Sunday, February 25, 2018

Bad Vibes

Sometime ago I posted a few photos of Paul’s powered coach, EVRR #4. He had taken an old time Bachmann coach, cut it down, and inserted a chassis and drive from a Bachmann trolley. It was an ingenuous bit of trickery to help push a train of similar coaches up a steep grade on his EVRR tribute layout. It also suggests other applications like being the basis of a freelanced traction vehicle. The model has been stashed away for many years, needs a little TLC to get it back in running order, but it’s generally still in good shape. 

That post received some negative comments. That concerned me, so I took the post down, not wanting to set a precedent in either denied or acceptable comments, or wade into a swamp. I’ve started to get a few negative comments on various things related to this blog that are outside the realm of constructive critique (constructive critique is ok).* These add up to another thing I’ve been thinking about concerning the blog and its future as it approaches 1,000 posts.

My ‘editorial policy’, for lack of a better term, is that I don’t want the blog to be a swamp. I don't want any blog to be that. Hobbies, at their best, are voluntary activities, labours-of-love, and possibly ways of achieving personal satisfactions through self directed works. If it's just about acquiring and posturing, that's just mainstream life, and where's the fun in that. I use the blog to show and discuss things I like, and try to make an effort to do that in a respectful manner. I’m ok with critique, but not personal stuff – there has to be a spirit of goodwill and fair-play involved. I know that is hopelessly passé and naive, but a blog has to have some sort of foundational principles. I seem to be getting more sensitive to this sort of thing as time goes on.

I like to think there’s some room in the hobby for trying things a bit outside the norm, or maybe way outside. The mainstream magazines** these days present a pretty much homogenized view of things due to the demands of today's marketplace – although I admit there can be pleasant surprises. And then there are those monster commercial enterprises like Extreme Model Railroad and Contemporary Architecture Museum, Miniatur Wunderland, and Our Home and Miniature Land, among others, that focus on spectacle. They can be good and bad. The grandeur and technical virtuosity of them is impressive, but they can be alienating in the ‘your role is just to pay and watch us’ kind of way. Swampy commentary? I guess it is.

To me the ideal starting point for a new type of place might be the Pendon Museum. I say ‘might’ because I haven’t been there to see the Vale and John Ahern’s Madder Valley for myself, but from what I’ve seen in print and online, it seems to be the right mix. I guess to me the ideal museum wouldn’t be some cold thing like the Extreme Model Railroad and Contemporary Architecture Museum or even something friendly like Miniatur Wunderland - although I love its airport – but something along the lines of an old-school style Exploratorium mixed with a generous dose of Pendon, combined with a dash of workshop and studio, a model building oriented Games Preserve, leavened with some Wells-ian Floor Games, and an archival library thrown in for good measure. This wouldn’t be everyone’s cup-of-tea of course. Those spectacular things are easier to digest. This dream thing probably won’t make a profit, maybe not even cover costs. But, if you’re dreaming, why still be limited by those same things that limit real life. If I win the lottery you’ll see what I mean :-)

I think E. L. Moore had some outside-the-norm thinking in him even though he was deep in the older, folk-art-driven way of practicing model building construction. He treated construction article writing as a genre of fiction as opposed to simply being a prosaic instructional how-to (and we've seen sometimes the prosaic bent was forced on his work) - I have to admit I'd like to go deeper into that too. That, combined with a focus on simpler materials and construction methods, lead to some interesting models. Nothing Earth-shattering you might say, but if more people popped up with outside-the-box perspectives, it could add up to some new and interesting stuff. 

So, why did the Agent Provocateur recommend giving up on layouts? Here's my speculation, and this is my speculation: layouts are often underwhelming; they can do a poor job of communicating how we actually feel about the subject matter; their ability to simulate real operations has been far surpassed by computer simulations; they're stuck in the past; they're too associated with toys; they take too long to build (at least what's considered an acceptable North American one does) and then get trashed after years of work. Maybe it's just plain, old boredom, although, I agree with some of my points.***

Those videos the Agent recommended all had a common thread: the models were much larger than N or HO, probably into O and G and beyond. Even Elgin Park and Marwencol are into big size territory. Yes, size does matter, at least in this case :-) It makes the model more relatable and detailable. There's a sweet-spot where the model transforms from being a toy into something else, but if too large, it launches into spectacle territory. But, just switching to garden layout size doesn't immediately pop one out of toy territory. The thought and skill those artists put in makes all the difference, size is just one of the dimensions they put to use. I need to think about this some more.****

While I'm waiting for my lottery numbers to pay off, I figured I'd at least try some more free form stuff with the Alta Vista TC and maybe use the workshop as a small scale dream machine. Looking back on the LOL, it was fairly free-form, but in the end it had to go because it became too done and rigid, I couldn't see areas for further experimenting. Especially in creating scenes to photograph. Well, the big boys may need to lean on their starchitect crutches, but who needs that when you've got plastic and a lot of glue :-)

Plastic and glue: the paving material for the Alta Vista TC's Edward St..
I've been feeling that I want get some base scenery installed on the layout so it'll be in shape for staging scenes and taking photos. Edward St. is the long, main drag. Over on the left is a side street that turns off and goes down to the beach; it's modelled after Neville Park Blvd in that regard.
That's Stella's lower level on the corner. It was plonked down to get some sense of size. The roads have been compressed a bit so they don't take up to much space. Everything is made from sheets of styrene. The slightly raised sidewalk-curb-building areas are 0.040 inch sheet. They still need scoring for sidewalks and other detailing. 
The base had to be raised a bit and 1/8 inch foamboard, with its paper backing peeled off, was used for the job. Once the panels were covered with foam sheet, styrene sheets of various thicknesses were used to build up the roads and sidewalk areas. The roadway surrounding the track is a whole separate discussion that I'll come back to in another post.
Yeap, I did some two-fisted coffee drinking before getting started.
But I had to because peeling that foam board took lots of energy :-)
Including this post, the count's at 985. The next 15 will likely require copious amounts of coffee :-) And this'll be my last detour into the swamp - I'm heading back into traffic.
* I thought about shutting off commenting, but overall the discussions have been great, and I've often connected with fascinating people via the comments.
** My favourite model railroading magazine these days is Model Railway Journal when I can find it and feel flush enough to afford it.
*** A layout I like and is an inspiration is the Dublin O'Conner Street tramway built by the Railway Society of Ireland. It's featured in In the rare old time that appears in the December 2013 issue of Railway Modeller.
**** And you're right, all my commentary is likely wrong.


  1. Negative comments?! Huh. I always think that if you don't like a post, move on.

  2. People who feel free to post non-constructive comments on something so benign as model building say more about themselves than anything else. As a lifelong scratchbuilder, your blog has been a revelation and a daily source of inspiration since I discovered it just over a year ago. EL Moore’s methods were neither primitive or simplistic. If anything, they were ingenious. It has been my experience that anyone who has ever tried to make anything themselves can appreciate the artistry of a John Allen, EL Moore, etc. You can be sure that those who wade in the swamp are most assuredly armchair rivet counters who have never made anything. Please keep up the great work. I truly appreciate all that you do here. As for the powered coach, it’s pure genius! Thank you for re-posting.

    1. Thanks for the kind words. Over the years the more I've seen of ELM's work, the more impressed I've been by it. Sure, there's a few dips here and there, but nobodies perfect and isn't reflective of his work overall.

  3. haters gonna hate. let the good work you're doing stand above!

  4. I love the spirit of ELM's work far more than the current spend-all-you-can mentality. Art comes from creating, not your purchase power.