“Teach a man to fish…”

Teach a man to fish photo Tying-Fly_zps42ee60dd.jpg

As hobbyists, we’re naturally concerned about the future of our hobby. I regularly engage in conversations with people about whether the hobby will survive in the age of Smartphones, Multitasking, Social Networking (including writing and reading blogs), etc.

The question is especially challenging for any hobby related to railroading, since real railroads no longer play the role they once did in people’s lives. That’s particularly true here in North America, where many people may go for days or weeks without seeing a train.

Some argue that we need to get more of the Boomer generation interested in model trains. The argument is that Boomers are retiring and looking for something to fill the time. They have money and are old enough for trains to have a nostalgia factor. The argument continues by saying we can attract them by showing them easy to buy, ready to run equipment – and by taking the pain out of layout-building.

Never mind the argument that Boomers will need something to fill their time – an argument that assumes they have no hobbies or other interests. The idea that we can attract retirees to the hobby by giving them an easy avenue of entry seems to me like a short-term solution to a long term problem.

Making the hobby “easy” to attract people will sell cheap, ready-to-run product. And that’ll work in the coming years – until energy prices and a higher standard of living put an end to manufacturing model trains overseas. As soon as it costs too much to make it economical to build ready to run product in China – or as soon as oil costs too much to make it economical to ship that ready to run product from China to here – the hobby as practiced through acquisition will become stupidly expensive. And those who joined the hobby because it’s “easy” and “fun” will find something else to do. (These two economic factors will also kill the opportunity for most hobbyists to build a monster layout. But that’s a thought for another day…)

And that’s where we’re headed.

We’re exhausting our sources of oil that’s easy to pull out of the ground. Prices have already risen high enough that difficult oil – like the stuff that’s mixed with sand in northern Alberta – is now economically-viable to extract and process. Oil prices may fluctuate from month to month, but year over year they’ll continue to rise.

Chinese labour costs are also going up. And factories are reassessing what they build – turning away difficult, precision work like model trains in favour of easier to assemble, more profitable consumer goods for China’s domestic market. It’s huge, it has buying power, and it wants stuff.

When I do the math – when I realize that we’re all going to be paying more for essentials like food and shelter – I’m convinced that flogging ready to run fun at retirees will only work for the short term. Securing the future of the hobby for the longer term will require another approach.

A popular adage provides one possible answer:

“Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he’ll eat for a lifetime.”

As hobbyists, if we’re concerned about the future of the hobby, we need to recruit new blood by promoting the satisfaction that comes from learning skills:

– Instead of selling the new hobbyist a dozen ready to run freight cars, we need to help them build and paint their first resin freight car.

– Instead of selling the new hobbyist a ready to plant structure, we need to help them build their first structure kit – or a structure from scratch.

– Instead of selling the new hobbyist ready to use snap track with integrated ballast profile, we need to help them learn how to hand lay their first turnout.

In short, we need to encourage the potential new hobbyist not through an investment in stuff, but by mentoring and encouraging them to invest some sweat equity. This is not an approach that will be championed by major manufacturers or by the publications whose advertising dollars they support. (That said, there are some notable exceptions in the publishing world, and there are many hobby manufacturers who encourage craftsmanship instead of flogging product. And a big shout-out goes to the manufacturers who create the top-quality tools that hobbyists need.)

The first bit of good news is, there are people out there who want to learn these skills. And they’re not just Boomers “looking for something to do when they retire”. They’re people of all ages. Look at the Maker Movement – in which people young and old are building stuff. Look at the emergence of Maker Spaces – community workshops where members get access to tools and space that they can’t afford at home, and the mentoring that they need to learn to use them successfully and safely. Look at the popularity of courses in making things – such as woodworking and jewelry – offered by community colleges and businesses that supply into these hobbies.

