No, the hobby is not dying.....and other thoughts

lars128 Jun 26, 2013

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  1. lars128

    lars128 TrainBoard Member

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    I've had a couple of thoughts rattling around in my head for a couple of weeks. Some of it was inspired by a gloom and doom thread on trains.com about the hobby dying. A few things I was thinking about were paralleled in the inspiration thread as well. Anyway, to get right to it I wrote down a few points in where I see the hobby going. Here they are, my rebuttal thesis if you will.

    1. Model railroading is not as popular as it was at its peak but it is still alive and well. Yes, model railroading is not the #2 hobby anymore and yes, not everyone on the block as a train layout. I cannot deny that the percentage of the population participating in the hobby is down, but that doesn't mean there still aren't a lot of participants. The population in 2010 was more than double that of 1950. A hobby that has half of the 1950 participants, on a percentage basis, is still the same size today. Now I know that there is more to it than that, but the amount of product that is out there is being consumed by someone. Yes, we are seeing more limited runs, but we are also seeing higher priced models, more variations in details & dcc/sound options and more roadnames that work better in when released in short runs rather than having manufacturers and hobby shops be held down by a lot of high priced inventory. We're the end recipients on of a just in time delivery model, if you will.

    2. Young people will still enter this hobby, but it will be a different group of modelers. I tend to divide model railroaders into two groups: 1)people that are inspired by the prototype and 2)people that are inspired by model trains. The former are more likely to be an HO or N modeler and adhere to a general time, place and theme and tend to be more of a railfan. The latter are more likely to be 3-rail modelers, not follow a specific time or place and tend to be model only people. This is the group that most likely had Lionel trains as a kid and wants to build upon their early interests. I see the younger groups falling into the first group of people for multiple reasons. First, the decline in model railroad popularity since the 1950's means that the next groups will be less likely to have had a train set as a kid, and if they did there is a greater change that it was HO instead of O. Thus the interest is coming from a different source, most likely a fascination with trains in general. I believe the future modelers are more than ever going to be the people that drive a little out of their way to see a train go buy or ones that are inspired by a particular place, rather than those that received a Lionel Warbonett for Christmas. Second, as this hobby has become more technical it has catered more towards analytical people. A read through GMR or MRP reveals that many of the authors/modelers are engineers, accountants, computer scientists etc. Not that those groups are not creative but I usually see them as having a greater interest in detailing a locomotive rather than filling a layout with operating accessories and an eclectic mix of trains.

    3. Video games did not kill the railroad star. Yes, there are a lot of things competing for the attention of future modelers out there. However, as I alluded to above, there is a core group of people that simply likes trains and want to be involved with them. Lets face it, most of us are simply drawn to trains. It's in our blood and there's no reason to not believe that is still the case for the next people to enter the hobby. For those that truly have that interest there is no video game replacement for a a day trackside or time running a layout. Those in that group may need a gentle nudge into the hobby, but I believe that many of them will keep a long term interest. Also, we all too often forget the positives that computers bring to this hobby in the form of unlimited amounts of historical data and interactive sites (such as this one) that actively engage people.

    4. Thomas the Tank Engine may not be our best friend. I think Thomas does worlds to bring in new people but I think we're getting them a little too young. Science has learned that the second most active (only to the first few years of life) time in brain development occurs during the age of roughly 10-13. At that time long term interests start to develop. I would guess that most of the members on this board were interested in trains at that time. I'm afraid for most that Thomas has come and gone by then. For some it may have stuck but for many it doesn't. If there is anything that the hobby can do is to find a way to carry the momentum into a kid's teenage years. If we're successful, I believe that we will have a group of people with long term ties to the hobby.

