“What colour should I paint my sky?”
I’m amazed this question still gets asked – but it does, and it’s an example of the wrong way to do the hobby.
(“Wrong” way? Here we go…)
This isn’t a rant about those who comment on this blog: With very few exceptions, your questions have been worthy of my time to answer them. Your questions often make me think – because your questions tend to be “Why did you do something this way?” or “How did you do this?” rather than “What should I do?”
As an example of great questions, at one of our recent operating sessions my friend Hunter Hughson asked me if he could look at my airbrush and compressor. He was in the market for one.
Hunter did not ask, “What airbrush do you use?” – because my choice might not be his choice. Rather, he asked, “What do you like about your airbrush?” and “How well does it spray acrylics?” and “How easy is it to clean?”
I’m sure he asked others in his circles the same sorts of questions. I’m sure he did other research. Then he made up his own mind, and bought the airbrush he thinks will work best for him.
Well done, Hunter – and well done, to those of you who have asked great questions. We’ve had some wonderful discussions as a result and I’ve often changed my approach to something on the layout – for the better – because of the questions you’ve asked.
But I see an attitude of helplessness on many newsgroups and forums and it’s time for all of us to fight back.
There’s nothing wrong with asking questions, but this is a hobby of doing things. Those who experiment – and fail a few times – will learn something. I’ve done it a lot – and learned a lot.
The lesson? Don’t do it that way!
The lesson wasn’t expensive – it cost about $2.50 in materials and an evening of work. But in the process of doing and failing, I added to my knowledge base.
The Gordon Gravett tree-building books have helped a lot, but I don’t follow Gordon’s method step-by-step. Rather, I adopted some of his techniques and materials, but married those to my own techniques and materials. I even carried forward some of the techniques I used to build the Bendy Elm to my current tree-building method.
Take that sky-painting issue: How can anybody answer that?
Only the layout owner knows how he or she perceives colour.
Only the layout owner knows what mood they want to convey with their backdrop.
Only the layout owner knows what lighting they’re using for their layout.
The answer is simple: Buy some blue paint that you think will work, and paint some sky. If you don’t like it, determine why you don’t like it: Is it too light? Too dark? The wrong tone? Then buy some different paint to correct for this.
For another example, look at couplers. It’s not such a problem in S scale, because we only have a couple of them from which to choose – but there’s a coupler cornucopia in HO. What coupler works for a specific model?
Rather than getting online to ask, buy an assortment of couplers and try them out. Create a set of test couplers and coupler boxes – like a socket set. Since couplers typically come in four-packs, find three like-minded friends, buy a pack of each of the couplers you’re most likely to use, and split the packs four ways.
By doing this, you’ve added a tool – a coupler test kit – to your toolbox. You’ve also added to your knowledge base about the hobby.
UPDATE: A friend who read this after I posted it emailed me with some further comments about couplers. I’m sharing his thoughts here – edited slightly:
My own experience is that after testing you really need to standardize on one brand of couplers for reliable operations. Having tried McHenry and Accurail, half a dozen cars each over a several year period mixed into my fleet of Kadee #5’s (and cousins), I came to the conclusion that either the other couplers were not truly compatible (Accurail) or would not work reliably over a period of time (McHenry plastic springs). Operations suffered. Both types have been replaced. With Kadees.
I’m not sharing this as an endorsement of one brand of coupler over another – that’s an individual choice (and a good opportunity for experimenting, as my friend did). Rather, I realized my example needs clarification. My response to my friend, edited slightly, is as follows:
My thought about couplers was not to have several types from different manufacturers, but have several examples to test in cars. For example – standard shank, long shank, short shank. Center shank, offset high, offset low. Make up a set of these, maybe without springs or trip pins, and keep them handy so that when you buy a new car – say, one with McHenrys in it – you can use your test kit to figure out what Kadee works. Obviously, one can simply fiddle about with what’s in stock at home – but the point is, “figure it out yourself” rather than getting on a newsgroup and saying, “I just bought such-and-such a model: what coupler should I use?” Chances are, the answer won’t be that helpful: One person might recommend a Kadee, while another recommends an Accurail or a McHenry, and a third suggests Sergents.
Is that really so wrong? Consider this: What if the “expert” who makes the recommendation is wrong – either because there’s a better choice (which you could discover by doing your own experiment) or because of another factor that means what worked best for them is not the best choice for you?
Yes, we can learn from what others do – but it’s important to remember that each person’s layout is unique, even if they’re built from identical plans.
The variables can be givens, such as layout environment: temperature, humidity, lighting, ceiling height, access requirements for utilities or closets – all will change what works for each of us.
The variables can also be druthers: We have our own ideas of what is right – especially when it comes to subjective things like the colour of the sky.
Above all, remember two things:
First, this is a hobby. With the exception of a few safety rules (such as, “Always wear eye protection when using a Dremel tool”), there is nothing wrong with trying and failing.
Second, this hobby is a great learning opportunity – so use it. This is not a hobby in which one advances by slavishly following the lead of others. We do our best work when we experiment… fail… learn… experiment… fail… learn…