As model railway enthusiasts, we need to identify potential new blood through our love of making things. We need to reach out to those in the Maker Movement, as well as those in other hobbies that are primarily about creating things – whether that’s a model-building hobby like armour or aircraft, or a craft like woodworking or metalworking, or an art such as painting or sculpture. But be warned: If we’re going to approach these potential recruits, we have to show them our very best stuff. It doesn’t have to be big: It does have to be great.

I’m trying to do my part – in part by sharing what I’m working on through this blog and in part by introducing non-hobbyists I know (or those just starting out) to my layout. I’m particularly pleased that I’ve had some younger people over to run trains, as it has given me an opportunity to talk about the non-financial investments I’ve made in this layout – including researching the history of a small corner of Ontario … hand-laying track … scratch-building structures trees … crafting scenery … and figuring out how to faithfully re-create the roles of a train crew on a branch line mixed or way freight in the 1950s.

The second bit of good news is, the model railway hobby will survive – regardless of what happens to the big manufacturers or major publications. Granted, it will be a much smaller hobby. We will not win over new recruits by the thousands, the hundreds or even the dozens: We will win them one at a time. But it will be a much stronger hobby in some respects, too – because when we’ve won over those new recruits, one by one, they’ll embrace the hobby for life.

(Wow: Lots of philosophy in my recent posts, and not much action. That’s the kind of week it has been. I’ll get back to sharing developments for the Port Rowan branch in future posts.)

20 thoughts on ““Teach a man to fish…”

  1. Outstanding commentary, Trevor. I’ve said much the same thing over the years, just not as eloquently as you have. Thank you.

  2. An interesting thing happens when my adult daughter (27) comes over to the house and brings friends. They want to go down in the basement and run trains.
    Since my layout is a swithcing layout, it means “doing work”, not running around in circles.

    Secondly, I was engaged in the buy Accurail boxcars, add wire graps, steps etc when I saw the first “ready to run” Kadee boxcar in the plastic box for $35. My though, who is going to spend that kind of money for a boxcar, ha,ha,ha. I then took an assignment in Europe and came home three years later. I went to the hobby shop and that was about all there was. Recently saw a mechanical reefer that makes sounds for about $80, really?

    Thirdly, and I hate to throw stones, but the hobby press adds to the problem.
    They seem to either feature 4X8 run around in circles with two sidings layout for the newbies or some basement filling, budget busting layout. So a new person either will become easily bored, or builds another Plywood Pacific destination Ebay. Look at the last Track Planning Annual. Besides Lance Mindheim’s article nothing much grabbed me.

    I really appreciate your blogs, I was directed here from Lance’s website. Your approach makes so much sense to me, give up quantity for quality. Heck, I’m ready to switch to S Scale except nothing is available. Keep up the thoughtful posts.

    A thought, why not have readers offer branch line suggestions to your “Achievable Layouts” site.

    John

  3. Trevor,
    A heck of lot of thinking going on. Next thing we know you might have a column in Model Railroad Hobbyist, since Joe is looking more at the people than the “things” in the hobby.

    Keep moving on because I find I tend to concur in about 80% of your expressed thoughts.
    Thanks,

  4. “I’m ready to switch to S Scale except nothing is available. ”

    There is a reasonable amount available, depending on your interests. But how much ready-made stuff do you actually need?

    Simon

    • Hi John, and Simon:
      As a hobbyist who is relatively new to S scale, I’m often struck by how similar today’s S scale situation is to HO scale in the 1980s, before the explosion of product from overseas. If globalized manufacturing gets killed off by high oil prices and a rising standard of living around the world (with the rising wages that go with that), then HO may start heading back towards that 1980s feel – and who knows what will happen to S…
      Cheers!