    5. O Scale has the most to lose and gain. As this hobby attracts more people that likely didn't grow up on a Lionel set and those that did begin to leave the hobby, people are less likely to get into 3-rail O. 3-rail's problems are compounded by the non-prototypical 3rd rail and movable pilots that distract from the super-detailed realism that we are moving towards. Lack of standards and compatibility between control systems and rolling stock make it work. I think people are being fed up of the attitude of "I'm sorry your 15 year old locomotive that you paid $350 for wont work with this system. You can upgrade it but it will cost a lot of money and nobody wants to do it. However, I can sell you this $500 locomotive that will work." From what I understand, sales are showing it. MTH did wonders in bringing great products to the market, but they also brought out so much tooling so fast that they saturated the market at the same time. As of late, most of their products are re-runs of old tooling. Conversely, I believe that scale-O is hitting the sweet spot in product offerings to entice people into the scale. The additional realism and DCC compatibility should go very far for those seeking to work with big models.

    6. The transition era (gasp!) will begin to lose favor. I firmly believe that most tend to model what they know or have experienced. In addition, many tend to create something they have seen as a kid or teen. Just looking at the math, someone that was 10 in 1955 is now 68. For someone that decides to enter the hobby at 50, they were 10 in 1973. I believe that as those who experienced the transition era in person begin to leave the hobby and younger people begin to participate, more layouts will be focused on the 70's, 80's and 90's. Manufacturers seem to have caught on to this as evidenced by the amount of more modern rolling stock offerings over the past few years.

    7. Bonus prediction: RTR prices will do down. The RTR rolling stock market has been exceptional over the past decade in providing accurately detailed, prototype specific products. What was once a covered hopper is now a specific ACF or Trinity offering with detailing that far surpassed those of the Blue Boxes. Manufacturers have demanded higher prices for these but at the same time the market has been flooded (possibly saturated) with new tooling. As numbers drop out due to baby boomers leaving the hobby, competition will increase among manufactures. In addition, further downward pressure will be put on prices as more of the current RTR products hit the used market. These things combined with what should be tooling costs that have been paid for by prior runs may result in cheaper prices for future RTR items.

    Anyway, that's all I have for now. Flame away.
     
  2. wcfn100

    wcfn100 TrainBoard Member

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    I was at the Doctors office last week and towards the end of the appointment we got on the topic of model trains (my 4 year old is good at making that happen) and the Doctor said something I haven't heard in a long time. He started talking about some old train stuff he got from his dad and he said his dad used to 'make' model trains.

    You just don't hear that anymore.


    Jason
     
  3. BoxcabE50

    BoxcabE50 HOn30 & N Scales Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

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    No. Nothing to flame from here :) Insofar as I am concerned, nicely written. I tend to agree with everything stated.

    And now I shall one again today shirk my responsibilities as a model railroader, and go spend yet more time with my other hobby. :uhoh:
     
  4. JB Stoker

    JB Stoker TrainBoard Member

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    You could have done a lot of work to your layout in the time it took to type out all of that Lars. :startled:
     
  5. Mike VE2TRV

    Mike VE2TRV TrainBoard Member

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    I agree that it's not as popular, proportionally, as it used to be. There are just as many model railroaders but more people in general. A lot of those are more interested in their smart phones than in the world around them.

    Inspiring people to enter the hobby is another thing. Back when I was young, there were trains everywhere. They were a part of the landscape. Now they're considered a nuisance by some (especially those who bought houses near tracks, not expecting trains to go by - I'll trade with them anyday!). Thomas the Tank Engine might look like a good way to introduce them to the hobby, but I agree it's a little young - those trains will end up in the recycle bin or a garage sale with all the other brightly colored toys that are the norm for that age group. The best way to introduce kids to the hobby is to take them to see the real thing, either railfanning or to a railroad museum. There was a train station near my school when I was young, and I was alwaya hanging out there on my lunch hour. Oh, when was I hooked on trains? 10 years old.
     
  6. MisterBeasley

    MisterBeasley TrainBoard Supporter

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    As long as people go to doctors' offices, the transition era will never die, because that's when most of the magazines in the waiting rooms were printed.

    Hence, my personal guerrila warfare tactic - I save Walthers flyers, which I pick up every month at my LHS, and leave them in doctors' offices after they expire. I keep my RMC and MR magazines, but anyone who tosses them should save them and leave them somewhere where they might get picked up and read.
     
