What's On Joe's Mind?

     This is a new feature on my site where I express a personal view, talk about the hobby, or perhaps just let off a little steam.

      I am concerned that toy train hobbyists are losing their identity because of the influence from the model railroading community. It hit me today, when I was paging through a model railroading magazine, that the "weathering" to simulate rust and dirt on a wall was really ugly. Why make something ugly on your layout? As toy train hobbyists, we have forgotten that we present a glorified version of life on our layouts, not a realistic one. The recent natural and manmade disasters in the Gulf should show us that real life isn't always worth imitating. I don't have a firehouse, hospital, or school on my layout because fire, sickness, and modern education represents the sadder side of life to me.

      There is a form of bigotry within certain segments of the larger model railroading community toward the toy train enthusiast. I have seen disparaging comments about animation, whimsical elements on the layout, our 3 rail track, and other not-in-scale items. I have met many wonderful model railroaders, and they have given much help and encouragement with my electronic projects, but we are not respected as serious hobbyists by many in the larger hobby community. Toy train people may be respected for their purchasing power, but not for their art.

      Back in the late 1970's, I went into a very popular hobby shop in downtown Baltimore, asking for a lighting kit for HO scale passenger cars. (I didn't know if such a kit even existed.) I was quickly dismissed by the shop owner, and he actually said to me that serious model railroaders don't put lights in the passenger cars. It wasn't just the words, but his tone was so offensive. Aside from his remarks not being factual, there was an element of disrespect for those HO hobbyists who would set up a layout for Christmas, which is what I was doing since I didn't have space for my O27 Lionel trains at that time.

      Perhaps the toy train hobbyist reminds model railroaders that all trains can be considered toys. We can substitute the words "play with" for "operate" in all the hobby literature. As toy train people, we do the same complicated wiring, we take time to achieve our scenic effects, and we have many of the same complex technical issues the model railroader deals with. Our scenery is often stylized, but it represents our deliberate artistic vision.

      One of the nice things about the popularity of the Department 56 type ceramic and porcelain buildings is that people are setting up Christmas layouts again, a tradition that had lost popularity in the 70's, 80's and 90's. These porcelain buildings are colorful, idealized versions of prototypical structures, and offer more fire prevention than plastic or paper buildings. All the discount stores carry trees, figures, fences, etc. Not good news for the hobby shops, but it does keep the toy train tradition alive.

      So, in other words, be true to your toy train heritage, and be proud of your unique identity.

      And please remember those who are suffering in the real world with a donation to the Salvation Army (or your favorite charity).     Joe.

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