what I’ve done, but as I’ve said before on this blog it pays to do one’s own experiments.
Reading Mike’s blog post also resonated with me in relation to a discussion currently taking place on the S Scale SIG forum about the merits and drawbacks of using three-point gauges to hand lay track.
Points were made about gauge widening on curves, which three-point gauges facilitate. And there were comments in favour of doing this – and against it – which depended on whether a model steam locomotive’s driving axles have sufficient side-to-side play. There were points made about the angle at which front and rear flanges meet the inside rail on a curve. And so on.
I must admit that if I had no experience with three-point gauges, the conflicting views and the warnings might’ve convinced me to not try them. That would be easier than experimenting and would prevent the possibility of failure.
And that’s my point: Failure is good for the hobby. So, take ownership of your hobby – experiment and fail – and, if you’re so inclined, share your experiences on a blog of your own. I look forward to reading it!
Just make sure that you’re telling the world what you did, and not what others should do…