  7. Randy Stahl

    Randy Stahl TrainBoard Supporter

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    Every year train shows like Tranfest in Milwaukee and the Amhurst show report record attendance , I can testify that the crowds are there..

    Randy
     
  8. NYW&B

    NYW&B Guest

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    Objectivity is very important in assessing any situation, but is not exercised often enough on internet forums. Not to become involved in yet another opinions vs. facts thread, but rather to quickly just point out the reality of the situation, let's honestly look at Lars128's post one point at a time.

    1. "The population in 2010 was more than double that of 1950. A hobby that has half of the 1950 participants, on a percentage basis, is still the same size today. Now I know that there is more to it than that, but the amount of product that is out there is being consumed by someone." Sounds good, yes, but look at what segment of the population traditional model railroaders have come from almost without exception. These are middle class folks of European origin. No other segment of Americans is more than marginally represented in the hobby. America's population growth in the past 50 years has seen only minor growth in folks of European origins, while the countless other diverse factions have reflected dramatic growth. American diversity is truly great, but not for our hobby.

    2. & 3. "Young people will still enter this hobby..." I'm sure they will, but the important factor to consider here is that they will be in very small numbers. Without some manner of repeated exposure to model trains (and less from the endless other distractions around for them today) why would it happen? In the 50's and 60's every department store window in town and city had a train display in its window at Christmas along with multipl hobby shops. J.L.Cowen's obit in the New York Times espoused that he had made his Lionel trains the third leg of Christmas! That's all gone now. Most of the folks coming into the hobby these days aren't kids; they are Senior Citizens from the great era of model trains!

    4. Here I do agree. Thomas and Chuggington are indeed mainly baby toys and not introductions to the hobby of model railroading. It makes no sense to claim that they are.

    5. "O Scale has the most to lose and gain." Here, once more, Lars128 is probably correct when he indicates that operating systems will likely kill off most interest in 0 gauge in time. It has already divided HO, although at least steps have been taken to minimize the impact.

    6. "The transition era (gasp!) will begin to lose favor." Honestly, I started hearing this line of thinking expressed in MR all the way back in the 1960's as diesels took over. Sixty years have passed and the Transition Era is still top dog. It is likely to remain so as long as Baby Boomers are a major part of the hobby. When they are finally all gone the curtain may well be falling anyway.

    7. "Bonus prediction: RTR prices will do down." This is something I also hear repeatedly, too. However, prices just keep rising dramatically, year by year. If the Chinese are pressured into equalizing their currency (and it probably ain't that far off, guys) model railroad prices will soar out of sight. You cannot sell cheaper if your product runs are shrinking and your costs are rising. High-end shake-the-box kits will never come about. We already know that high-end kits are mainly beyond the skills level of many new modelers. Life-Like's venture into this area showed us that a while back. And profit margins from kits are just too small for a company to remain truly solvent.

    Nuff said.

    NYW&B
     
  9. Randy Stahl

    Randy Stahl TrainBoard Supporter

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    On item 7 I think that shapeways is partially filling the desire for higher end kits. Perhaps at some point a Shapeways designer will supply mechanisms and parts to build a desirable high end kit. The costs and overheads will remain low because the models are printed as needed.

    Randy
     
  10. PaulBeinert

    PaulBeinert TrainBoard Supporter

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    An unsubstantiated fact:

    Newbies to the hobby will never start with high-end equipment or kits and the very simple reason is that they are newbies.


    They (myself included) need to dip their toes in slowly to determine if it is really a hobby they will enjoy both from an activities and cost perspective.
    I for one did not know if I would enjoy scenicing or not but I knew that I liked designing and building the layout. Now that my layout is functional (need to add the freight yard and the maintenance yards), I can run my trains with my 4 year old grandson while planning the scenery and starting to do the scenery.

    Whether or not the hobby grows or declines is not a real concern for me and it is out of my control.

