Ignorance of Model Railroad History

YoHo Jun 19, 2013

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  1. Dave Jones

    Dave Jones TrainBoard Supporter

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    And the beat goes on ... ? Several (many?) factions insisting to various degrees that "their" type/degree of modeling is the "only true faith." Well gents, tain't so and to get too insistent is probably doing more harm to the hobby than costs or the lack of working defect card holders on our equipment.

    Cure? Well there is none! One thing we can do is to be very polite. Lots of people do/model things I won't/wouldn't but that's no reason or excuse to denigrate anyone's efforts or results in any way.
     
  2. BoxcabE50

    BoxcabE50 Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

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    And as I write every time this comes up,...

    Actually, magazine subscription numbers are useless in even making a wild guess. Economics have accounted for many of us reducing hobby budgets. Their magazine sales numbers are thus going to naturally drop, but here we are- Still in the hobby!

    I see the new member information here every day. You'd be surprised what is noted, daily. Many, many 'new to hobby', or 'returning to hobby'. Ages range from pre-teens to very senior. Ladies and gents. Youths, college students, single, married with or without family, retired- Again, this is on a daily basis.

    There simply are no useful numbers available, from which to base even a wild supposition.
     
  3. YoHo

    YoHo TrainBoard Supporter

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    Simple economics and yes change in content are the culprit. See MRH going gangbusters at Free.
    Thomas, Chuggington and a resurgence of the railroads has meant a rekindling I think. Also a rise in hobbies generally.
     
  4. Seanem44

    Seanem44 TrainBoard Member

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    I won't argue that.... But do you think the hobby is as healthy as it was 20 and even ten years ago? I remember when I was 9, Christmas 1990, coming down stairs to find a HO steam engine looping around it's track. Do you think now, when a kid can jump online and play a game like Battlefield 3 against 64 other people, they will have time to even want to model? I'm not trying to make this sound condenscending. It is an honest question that I am looking for opinions on. Because I am of the opinion that while strong in the middle age department, the hobby is dying out among the younger generations. Many have noted this as well. The digital age is destroying the hobby for the youth.
     
  5. YoHo

    YoHo TrainBoard Supporter

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    Right now, my son and I are having fun at his Thomas table playing trains. Does thatnswer the question?
     
  6. YoHo

    YoHo TrainBoard Supporter

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    I don't know what "these people" are noting, but in the world I inhabit, trains are as popular as they ever were.
     
  7. BarstowRick

    BarstowRick TrainBoard Supporter

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    Amen, oh that's right I don't go to church anymore. Another story for another place and time.

    Trains and the love of trains is taking off in a new direction. Note how many new train styles there are on the market, how many youngsters (that would be anybody younger then I) are buying those Amtrak (trash) trains along with all those (to many to name) commuter trains. Trains and the hobby are alive and well.

    However, the old timers are looking at it and thinking what degradation. Just remember that for many when I was a kid it was a very difficult hobby to get into, you had to have the money and everything was hand crafted. Athearn, Revel and Atlas, praise the great spirit for all of them, as they made it possible for this youngster (I was one many years ago but who's counting) to enjoy the hobby. ConCor, Rivarossi, Atlas Flex track and others came along. Atlas and Kato conspired to put out some of the best running N Scale and that's when I flipped. HO to N scale. Keeping much of my HO, which now runs on other mountain men's railroads. Oh the fun my friends and I had as youngsters and now the youngster in all of us still has a chance to come out and play

    Thomas the tank works for me...GRIN!.
     
  8. Seanem44

    Seanem44 TrainBoard Member

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    And I don't disagree at all. But in my world, and within my group of coworkers, and my freinds that I've had since High School, and my fraternitywhile I was in college, I am the only one I know who has a love of trains, or model railroading, save for a co-worker who has an eight year old son who loves them to death.

