Tales from the world of professional model-makers. Bachmann PR Manager Dennis Lovett wonders if the hobby has become too serious for its own good.
Former Bachmann PR man Dennis Lovett wonders if the hobby has become too serious.
Model Railroader, the stalwart of US model railway publications, carries this slogan on its cover: “Model Railroading is Fun!”. Is our hobby in danger of becoming too serious? The Channel 5 TV programme The Great Model Railway Challenge has been lambasted by some for showing the hobby in bad light. I take the opposite view. Our hobby is on prime-time TV and reminds us all that it’s about enjoying ourselves and socialising with like-minded people – having fun. If it succeeds, then model railway clubs across the nation will have an opportunity to gain additional members. Many of those watching will have had train sets. Perhaps, like me, they are approaching retirement and looking to rekindle their interest. I have met many such people during the last 13 years working for Bachmann, all trying to get their heads around the fact that the hobby today is very different from the one they left as youngsters. Back then couplings, wheels and even track systems were different – you developed brand loyalty because nothing else worked with yours! Now we must explain NEM coupling pockets or DCC sockets. I have attended countless exhibitions over the past 50-something years but a common sight has been people being very serious, almost to the detriment of their own enjoyment. An exhibition should be a showcase event for a local club or other organisation. If the timetable fails to work, we are not going to be dragged in front of a Transport Select Committee to explain its failings – this is not the real railway where they do have to take timetables very seriously! Have you noticed that some beautifully modelled layouts often fail to capture the attention of the visitors for very long? It may be that the railway in question only had four trains a day, but such historical accuracy is lost on the majority of onlookers. Contrast that with a vintage train set, with Tri-ang or Hornby-dublo trains whizzing around in all directions. They’ll attract large crowds and any ‘operational mishap’ – a crash – will delight any children watching. As you get older you become more nostalgic and, over the years, I have added to my collection with the things I always wanted – but couldn’t afford – when I was younger. We had great fun launching helicopters, watching ducking giraffes, firing rockets or trying to race the train with our Tri-ang Minic Motorways cars. The toy element has been removed from mainstream model railway manufacturing. Tri-ang Railways products were toys, rather than models. The problem facing manufacturers is that anything they make that’s less than serious draws ridicule. Keyboards go into overdrive and forums into meltdown. I well remember the furore when Bachmann produced its Underground Ernie range. The track only had two rails, rather than four, as per the London Underground, and the trains did not represent real trains. ‘Ernie’ was an attempt to introduce trains to a new and younger audience on the back of a television series. It failed not because of the quality of the models, or indeed the programmes themselves, but because only 26 episodes were made. By comparison, more than 500 episodes of Thomas & Friends have been broadcast. Getting model railways onto mainstream television is a major boost for the hobby. Last year, when the live steam locomotive that starred in Channel 4’s The Biggest Little Railway in the World attended exhibitions afterwards, they all recorded substantial increases in numbers. Hopefully, 2018’s Warley will benefit from The Great Model Railway Challenge, as the winning team and its layout will star at the Bachmann stand. In the meantime enjoy The Great Model Railway Challenge for what it is – a TV programme for the general public about something we care about.
The problem facing manufacturers is that anything they make that’s less than serious draws ridicule. Keyboards go into overdrive and forums into meltdown
Laurie Calvert led Team Steampunk in the third episode of The Great Model Railway Challenge. His sci-fi/fantasy layouts, typified by ‘Cato Pass’ (MR253), are popular with young and old modellers alike, either at exhibitions or online. CHRIS NEVARD