  5. Trevor
    Well done!
    We have been watching the “China Price” spiral upward. Many years ago, a similar spiral drove brass railroad models from Japan to Korea. Some importers have gone China and now that Philippines.
    The next wave could be the return of kits and model building. There will be a learning curve for hobbyists. A need will exist for knowledge and self help material. The current paper magazines will be hard pressed to deliver. Their staff know little more than their readers. Blogs, e-magazines and YouTube media will be the path of delivery.
    Your blog is a wonderful example of how to build a miniature railroad. The concept of an achievable railroad best fits the future of this hobby.
    Space, time and money will further define what is achievable for the hobbyist.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

    Gene

    • I do not see a return to kit building. As hobby production moved from one Pacific Rim country to another, I think that you’ll see hobby production move again. There are several other countries in the Pacific Rim making consumer goods and clothing.

      As an aside, China has given Africa a lot of foreign aid. Maybe Africa will be the source of consumer and model rail goods in future? Here’s the World Bank’s take on this–https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/bitstream/handle/10986/4406/wbro_22_1_103.pdf?sequence=1

      • Hi Steve:
        Fair point, although it does not address the rising cost of energy – something that’s outpacing growth in all post-industrial economies. Check out the books by our fellow Canadian (former CIBC chief economist) Jeff Rubin for more.
        Regardless, the questions we can ask are:
        – How do we want to recruit new blood to the hobby – as an easy to take up and easy to walk away from way to fill time, or as a challenging but satisfying activity in which enthusiasts have a real, personal investment?
        – If the latter, how do we do that?
        Cheers!

        • The model rail hobby is, like many (all?) other hobbies, a pastime facilitated by having both leisure time and disposable income. Jobs being created lately in North America often leave their workforce with neither. I fear that this is a major factor.in the decline of the model rial hobby. Consider this– MR had a readership of 250,000 a few years back. Its readership now is around 110,000.

          Here is a post to a certain Canadian model rail club’s Yahoo newsgroup that reminds me how lucky I am to have a job that pays decent wages. He does agree with you about the price of oil (and thereby transportation) rising, as do I.–

          “Since one offered some ideas on the state of China, I’ll offer my opinion as well.

          I wouldn’t count on anything long term from China. The so called global recovery is a sham, and China is actually on a decline. I was fortunate enough to get a job in Oakville for $12 an hour as a temp. If and when I’m hired on I’ll be up to 18 an hour. Already working 50 hours a week. But the job numbers your hearing in the media are mostly temporary and part time service level positions (and even they are below estimates). Just like inflation numbers focus on consumer goods like computers (that tend to be in demand still and keep the price low) unlike real inflation which should include perishables, food, even gasoline. It wasn’t that long ago I remember them adding the new digit for over $1.00 per liter. Today it’s around $1.20 and we call it a bargain because the price of oil has come down sharply recently due to ongoing talks with Iran. That is the real inflation and wages simply don’t match it.

          When the US and the rest of the western world can barely afford to pay for groceries (I guarantee you those prices are well above inflation numbers the government posts) then China (the number 1 supplier) has fewer customers. I wouldn’t be surprised if the hobby industry sales are even worse than those reported by others over the holidays. But alas those hobby shops that still remain, or even online retailers barely make a dent on those figures.

          Most who have good jobs and get their news from the media are not aware of this. If I was someone trying to make some money in the industry in Canada right now, and can afford it make it yourself and charge the premium (I think we have some buyers for this). Because the exchange and inflation from China is going to get worse over the next couple of years. After that it’s anyone’s guess.”

          • For folks like you describe, Steve, it makes even more sense to embrace a hobby of making rather than buying.

            Everybody needs a hobby – even those working long hours for minimum wage, and those having trouble finding work at all. Hobbies allow us to set aside the cares of life for a period – they help us recharge so we can face the pressures and stresses that we face. In short, they’re good for us.

            And a hobby like ours can be inexpensive if one learns to make things. Styrene is cheap. So are packages of strip wood, lengths of rail, and basic brass shapes. They’re especially affordable if one factors in the time required to fabricate models from these basic supplies.

            As an example, we can buy a small structure, ready to plant on a layout, for $25-$30. Or we can buy $10-$20 worth of supplies and build it. There is some savings, although not much in the grand scheme of things. But what happens if we factor in time?

