Before I do, in the interest of full disclosure I must tell you that Fast Tracks owner Tim Warris is a friend. We’ve broken bread together (or, at least, sushi) and I’m looking forward to having him visit sometime when we can run an operating session on my layout.
That said, I’m also a customer – I’ve bought several turnout building fixtures from Tim, plus the ancillary tools such as the Point-Form and the Stock-Aid. There are several of his Bullfrog manual switch machines under my layout. And he’s even done some custom work for me on a couple of occasions.
But all of that is irrelevant. It’s a coincidence that I like Tim’s ad. If it had been created for any other company – even one whose products I had never used – I’d be posting it here. Because I love the message:
You don’t have to build it: You get to build it!
This speaks to the heart of why I’m in this hobby.
(Of course, regular readers know I don’t build everything for my layout. To cite two examples, I happily engaged in “chequebook modelling” for my locomotives, and I often have resin freight cars built for me. But I do that because I know my limits: I don’t – at this point in my life anyway – have the patience to build my own locomotives. And while I’ve built resin freight cars in the past – and even several scratch-built boxcars an flatcars when I modelled in On2 – I’m slow at doing rolling stock and it’s not my favourite aspect of the hobby. Given that I’m also trying to build a layout, I’d prefer to focus on the things that aren’t as easy to farm out: It’s one thing to hand over a freight car kit – quite another to say, “Here’s a chunk of my layout: Can you take it home and add scenery?” I also enjoy building structures and scenery, so for now, that’s where I prefer to invest my energies.)
As I’ve progressed in the hobby, I’ve learned to be comfortable taking on more and more tasks where I do the work. Track is a good example. In the past, I’ve used a lot of flex track and ready-to-plant turnouts. But even before Tim started his business – before I knew him at all – I started hand-laying my track. My first attempts were a disaster, but I got better – and when Tim’s tools and aids became available, hand-laying track went from something I had to do, to something I enjoy.
This week, I also learned that acquiring skills has helped insulate me from some of the troubles that have beset the hobby:
I was in a local hobby shop and as the only customer there at the time, I had plenty of time to chat with the owner. He confided to me that his biggest challenge right now is getting reliable sources of stock. I assumed the problem would be related to smaller, mom-and-pop shops folding their tents but even the large companies are causing him grief. He told me that for the past several months, he’s been unable to get track from one supplier – no flex, no turnouts, nothing – because the company has had issues with its overseas factory.
I won’t identify the hobby shop or the manufacturer, so don’t ask. But there have been plenty of examples of this issue biting manufacturers and making life difficult for hobbyists. S scale enthusiasts will remember that the supply of rolling stock from S Helper Service dried up after their manufacturing partner in China booted them out. (I mention S Helper Service because with the sale of the company to MTH, this issue has presumably been resolved.)
Anyway, back to track. As I listened to the hobby shop owner’s tale of trying to stock track for his customers, I couldn’t help but think, “Boy, I’m glad I hand-lay my track, so this isn’t a problem for me. As long as I can get ties, spikes and rail, I’m set.” (Knock wood, but so far that hasn’t been a problem.)
Obviously, hand-laid track is not something people tackle if they’re building a “train set”. And of the relatively few who graduate from the train set to become model railway enthusiasts, the first serious layouts will probably also be built with commercial track. In fact, many hobbyists will never tackle hand-laid track – just like many will never build a resin freight car kit, or scratch-build a boxcar or a structure, or twist their own tree armatures from florist wire. And that’s fine.
But for me, learning these skills has not only been satisfying, it’s also given me a degree of freedom to pursue the hobby on my own terms. My layout – my hobby – will not come to a grinding halt because a factory on the other side of the world has decided it would rather produce toasters and televisions than toy trains.
Best of all, learning these skills has been pleasant because acquiring the knowledge has changed my attitude towards the hobby in ways that are nicely summed up in Tim’s ad:
I don’t have to build my trees, structures, track, bridges, rivers, meadows, roads, fields, etc.
I get to build them.
I still have plenty of things to do on the layout with the skills I have already acquired. But I also have a list of projects that will require learning new skills. I look forward to learning those skills, and gaining more freedom.