    But being a railroad enthusiast/foamer/trainspotter is different from modelling. And when that eight year old boy becomes 13, is he still going to love trains, or model them? His father only likes them because of his son. He doesn't model. Can model trains compete with the instant gratification that an Xbox can give them?

    Trains may be popular, but I am asking about the hobby in general, mainly in the sub 35 age group.

    I'm not trying to say anyone is wrong here, and we all have different personal experiences. But I have a sneaking suspicion that ten years from now, there will be less in the hobby than there are now, as these 13 year olds grow up in a virtual world.
     
  9. BoxcabE50

    BoxcabE50 Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

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    OK. I'll write what I always do, every time this premise is broached. The question above, yes. It certainly is, otherwise manufacturers would not be dedicating the enormous funding to underwrite new products. They'd be severely pulling back, if we were in a true decline. Yes, economics in that past decade and more, have had an impact. There is no way to equate this to actual interest levels. I have dropped from numerous magazines, historical societies and newsletters, to just one each. I do purchase less, being now disabled, with that super restricted budget. Does this mean I am out of the hobby? No. Does it mean my interest has waned? No. It is simply practicality being forced upon me. Does this provide us with even slight proof the hobby is unhealthy? No.

    Age does not matter. All that should be important is that people are getting started. Even if they are seniors, every one of us, and every year we commit has great and equal value. Plus, as I noted earlier, we are seeing youths joining! I even see notations they are returnees to this hobby, still in high school! Amongst them all, are far more females than ever. You'd be surprised how many folks can and do enjoy the computer stuff, yet also are amongst us. We can and do spend time spread out, beyond more than one interest. I have always been this way. Yesterday I spent some hours sorting a few of my motorsports souvenirs. When done, I was back to my modeling bench to work on an HOn30 gondola kit.

    As I have been doing this since I could crawl, now making that just about sixty years back, I have seen a fair amount of what has happened. How things have evolved. I believe we get a great misperception, or misrepresentation of the way things truly are, as one aspect no longer seen are the general public media ads which I knew as a boy. (These print and aired ads were of both manufacturers and the hobby shops.) In other words, the hobby is not as openly visible as it was years ago. When media does cover us, as we have all seen to many times, their being too ignorant they treat us much of the time as a bunch of sillies. That sure is not helpful! On another hand, shows, sales, swap meets or open houses, (regardless of eBaY and economics), are far more common than during my youth.

    Another aspect is that railroads themselves have far less deliberate public exposure, and employ far fewer people today. Take that from the view of youths who might be influenced and enter this hobby, through seeing what was 40-50 and more years back....

    What I am observing via people I know, group membership growths, etc, On30 is booming. G is very popular and growing. HO is healthy as ever, as are N and Z. Even HOn30, TT and S have seen increased interests. The parts printing industry has just begun to have an impact, which should keep costs down and make practical many items we only dream of owning. New machinery for this is just about to start hitting the market, using new plastic formulas. This will be a huge step up in quality. The doors to our future are wide open, not even closing!
     
  10. Seanem44

    Seanem44 TrainBoard Member

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    I hope that you are indeed right. And you do lay out some good facts. I, being only 32, have not been around long enough to see the ebbs and flows of the hobby. I have only seen the digital age take off and how it is effecting current children.

    I will say though, that in the 25 years I have possessed model trains, N scale is at a point now where it is getting hard at first glance to tell the difference between it and HO scale. Leaps and bounds.
     
  11. NYW&B

    NYW&B Guest

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    Whoa, guys! There appears to have been a lot of wishful thinking expressed here this morning regarding the current state of the hobby. Personal opinion, without supporting facts, is of little value in any discussion.

    First off, let's look at Boxcab50's statement that the decline in MR's circulation has little meaning and at best is a reflection of just a failing economy. This is an absolute falsehood since the most dramatic phase of that publication's subscriber loss came in the late 1990's/early 2000's when the economy was going great guns. The magazine had lost upwards of 75,000 readers by the time the economy tanked later in the decade. What the origins of the decline actually centered on were decreasing basic numbers of practicing hobbyists and the sharp change in the magazine's content, going from craftsmen-oriented (as it had been for more than 50 years) to increasingly addressing buy-this, buy-that, and RTR. Just read the feelings of older MR readers on various forums at the time if you doubt this reaction.