    I am just going to continue to enjoy myself :)
     
  11. Doug A.

    Doug A. TrainBoard Supporter

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    Wait, I thought the curtain already fell?

    As long as folks continue to pull "facts" out of....thin air, these types of discussions are pretty hard to have. And it's tough to argue with the straw man.

    For the things that are more on the actual opinion side of things, I disagree about Thomas, but the jury is still out on that. I probably agree that O-Scale and transition era will decline a little once the Baby Boomers decline, but probably not as much as many think. I completely disagree that RTR prices will go down....not gonna happen. (unless the interest in the hobby increases, which I still believe is possible)

    I think we need to ride out all the current wave of negativity from the NMRA silver hairs and curmudgeons and bitter railroaders and "good ole' days" syndrome and then make a push with all the various types of model railroaders to continue to promote "The World's Greatest Hobby" without all the debbie downers. To say we lack leadership in the age groups it should be coming from is an understatement.
     
  12. DrMb

    DrMb TrainBoard Member

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    I guess I'm not that crazy for ultimately wanting to figure out how to tie in a smartphone into an Arduino to control a DC or DCC layout.
     
  13. r_i_straw

    r_i_straw Mostly N Scale Staff Member

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    Every summer I try to do my part to transition the Tomas the Tank crowd to the next level. At the local railroad museum we hold two day camps for kids to build T Trak modules that they take home. A number of them are now building them at home along with corner modules to make their own layout.
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  14. paperkite

    paperkite TrainBoard Member

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    Pretty Cool Russell ! the looks on their faces shows the awe and wonder of modeling and watching the trains go in real life instead of on the TV or un magizines ... well done indeed !
     
  15. BoxcabE50

    BoxcabE50 HOn30 & N Scales Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

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    We have a small modular group slowly taking shape here in my valley. HO core, but they are interested in other scales and concepts. I have infused what iis possible, can into the thought process, T-Trak included. If this progresses, an idea is to show at a local venue, and some are thinking multiple scale representation...
     
  16. BarstowRick

    BarstowRick TrainBoard Supporter

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    What I dislike most, is when people rewrite history from todays perspective and have no actual knowledge (as in being present then) of the events that took place.

    The only bone I want to pick is about the 1950's. How many of you actually remember the 50's? I do. There wasn't much stuff available to build your own layout. Guys were teaming up in clubs and you had to have a source of income or substantial wealth to get in. It was very exclusive. Never mind the ability to hand lay track or hand craft a locomotive or train car.

    To set up the 50's. There was some HO Varney stuff out there and Atlas had bundles of rail and plastic ties, some early snap track aka sectional track. Lionel was the most popular thing going because of the 027 track. You could put it around a Christmas tree or on a small table in a kid's bedroom. It didn't come cheaply. S scale had some unique stuff out but it was impossible to find room for a layout. AF moved in the right direction for the prototypes with a two rail track as opposed to Lionel's three rail track. Yes, there were some home layouts but few and far between.

    Just a sampling from the 50's: Athearn, Revel, Tyco, ConCor and others finally showed up with some offerings. Revel and Tyco, switched gears literally to slot car racing and those model train offerings became a thing of the past. It wouldn't be till later years that a up and coming manufacturer would buy them out and reproduce: I.e., the Revel passenger station and other out buildings. True Scale was part of the scene but required some skills to put the track together. Never mind expensive.

    Another bone to pick. If you are measuring everything by the number of subscriptions to a model railroad wig wag I think you are using the wrong barometer. I don't subscribe to any of the wig wags (tattle tales). I'm not alone. So I and others won't show on your barometer. Do you see what's wrong with this picture.

    I might add here. The barometer of how many club or N.M.R.A. paid members there are. Thanks to the big guy, in the big house writing an edict and shutting down raises for three years (set income) my household budget suffered significantly, I had to shut down all paid memberships. You can't use some of these barometers, unless you can take into account the full, big picture. I did say, I'm not alone...right?

