“And she’ll have fun, fun, fun, till her daddy takes the t-bird away” (Beach Boys)
“I know it is wet and the sun is not sunny, but we can have lots of good fun that is funny.” (Dr. Seuss, The Cat in the Hat)
“Rules should always be bent, if not broken. It’s the only way to have any fun.” Aylson Noel, Evermore
I’ve finally got to admit whether I think model railways are ‘fun’. A difficult task considering the strong views expressed by the previous three posts on the subject. Perhaps it’s best described by a series of scenarios.
ESNG club night – Every couple of weeks, I go to our club night. We usually set up our modular circuit and play trains. And sometimes, when we haven’t the energy, we just sit and drink tea and talk. Club night is a time to spend time with friends. So model railways are fun because they give time with friends, often to share in our mutual hobby, but equally just to enjoy the friendships.
‘Railfanning’ – And when I am at club night, I’d confess I can spend much of the evening just watching the trains go by. Who cares that trains from three continents are running together, and that Thomas has just overtaken a British High Speed Train? Railfanning brings back memories of seeing some of the models on show as the real thing. There’s the appreciation of just how good some of these models are. And it’s almost as good as standing beside a full-sized track but without the long wait between trains. So railfanning is definitely fun.
Operating – I’ve never had the chance to get into big time timetable or train order operating, as in the US hobby. And as my home layout always seems under construction, there isn’t much running there too. But at exhibitions there’s often a chance to operate in a more deliberate way. Running my little ‘Earlswood’ layout all day at a show was great fun – just shunting a few wagons around, but setting them at the right points at the right industries. And at Stuttgart last year, operating the junction between Britain and the rest of the world was definitely ‘fun’ – if only in small quantities, when you had four trains coming at you in all directions.
Building – Fun isn’t the right word here; ‘satisfying’ may be better, via ‘frustrating’ (when things don’t work out) and ‘painful’ (when you pick up the wrong end of the soldering iron). But it’s definitely fun seeing something grow from a flat sheet of wood, plastic or metal into a model of a locomotive, building or full layout. I’ve lost a little of my younger enthusiasm for building things, but it’s a vital part of what makes our hobby ‘fun’.
Scenery – If building fulfils one’s creative urge, scenery fulfils the artistic. It’s again satisfying, and undeniably fun, to see one’s mental image transformed into something that is either recognisable as a real place, or generating an artist’s impression. Composition, colour and the like are all important. What could be more fun than discovering hidden talent – even if the scenery is more Dali than Constable?
Exhibitions – A feature of the UK model railway scene is the many exhibitions. Last weekend I spent a pleasant hour in the local ‘O’ gauge narrow gauge society exhibition. I don’t model in this scale and don’t intend to, but there was good modelling, interesting layouts and friendly people. Only complaint was the lack of bacon rolls offered with the coffee. Another fun side of railway modelling is enjoying other people’s models.
Escape – We live in a very pressured world. All the above interests offer and escape from the usual pressures of life. They may introduce new ones – to complete a layout for the next club show, for instance. But these are self-imposed, ‘fun’ challenges (usually). Model railways, like many hobbies, offer a healthy escape from our everyday lives.
And bending the rules! – For me, this is important. I admire those who can stick closely to a chosen prototype period and even scale. But for me, part of the fun of model railways is the chance to bend the rules, do something different, and have a little side project here and there.
So my conclusion – why do I bother modelling railways? Because it’s ‘fun’, of course! And whilst ‘fun’ is a poor word to describe the full breadth of the hobby, can you really think of a better one?