    Similarly, YoHo's belief (and Boxcab's too) that the current hobby is enjoying some sort of great public popularity is, I'm afraid, about as far from the truth as one can get! Even though it seems a great many hobbyists refuse to face it, there is nothing in actual hobby statistics, or situations, to suggest anything good to an unbiased eye. For instance: availability of products is way down; interest in traditional male craftsman hobbies is way down; exposure/availability of model railroading products in large stores heavily trafficked by the public has virtually disappeared; Lionel caters almost exclusively to adults today; the price of HO scale hobby items has skyrocketed in the past decade and the number of manufacturers has declined sharply in just the last ten years. One could go on and on with such a list. That folks see many "new" items appearing today (neglecting that they typically remain easily available only for weeks after issue, or even sell out completely before the delivery date) is not a good sign at all. Rather it is an ominous one, implying that the marketplace has contracted sharply and manufacturers must quickly jump from one item to the next with small runs just to stay in business.

    It is a well documented fact is that the peak interest in all forms of our hobby occurred way back in the 1950's, when model trains reached the official status of being the 2nd most popular hobby in the United States, reported as big new in an MR editorial of the period. Today, if you bother to check, our hobby does not even place on any list of the top 100 leisure-time/hobby pursuits of Americans. At the same time, the decided majority of the participants in model railroading today are, or are soon to become, Senior Citizens. In the 1950's MR counted 1 in 5 of its subscribers as a teen and most others were actually under 50! At the same time Lionel claimed there were 6 million households which had layouts running their products. What do you think those same numbers might look like today?

    So when we post, how about we try to be just a bit more honest, objective and factual about the situation of where the hobby stands in the second decade of the 21st Century?

    NYW&B
     
  12. YoHo

    YoHo TrainBoard Supporter

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    Well, I tend to trust Boxcab's numbers since, he after all, has actual statistics, for this site which is a part of the hobby and therefore representative. And so, he has first hand knowledge of the demographics of this website and that is immediate, direct information.
     
  13. BoxcabE50

    BoxcabE50 Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

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    Is it falsehood? (If I am telling falsehoods, translation- I'm a liar.) You demand, but yourself fail to present anything which could be certified as absolute fact about why the magazine circulation is changed. We all know virtually every one of, if not all of those publications concerning our hobby have dropped, and some are gone. Tell us why- You did not. All we just read was yet another opinion. To which you are entitled, but don't demand that it carries any more weight than of the next person.

    Fact- At that very same time MR dropped, is when the Personal Home Computer truly bloomed. When easy and free access to information became so widespread via the 'Net, is also when people starting dropping subscriptions for electronic medium. Does this prove our falling down? No. Not in any way. Really, we simply do not need magazines any longer, to gain necessary information or knowledge to enjoy our hobby.

    Fact- The late 1990s was also when informational chat groups were replacing in large numbers, (such as onelist, then eGroups), previous modes such as mass emailings, and predecessor formats. Yet another massive and free alternate to magazines.

    The two above facts were truth at my home. It was during that era when I dropped MR. And for some reason, I am also recalling Kalmbach had made a format change to both MR and Trains during that time, which made folks unhappy, thus dropping subscriptions.

    Fact- There is absolutely no way to accurately measure the numbers of model railroad hobbyists today, amongst the seven billion plus occupants of this planet.

    This constant drumbeat of woe is us, woe is us is not in any way helpful. Quite the opposite it harms us all! It reminds me of the old axiom about repeating something loud and often enough that it eventually becomes truth. In our instance, about as helpful as repeatedly smashing fingers in a car door, believing eventually there will be no pain.
     