            It takes five minutes to place that $25 structure in the layout. That works out to an hourly rate of $300.

            It takes 10 hours to build that structure with $20 in supplies. That works out to an hourly rate of $2.

            Plus, the person who builds the structure has invested brain power and time directly into the hobby. It’s fair to argue their emotional attachment is greater. They’re more likely to continue to find a way to enjoy the hobby, regardless of what life throws at them.

            Our challenge as hobbyists is not to get that person to buy the structure, but to build it.

            IMHO.

            Cheers!

          • I wonder too – does the decline in MR readership represent longtime hobbyists – those who learned to build stuff – who have dropped out of the hobby? Or does it represent hobbyists who joined the hobby because “trains are easy and fun”, who have dropped out because continuing would require learning hard stuff instead of buying things?
            Hmm…
            Cheers!

  6. I share the tenor of this discussion and want to add a slight twist.

    If I hired a professional to play golf or tennis for me, would I be a golfer or a tennis player?

    And yet people who buy all their equipment and rolling stock pre built, who have others lay their track or do their wiring or their scenery can be respected model railroaders just by opening a checkbook.

    I really have enjoyed your posts and Lance Mindheim’s since New Year’s. I think we are approaching an inflection point in the hobby that will send us in some very interesting directions.

    Continue this line of discussion, if you please!

  7. Trevor,

    Depending upon what one wants to get from model railroading, our hobby is for those with and without disposable income, of limited experience and advanced age.

    If we look back to the early issues of Model Railroader, it included articles on scratch building from materials with simple tools at hand. Tin cans, wood and card stock were converted into locos, cars and track. No, most were not fashioning perfect replicas of NYC Hudsons, but they worked and it represented their passion in the hobby. It doesn’t require $35 or $80 to build a freight car or $120+ to buy a locomotive unless you want it to.

    Inexperience is converted to experienced though action and mentoring (all I have on this one at the moment).

    Regarding those of advanced age which apparently need a hobby, let’s get them involved. And let’s include those recovering from accidents, disorders, etc. (Stick with me a moment)

    Many organizations use painting as a tool to regain focus and motor skills following traumatic experiences. If we could reach out to local organizations, physical therapists and hospitals which provide this type of service, we might channel some of those into the hobby by painting a locomotive (as my uncle did) or assembling a craftsman kit. There very well may be similar services in the community colleges and care homes which could be approached with this idea.

    Just some thoughts.

    Regards,

    – Rick.

  8. Trevor,

    Great post.

    One thing I did not see in your post or in any of the comments was the impact 3D printing will have on the hobby in the near and distant future. This technology will completely revolutionize the hobby, along with the entire world economy.

    Modelers are already using it, and in the long run it is going to take over the entire industry. It is going to replace almost all forms of manufacturing known today. Modelers themselves will become manufactures offering plans for models, and model kits. Modelers can then create the model with that modeler or use the plans with an outside 3D print vendor. This is already happening. (google 3D model railroad, model railroad parts).

    Short runs, limited runs, how about no runs! Can’t find the kit, model, part your looking for, create yourself in CAD or even google sketch up. (Yep, already happening) Parts, kits, fully assembled objects, such as rolling stock, engines, buildings, even scenery can and will be produced as one offs, reducing manufacturing costs significantly. Numerous materials can be used: metal, plastic, organic material, even food! This technology is advancing daily and is already being used in the automotive, aerospace, manufacturing, entertainment and yes modeling space and it’s only going to get bigger.

    This technology is going to upend lots of industries, not just Model Railroading. The impact on overseas manufacturing is going to be huge, because parts, rolling stock, buildings will be created locally. So in short any discussion about the future of the hobby that doesn’t take this amazing technology into account isn’t complete.

    In my opinion, I think the future of the hobby is bright, the future of manufactures and publishers is still a big question mark.

