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June 2022: What is it about trains that makes adults want to model them?

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    June 2022: What is it about trains that makes adults want to model them?

    So just what is it about trains that makes adults want to interact with models of them? What draws us to model railroading? What is it that stirs our creativity?
    Paul Schmidt

    In short, what makes grown men play with trains? Inquiring minds want to know?
    The Little Rock Line Blog


      The model building and the historical research. That drives me to recreating a specific historical time frame that happens to have moving trains.

      If I suddenly had to give up model trains, I'd still build models of some kind.


        For me there is no apparent answer. Till the age of 7 I grew up outside of Minneapolis in an upper middle class family. I remember very vaguely that my father had like a double ping pong table sized Lionel train layout in the basement. He also had bookshelves in his home office that had displayed at least a couple dozen Lionel trains. I never found out why he had that interest but when we moved to Seattle he sold all of it but enough for us kids to have something to play with growing up. My mother told me that we used to travel often by train but I don't remember a single trip. Anyways fast forward to me being married with a few kids and all of a sudden I am buying Model Railroading magazines and ordering by telephone a half a dozen Pola kits that were on sale. There was a ten year break when I was working in Mexico while my dozen or so finished buildings sat on a shelf. But once I moved back to the states I jumped right back into the hobby and now it is pretty much the only hobby that I have. I can only guess that the love of trains was engraved in me by experiences that I can no longer recall but still emotionally are very powerful. The other aspect that can't be explained is why I love nighttime viewing of my layout. Not the running of trains but the viewing of everything lite up in its magical wonder. Therefore personally for me a layout without lighting isn't really a layout. Sorry for rambling so much.


          My grandfather was the driving factor in my interest for trains. He drove a steam engine on the Northern Pacific and I remember spending days with him in the roundhouse, a long time ago. I think the size, sound and motion of these big machines are what keep most of us interested in railroading. I am also interested in vintage aviation but that is much harder to interact with in today's world. WW2 and mid fifties aircraft are as hard to find as a GP-7 nowadays. Race cars and hot rods have absorbed most of my lifetime, but that was a profession and not a hobby.
          HO Scale


            For me it is the draw of these huge machines, operated by humans, performing their work is a systematic and efficient manner. The mass and size drew me in when I was younger. The operational aspects and research keep the interest going. I also enjoy the creative side of modeling. It is a challenging hobby with many aspects that will keep just about any serious modeler interested.


              For me it was being born into a railway family. Granddad and dad were both drivers (engineers) so it was a constant thing. I remember mum walking me and my little brother to the end of our street where the Illawarra line to Wollongong was. A steam passenger train roared past, the crew waving, one of which was dad.
              Dad was happy to 'indulge' my interest in model trains, the Triang range being readily available so that got me going, modeling wise.
              But some of my best memories was when the 3 of us got together, happened very rarely, and when pop passed, me and dad.

              I miss them both....


                Not that I saw ever played traines when I was a child, but I saw my mum cry when she found her fathers wind up trains had been put out in the old Nissan hut and they had rusted.
                One birthday I just bought the other half a set with a plastic layout sheet, we were doing out the loft for insulation at the time, the new ‘room’ had been planned as storage and overflow bedroom space, and he built one table for the plastic layout then it looked empty so we bought a building…yeah all my own fault lol.

                Once we started in Ernest, research, trying to make the best of pieces, and the desire to fool people just turned into an avalanche
                Attached Files
                Last edited by Jaz avalley; 3 weeks ago.


                  As a kid I had an interest in big mechanical things. Trains, trucks, construction equipment, planes, etc. I would imitate what I saw through collecting toys, building model kits, and running model trains.

                  While expression of these interests has matured, the inner kid is still alive and well!



                    I have always been fascinated with trains, as well as planes, ships and rockets. Quite a palette of possible hobbies in there, and I've done them all.

                    But at age 13, model railroading took the lead. I believe it's the re-creation in miniature, to the highest degree of realism my skills, time, and money will enable, of something that once existed or plausibly could have existed. And this urge to recreate is combined with pursuing realistic movement of these models to give them a purpose.