    I have no facts or alleged proof to give you, other then my personal experience. If there was a way to calculate how many layouts was/were or still are out there today from the 50's and compare such to today, I'd bring it forward. I believe you will find that because of the influx of so much more train equipment and the fact it's selling...(I did say it's selling as in we are buying it)...there are more working layouts today then there's ever been. Seriously.

    Get your head out of the sand, quit smacking gloom and doom, and when you do... you may FINALLY realize, We have it better then ever. Uhh...err...at least in the world of model railroading.

    Be :cool:
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 26, 2013
  17. Mike VE2TRV

    Mike VE2TRV TrainBoard Member

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    I don't think that transition era modeling will fade. So long as both steam and diesel locos are sold, someone will want to model both. The transition era is full of interest, because facilities to fuel and maintain both types of motive power exist side by side. That's why I like that era. And the diesels from that time - early Geeps, Alcos, FMs and Baldwins, had character - like the cars from that time. Seeing an RS-3 for me is like seeing a '58 Imperial. And in both cases, there's no mistaking them from anything else.

    And let's not forget modelers who exclusively model steam - that's even farther back than transition! That's far from dead.
     
  18. NYW&B

    NYW&B Guest

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    "The only bone I want to pick is about the 1950's. How many of you actually remember the 50's? I do. There wasn't much stuff available to build your own layout. Guys were teaming up in clubs and you had to have a source of income or substantial wealth to get in. It was very exclusive. Never mind the ability to hand lay track or hand craft a locomotive or train car." - Rick



    Whoa there! Yes, I was indeed there in the 50's and modeling with my dad, who had been in the HO scale hobby since '38. I can tell you that product availability and diversity was dramatically larger than you are suggesting.

    In 1950 both Mantua and Varney were offering six different locos apiece, together with a wide selection of rollingstock (at $1-1.50 per car) and so was RedBall and a couple more. PennLine (later to become Bowser) soon followed their lead. Also big in the decade were MDC/Roundhouse, John English, Gilbert HO, Revell, Athearn and several custom builders. The Tyco spin-off from Mantua introduced a whole line of RTR trains for newbies (not their later cheap garbage, either). Original flextrack sections with fiber ties had available since shortly after the war, so hand-laying track was only an option. Skyline and Ideal each had an extensive line of nice cardstock HO structures and there were several manufacturers of good power packs about. Carmen Webster's in NYC produced a large scale catalog annually with an amazing selection of HO products. Affordable, screwdriver assembly, brass imports became a big deal in the later years of the decade. By then Polk Hobbies was also offering a huge selection (~40) of inexpensive die-cast locomotives and cars brought in from sources in both the orient and Europe. The only possible shortcomings in the 50's would have been in the area of scenicking materials, which I remember as very basic (it was the era of colored sawdust grass and foliage). Even building terrain out of foam insullation board had already been demonstrated by Westcott in 1957, although it didn't take off for another 25 years. On the kiddie's side, both Lionel and Flyer had half hour TV shows every Saturday broadcast in the NYC area (Joe DiMaggio hosted the former!) and NYC could boast 150+ hobbyshops.

    Anyone who considers the 50's as a tough time to be in the hobby isn't actually faimilar with it.

    NYW&B
     
  19. BoxcabE50

    BoxcabE50 HOn30 & N Scales Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

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    Yes. With these statements, I do agree.
     
  20. SP&S #750

    SP&S #750 TrainBoard Member

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    OP, I have to thank you for your thoughts. I believe I know which thread you are referencing to, in which one of the things that irked me there was the poster whom started that thread blamed young people for the hobby "dying" in which some younger posters (late teens, early 20's, etc.) had us posting our work showing our "lack of patience and basic craft skills." I was needless to say very disappointed in some of the modelers who are always claiming the hobby is dying, it doesn't help when younger modelers and soon to be modelers are alienated like that. Aside from this hobby I have other things like work, chores, school, and gaming to worry about, yeah I like my xbox 360 and my ipod but I usually pick the model trains over the other two which I use for background noise to help me concentrate when I'm working.

    signed a younger model railroader whom is very disappointed in some of his older peers.
     
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