    – – –

    In regards to MR subscriptions going down, this has been a problem for the entire publishing industry, and I’m not sure if the numbers are a reflection of a decline in interest in the hobby. The internet has gobbled up a lot of space that was once belonged to print publications. A lot of what you see in those publications are reflections of business decisions they have made in order to remain a viable entity to the broadest audience possible.

    Anyway. Those are my thoughts. Great post Trevor. Very provocative!

    • Hi Andrew:

      Thanks for adding to the conversation. I agree that 3D printing is going to change many things – but here are some things to consider about 3D printing and the hobby:

      1 – Like many people today, I spend much of my work day in front of a computer. Sitting in front of a computer to “build” stuff for my layout is not my idea of fun. I know I’m not alone in feeling this way: even someone with lots of CAD talent like Fast Tracks owner Tim Warris has made the decision to build the freight house for his Bronx Terminal layout using traditional methods, as he explains on his blog. To quote Tim:

      One needs to remember that my day job, at Fast Tracks, involves about 90% of my time being spent in front of a pair of flat screen monitors doing CAD or design work of some sort. All day, every day, for the last 10 years.

      Every time I turned to the freight house project, the first step was to do more CAD or design work, and I just don’t have it in me. After a long day, or week, of CAD work, the prospect of doing more just didn’t seem that appealing. So the project would get set aside until the next time I thought I would do some work on it, usually with the same result.

      To get around this issue, I decided to toss the technology for the most part, and build the model by hand. The amount of time and effort will be about the same, but what I will be spending my time on will be more enjoyable for me. People tend to gush over the technology available to modelers such as laser cutters or 3D printers, overlooking the fact that they don’t really do anything. One must spend a lot of tedious effort to produce the necessary CAD files for these. And those files need to be extremely precise, otherwise all that nifty technology will let you down when you go to put something together. Instead of spending 10% of your time in research and design with 90% modeling, you spend 90% of the time on design and the rest modeling. These nifty machines are not the panacea they appear to be, much to the disappointment of the cheering masses of modelers out there who can’t wait for them to become cheap enough for everyone to own.

      2 – As Tim notes, 3D printers don’t solve anything. They’re just another tool – like an Xacto knife or a scale ruler. Hobbyists will still need to learn skills to use these, and use them properly. Learning skills is a lot different than buying product – and that’s the thought behind my original posting. If we’re going to attract life-long hobbyists, we need to encourage skills building – not the easy route of purchasing ready to run products.

      3 – Regardless of whether the product is built – by factory workers in China or by a 3D printer at the local library, office supply store, or in a hobbyist’s garage – people who engage with the hobby primarily by buying ready to use product are only going to stick with the hobby until something better comes along, or until money gets tight. What happens when energy prices rise? Right now, North Americans spend something like 8-10 percent of their income on food. Farming is an energy-intensive business, and it’s anticipated that food costs will rise to account for 25-30 percent of our household budgets. Ready to run looks a whole lot less attractive when the choice is “buy trains” or “eat”.

      4 – On the other hand, hobbyists can build great things with modest outlay, if they have learned the skills. Look at Ben King, who not only scratch-built the models on his modest shelf layout over several decades, but also scratch-built the cameras he used to photograph them. His structures were exquisite, with working windows and other lovely details, yet built from inexpensive materials like card stock. And if that sounds like old technology, there’s a story going around the Internet right now about Luca Iaconi-Stewart, who has built a detailed replica of a Boeing 777-300ER out of manila folders. His costs are low. His investment in time is high. And I’d rather have one of him join our hobby, than 100 people who only seek instant gratification.

      A friend who read this post and comments emailed privately to suggest that one problem with this discussion could be that as hobbyists, we continue to view anything related to model railroading as part of one big hobby. It could be that the hobby is no longer such a monolith – a big tent. It could be that we’re fracturing into “operators”, “model builders”, “historians”, and other sub groups.