                    I know Allen used the phrase "play with trains." That's for the hy-rail, tinplate and Unitrack crowd, in my thinking, and doesn't rise to what model railroading is really about. I know Allen thinks along very similar lines.
                    Last edited by Paul S.; 3 weeks ago.
                    Paul Schmidt


                      To some extent Paul S. yes I do, but when I said "play with trains", that's exactly what I meant.

                      I grew up like most boys in era, I assembled models one after the other, carefully placing them in a display case or hanging the WW2 aircraft on a wire that ran across my room.

                      While this was all fun and learning at the same time, that's all I could with them, stare at them and image flying through the clouds closing in on the enemy targets or rolling over the countryside in M48 Patton, mowing down my enemies. Yeah, that was the extent of it, using my imagination.

                      In time when Dad thought I had reached a certain point, he introduced me to Estes Model Rockets! Yeah, this was great! Not only could I build the models using the skills I'd honed building all those plastic models, NOW I could insert an ignitor and watch as model rocket screech to life and zoom into space!
                      I was actually interacting with my models!

                      Sure I had trains. We had the typical Lionel setup in the basement when I was 5, later Dad brought home a 4'x8' sheet of plywood with a HO figure 8.
                      Scenery? Hell no, again I relied on my vivid imagination to bring the trees, tunnels and crossing to life! This lasted for a few year until the loco burned up and the layout was removed from the basement. I didn't get another train until 1976 when I bought my first Tyco set.

                      Up until this time, I reverted back to my models when I was at Richman Gordman where I bought another military model that was spurred on by a Modeling contest that the store held each year. The build a model of your choosing and create a diorama for it to fit on then enter it in the contest. Well my first dio never made it to the voting stage, but I kept trying every year. I drooled over the entered Dio's and made my plan for the next years contest.

                      I never won any awards, but I did finally get one that got an honorary mention. What came from this was that I developed some sense of what I could do with scenery.

                      All this while, my love of trains existed and after buying that first Tyco set, dad helped me build another 4x8 in the basement. But this time I created scenery for the layout out of Chicken wire and plaster! I painted it green and brown, dad even kind of got into it and brought home some LifeLike tree kits and a box of Lichen!! Man I was in heaven!!!! I had my models and I was making them run through the crappy scenery I had created!

                      After that, I switched to N scale, built a couple more basic N scale layouts. Then one day I joined the local model train club, and got hooked on NTrak. Since I couldn't afford much at the time, so one of the club members supplied me with everything I needed and said I could lay track and make the scenery for one of the corner modules. Off I went.
                      Again it didn't win awards, and the inside mainline had to be straightened a bit (something broader than an 8" radius) but I was having fun now!

                      By this time I was hooked! I could build my models, paint and decal them and make them run around on track, actually pulling stuff!
                      As I time progressed, I grew tired of watching my trains run in loops. Sure it made for a fun weekend, but I wanted to do something more with my trains!

                      Eventually I ran into the right crowd and learned about operations, basic operations, but this was the golden spike.
                      Today this is what keeps me interested in draining my wallet and consuming my spare time. Operations (to any extent of moving trains).

                      I can now build my models, create a miniature world and move my trains through that world in a way that mimics the real thing.
                      So yeah, as the Tee shirt proclaims: I still play with trains!

                      In short I think what keeps my interest is being to give my models "purpose" and not just sitting them on a shelf to collect dust.

                      The Little Rock Line Blog


                        I don’t know about other adults but to me it’s creating an environment that moves, and BESIDES IT IS FUN TO ME

                        As a kid dad and mom gave me Lionel O27. Dad built it up into a 4x8 and then an uncle gave me his pre WW2 Lionel. One day I decided to model what I saw in real life, 2 not 3 rail. Thought dad was going to have a heart attack and explained why it wouldn’t work with Lionel.

                        As a kid, I did all the sports stuff, built model planes, disliked that, Navy ships were great especially aircraft carriers but pricey, loved the slot cars and then too got expensive on being on the slot track circuit, but trains were never far away. It was my girlfriend now the wife who gave me a a joke Xmas present Senior year in college a HO set. She re-lit the spark and that was 1973 and I still look forward daily to running a train.