  14. BoxcabE50

    BoxcabE50 Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

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    Yes. It is hard data. Undeniable as fact.

    Is it absolute, across the board? There is no possible way for anyone to compare and conclude. Some groups or boards are scale specific, dedicated to a sector such as narrow gauges, or one particular railroad company. Others are broad spectrum, such as this site. How are they doing? All of those to which I belong are seeing some rate of increase- From a snails pace, to faster growth. But the trend is all up. One thing which is obvious, our actively registered member numbers here continue upward, daily. Wouldn't that seem to be a good sign? I guess not.

    Oh well- Where the magazine once was found, we now have the 'Net in replacement, taking a big lead for our needs.
     
  15. bremner

    bremner Staff Member

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    you must be reading my brain!
    1. Malcolm, he is an artist first, worked for Disney, he thinks like an artist, models like an artist, not a modeler in the fact that he makes it look like art. But he is a model railroader
    2. I was reading that very issue of MR last month, and you're right, MR is lacking things that made it great. The Paint Shop and the Model of the Month were must reads, even if I did not care about the GP12 that ran on the Podunk Central, it did 2 things, taught us how to detail a loco and about railroads that I did not know existed.
    3. MRH has a great idea with the $500 layout, BUT they did miss the boat with the delivery. I ran a few ideas through my head, and even priced one out, but it is VERY limiting with their rules. I am building an N Scale layout right now by the rules, and due to the fact that I have a whole whopping $25.00 left in the budget (a lot of what I am using is stockpiled parts and supplies that are priced to Fifer's sites pricing). IF they were to change the rules to allow for a basic starter set like a Bachmann On30 or a HO/N Atlas Trainman set, that would help out a lot since it would add in a power pack ($35.00), loco ($55.00) and freight cars (let's call it $90 since I have more expensive cars), and many people that build a layout start because someone GAVE them a set. If I had an additional $180 to work with, it would be a lot easier, and look better. My buildings are printed on computer paper and look like they are!
     
  16. YoHo

    YoHo TrainBoard Supporter

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    At least you bothered to include scenery. The winner of the HO challenge offered up a plywood pacific.

    Card stock/Paper structures can be awesome. I wish I had known about them when I was younger.
     
  17. bremner

    bremner Staff Member

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    YoHo, I know what you mean, and if you look at my blog, I used mostly stuff laying around the house to build the benchwork...after all, how many of use have an Ikea dresser that has basically fallen apart?
     
  18. NYW&B

    NYW&B Guest

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    Wait just a minute there, YoHo. I went back 4 pages and I don't see Boxcab offering any numbers, or statistics. I do see personal opinions expressed, but that is it. Now personal opinions are no substitute for real numbers. In fact, opinions usually originate from selective observation and are too often heavily colored by viewer bias. They carry little, if any, real weight in a serious discussion.

    While I did not present numbers re my comments on the source of MR's decline, I did note where very strong evidence for them could be found. Now I certainly could also provide specific forums to look into for the posts supporting my conclusion if readers wish. I was on all the major ones when the abrupt decline took place. It was obvious from their very large numbers and level of displeasure expressed in magazine's content that this was no ordinary grumbling. In fact, I have never seen such a response expressed by a longtime readership. That MR's circulation numbers enjoyed continuous annual growth up until right around the time it changed editorial content from craftsman-oriented to mostly buy-it RTR content, then readership abruptly starts declining by leaps and bounds, is in direct correlation. If folks want to see the numbers, I can list MR's circulation at 3-5 year intervals from the 1950's to date as desired, plus MR's figures for readership age. They are very telling in both areas.