      Maybe he’s right? I often identify more with articles about building exquisite armour or aircraft models than I do with articles about huge layouts that are otherwise pretty average. I recall a gentleman named Jay Rotsch, who I met at local prototype modellers meets back in the 1980s. Jay built exquisite models of CNR diesels. He was the first person I met who created patterns and cast his own parts. And if I recall correctly, he did not have a layout and wasn’t really interested in building one. Jay approached the hobby like a model builder whose subject was trains, not planes or tanks.

      Cheers!

      • Trevor,
        Thanks for responding to my comment. Really appreciate it.
        Regarding point 1. Totally understand that point of view, I spend all of my day in front of a computer as well and sometimes the last thing I want to do is spend even more time with it. Regarding point 2, again I agree. I don’t think 3D printing will solve everything and it wont eliminate the need to learn basic modeling skills, but I don think it will alter the part/kit market and the R2R market and modelers. Regarding point 3, is that really true? I know lots of modelers, particularly in the smaller scales like n and z who participate for years with just R2R models. Point 4 I think is just an outlier, your always going to have people like that, but the fast majority of people aren’t going to do that. And again I think the assertion that people who buy R2R are only seeking instant gratification seems a little harsh, they just might have different priorities/interests. I think your friend is right, there are a lot of reasons people get into this hobby, I think that’s one of the great things about it. For instance there modelers who are taking after David Barrow and making layouts that have no scenery at all, with systematic modules that represent prototype operations, and are quite happy about it. I think ultimately, my point was that 3D printing is going to blur the line between making and buying. Its never going to replace the desire for humans to be creative and make things, but it is going to make things interesting. Again, thanks for responding to my comment. Great post, great blog. Andrew

        • Hi Andrew:
          On point 3: It isn’t true today. But I think it will be true in the future. The current phenomenon of private individuals building large layouts – in any scale – has been made possible because ready to run products are available, and consumers have tremendous buying power. Go back into magazines from the 1960s and even the 1970s and it’s a very different story. I think we’re headed back towards that kind of hobby to some degree. I also think most people will live in smaller homes or condos, because the energy costs to run a large home will be prohibitive.
          As for point 4: I’d argue that more people did that in the past. It’s not that we’re always going to have a few people like that, but that was the norm. My point with this post was that if (or rather, when) – the pendulum swings and engaging in the hobby becomes more expensive, those who simply engage with it through buying stuff will find other things to do with their time. It’s the people who have invested time in learning skills who will keep at it. That’s why I think teaching the hobby as an opportunity for “skills building” and “satisfaction” is a better approach to growing the hobby than telling people that it’s “easy” and “fun”. And it might sound harsh to say I’d rather have one skilled guy join the hobby than 100 people looking for instant gratification… but I’m not saying people who buy ready to run are only looking for that. I’m saying those who are only looking for gratification will only engage with the hobby through buying stuff…
          Thanks for wading in. Good discussion, everyone.
          Cheers!

  9. Well said Trevor! There are lots of “young’uns” out there that need to be found, and taken under wings, and taught. But they need to learn from a group, and not have just one person telling them ‘this is what you have to model, like, and learn about because that’s all the hobby is’.

    As for MR, I’m constantly arguing with myself over every issue deciding if it’s worth it. Generally I find the feature article enjoyable, regardless of its subject, and there are always a couple of articles that are thought provoking, and inspirational. However, these ‘you can build this’ layouts are generally the same thing year after year. The prototype and local are different, but it’s always “this is how you glue foam together, this is how you wire track” etc. Those subjects have been well covered in their how to books. It’s always the same old thing.

    I personally don’t have room for a layout right now, but I’m still active in the hobby. When Pelle Soeborg’s ‘Done in a day’ came out, I borrowed a friends copy, and following his techniques I learned how to weather freight cars.

    I’ve been a member of a small round robin club around where I live since I was a teenager. These guys have layouts in various stages from just up and running to almost complete (ok, as complete as a layout ever will be). Thru them I’m learning how to create different types of scenery, track laying, and operating (sometimes I give lessons on operating, as that is my day job). I can guarantee I would likely not be a hobbiest today if it hadn’t been for them.

    I was recently asked ‘so is this still fun for you?’ While operating. My answer was ‘yes, because this is fun, and nothing at all like dealing with work’. While modellers strive for realism during operating, no one will ever perfect giving their operators the stress of worrying about the ‘big picture’ implications of railroading. Using a simple rule book, and various methods of train control, there will never be worries about losing ones livelihood or civil liberties (or worse yet, life) while operating a model railroad.

    Operations should always be fun. I fear that articles and books that extol the virtues of time table and train orders will overshadow the simplicity of Rule 105 territory (yard limits), or cautionary limits as ways to operate a layout, thus scaring newcomers away because of needlessly over complicated methods of control.

    This is a very complex hobby, and newcomers finding out what interests them can have a long journey before they ever build a layout if they dive into all the minute details of modelling a railroad.

  10. hey Trevor,

    You’ve said a lot here, and there was a lot of interesting discussion. As an adult who is trying to get back into the hobby, I may have an interesting point of view:
    1) The biggest challenge to the hobby, is not not cost, but other easier distractions. It’s hard (not impossible) to convince someone to sit down, and work with their hands, spending 10-20 hours building something, when they can watch youtube, or play video games for (almost) free, with instant gratification. The internet is the hobby’s greatest competition.
    2) I’m not sure how much price directly affects us. This is a hobby. I have a certain amount of money I can get away with spending, before it becomes a drag on my household budget, and I rarely spend a lot more than that. If the price of all hobby materials doubled, I’d still be spending the same amount on the hobby, just buying less, or finding more efficient ways to spend my money (scratch building, ebay, and swap meets come in big here), or scaling back my dreams (not every turnout needs to be motorised). I played with toy soldiers for about 10 years, and me and my fellow hobbyists noted this as the price of ‘guys’ went up much faster than inflation. We didn’t stop buying, we just bought fewer things, because they cost more.
    3) To survive in the long-run, a hobby needs to appeal to different people at different levels. I think that you need easy entry (traditional around the tree christmas trainsets) into the hobby, and you need a good path for hobbyists to grow, get more involved, and advance (children don’t want to scratch build, they want to run trains, older children, and teens can move on to more gratifying areas, but they have to be hooked first). We have to show what is possible, if you work hard and diligently, and you also have to make it easy for entry. If the first time I went into a hobby shop, and they said that I’d need to be handlaying track, or that I would be, I’d have probably found a better way to spend my money.
    4) The toy soldier hobby survives by attracting newbies with cheap starter sets and rules (easy entry). Most of them tire of it, and move on to something like computer gaming after six months. That works well for that hobby. You can’t keep everyone you attract, but you can give them an introduction. Maybe the same needs to continue to happen for this hobby.
    4) Not everyone aspires to build everything from scratch. I handlaid about 20 feet of track, and built a cople switches and a crossing by hand. Eventually, I didn’t like the way it was all turning out, and ripped them up. The trac sections still exist. Today, I’m happy with flextrack, and decent turnouts that I buy pre-built. It looks better than what I was capable of, and far less fiddley/frustrating. I buy decent cars and locomotives pre-built with sound decoders pre-installed, because I want my cars to look good, and I don’t think that building cars from scratch can get the level of detail that is available, in a cost-efficient way. I have made a few wooden kits of buildings and am looking forward to building more, as well as scratch-building some in the near future. Scenery has always been pretty much scratch building, but I’m just getting started with that.

    wow, that was a long meander, and you are a better man than I if you have made it here. Basically, in order to survive, the hobby needs to have easy entry; appeal to young and old, new and experienced hobbyists alike, have fast and achievable, as well as deep and meaningful rewards; and have a way to deepen your appreciation and skill set over time. Cost is always an issue, but with the opportunity to scratch-build, customise, and just play with your trains on a half-built layout, I’m not sure it’s as much of an issue as people worry about. I’m looking forward to many more satisfying years of this hobby.

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