    The paragraph I devoted to other important declining aspects of the hobby should be largely self evident to anyone who has been in the hobby for any length of time. The mortality of a number of the largest manufactures; the vanishing of train products from nearly all stores with high public traffic; the vanishing/unavailability of the products themselves and even much of the basic craftsman modeling materials; the greying of the hobby over the years; together with the few new loco/car companies that have arisen being each really a hand-to-mouth, simple small-time importation operation (derived from brass manufacturers) of very limited product runs and of a minute faction of the size of old Athearn, Mantua, Life-Like, et al., can all be cited as obvious signs of a diminishing area of interest and clearly not healthy to anyone who has been in business.

    And, Boxcab, I'm not inferring that you are a liar, so let's attempt to keep this thread civil for the benefit of all. What I am indicating, however, is that you are offering your personal opinions as if they are fact. Facts require supporting, verifiable, data/numbers/indicators to be valid in any discussion. Let's try to reset ourselves here a bit and then go forward.

    NYW&B
     
  19. bremner

    bremner Staff Member

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    NYW&,

    I think that it is multiple things that caused the decline of Model Railroader's subscription base

    1. As you said, the change from craftmanship modeling to a more of a beginners magazine aimed more towards the RTR crowd. We see no articles from from the older, master builders any more. Lance Mindheim is a great modeler, and it seems that Kalmbach does not want to publish his articles on scratchbuilding with a printer.

    2. As Boxcab said, the internet, with forums, mailing lists and now E-Zines that are free and are frequently updated. Now we can got to Atlas's site to see when the new GP9's have to be ordered by and in what roads they will come in. I remember the excitement in 1989 when I saw the ad for a Southern Pacific U25B in N!

    3. As someone else stated, the economy. I can renew my MR magazine subscription or buy a Walthers kit, or 2 Micro-Trains cars for about the same amount of money. I have found it easier to sneak a boxcar and a hopper past the wife than a monthly magazine...

    4. A demise of the local hobby shop. In 1989, I had not one, not two, but THREE fully stocked hobby shops within 10 miles from me. I was limited to the parents or my mountain bike to get to them, but I still hit them up. The magazine rack was a place that I hit every time. I still have some of the magazines that struck my fancy. of those three, only one is left, and was barely hanging on for dear life when I was there last year. I now live in AZ, the closest hobby shop that stocks train stuff is 35 miles from me, and the closest Barnes and Noble is about the same distance. With the costs of basic items like track going up each year, and the costs of cars quadrupling since 1989 (the same Atlas box car that was $3.50 is now $15.00), the cost factor is a major concern.
     
  20. YoHo

    YoHo TrainBoard Supporter

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    Boxcab is an administrator for this site. Therefore, he has access to the numbers associated with the membership of this site. He presented his information in a conversational way. That may have caused confusion, but he has first order facts on the situation as it pertains to this web site. Perhaps you would be happier if he presented the information in the form of numbers and graphs versus informal conversation? I'd prefer the conversational tone.

    In either case, the point is that he has the statistics at his fingertips every day and he is suggesting that trainboard's numbers don't mesh with the gloom and doom narrative presented.


    Having said that.

    I have no doubt that the hobby counts fewer people in 2013 than it did in the 1950s. My question is, So What? Yes, if the number of people in the hobby drops below a certain threshold, it will impact the rest of us significantly, but that hasn't happened yet and doesn't appear to be happening. There is a selfsustaining level here.

    And I simply do not see the manufacturer situation the same way you do. There has been a fall off in the local hobby shop going on for some time. But recently it seems to have stabilized. NOT MR specific shops, but general shops that cater to hobbies generally. Model train sets are still available at many retailers. But even if the Brick and Mortars have fallen off, the internet has stepped up.

    You can buy Thomas the Tank Engine and Chuggington all over the place, even Bookstores. This is a gateway toy train product.

    Do I wish you could find trainsets more available? Yes, but I see so many young kids coming in with an interest when our club has open houses. I hear the questions about where to get product. Would we be better if All Hobby lobbys and Michaels had at least a small train department? Maybe, but people can still buy it. People understand buying from amazon or other online retailers. They know how to look that up and get what they need.

    And looking at customer reviews, they are doing just that.
     
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