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Rites of Passage for a Model Railway - 28: Scope and Skills Limitations, How Far Can You Take Your Hobby?

Alan sets out the parameters for a well-made model railway - although you could go the whole hog, right down to a station master's buttons!

Control - are you a tech freak or easy-going (Digital Command Control or Analogue)?

It doesn't get much simpler than this vintage O Gauge Control system put up for sale through Vectis Auctions at Stockton-on-Tees

It doesn't get much simpler than this vintage O Gauge Control system put up for sale through Vectis Auctions at Stockton-on-Tees

Train Control Panel - hi-tech for a simple layout (what's out of sight, though?)

Train Control Panel - hi-tech for a simple layout (what's out of sight, though?)

Start 'em young - Bachmann DCC Starter Kit''s a useful introduction system, although at a young age we should leave them some magic

Start 'em young - Bachmann DCC Starter Kit''s a useful introduction system, although at a young age we should leave them some magic

The next stage: Hornby Model Railway Control System by disc - although where's the enjoyment of fiddling around? Is this the end of trial and error?

The next stage: Hornby Model Railway Control System by disc - although where's the enjoyment of fiddling around? Is this the end of trial and error?

DCC wiring, after this it's DCC sound and smoke, although the smoke is unconvincing - think of an engine working against the great with great billowing clouds of smoke and that barking sound? Contrast that with the lazy wisp of smoke on model engines

DCC wiring, after this it's DCC sound and smoke, although the smoke is unconvincing - think of an engine working against the great with great billowing clouds of smoke and that barking sound? Contrast that with the lazy wisp of smoke on model engines

The Hobbiton control panel - a fun way round the hobby, more room for entertainment

The Hobbiton control panel - a fun way round the hobby, more room for entertainment

Where do you draw the line?

There are control systems for model railways that leave many stumped. From the array pictured above, the O Gauge collection is a curiosity from a bygone age, although it's only about sixty years old. Switching points and signals, running engines and shunting should be a form of amusement, not a second job. Next thing we'll have interviews and examinations for operatives on model railways.

You can get DCC sound, too, as well as smoke, although the range is still limited. How many locomotives - steam, diesel or electric - can the market provide for? Remember, there's a great deal of difference in sound between a War Department steam engine and a Class A1, Duchess, King class or Merchant Navy A Class J39 sounds nothing like a K1. A Deltic or Class 31 sound vastly different when at speed or crawling. And the steam? How do you replicate an engine belching smoke from its chimney on a gradient, or the loud barking noise that goes with it? A 9F 2-10-0 with a rake of 50 ton iron ore wagons on its way from Tyne Dock to Consett with a banker - how do you re-create that? DCC's got a long way to go yet, and many exhibitors get fed up with the noise from their neighbours. If you want to get on with your neighbours in the exhibition hall do everyone a favour, keep it for home. There is still the suspension of belief that has sustained modellers in the past. .

Appreciated, we like to see our trains run smoothly, where and when - and how. It can be frustrating to have to watch our engines stubbornly refuse to move - although that can also happen with DCC, everything has to be just right, no room for error. They don't tell you that. Might as well stíck with Analog, boy. Keep it simple. Only joking. If it gives you pleasure, go for it - but don't let it take you to the debtors' court! And keep the track cleaner handy. Whatever advances are made in model technology, you still have to give your track a rub now and then (that reminds me...)

Precision modelling - the war of the gauges: Double O Gauge

The Double O Gauge Association (DOGA) 'JOURNAL', a meeting place of minds, helpful hints and friendly competition

The Double O Gauge Association (DOGA) 'JOURNAL', a meeting place of minds, helpful hints and friendly competition

Colin Snowdon as Chairman of the Double O Gauge Association has two layouts to choose from. You'd need to check his exhibition diary in the JOURNAL to see which he'll have at the next show. This is Belmont Road shed, that he inherited from a friend

Colin Snowdon as Chairman of the Double O Gauge Association has two layouts to choose from. You'd need to check his exhibition diary in the JOURNAL to see which he'll have at the next show. This is Belmont Road shed, that he inherited from a friend

The DOGA publishes a chart to help members with their model-making. Measurements for track and platform clearances and so forth, are there to advise. How you use them is for you as a member to decide.

The DOGA publishes a chart to help members with their model-making. Measurements for track and platform clearances and so forth, are there to advise. How you use them is for you as a member to decide.

Wheel and flange... The basis of railway running are the blueprint for modellers. The relationship between modeller and manufacturer is a two-way thing. Gone are the days when manufacturers took no consideration of users' needs

Wheel and flange... The basis of railway running are the blueprint for modellers. The relationship between modeller and manufacturer is a two-way thing. Gone are the days when manufacturers took no consideration of users' needs

The back-to-back gauge you can buy from DOGA stores to check your rolling stock will go through pointwork without derailing.

The back-to-back gauge you can buy from DOGA stores to check your rolling stock will go through pointwork without derailing.

The DOGA Warflat kit completed, with chained WWII load. The railway companies - including the LNER - inherited many from the War Department in 1945 and converted them as bogie bolster wagons. I bought two for conversion when they first appeared .

The DOGA Warflat kit completed, with chained WWII load. The railway companies - including the LNER - inherited many from the War Department in 1945 and converted them as bogie bolster wagons. I bought two for conversion when they first appeared .

The cover of an earlier Hornby Railway catalogue features the BR(E) Class K1. Hornby, Bachmann, Dapol and other manufacturers try to fulfil the needs of modellers. You can also convert older makes to current specification

The cover of an earlier Hornby Railway catalogue features the BR(E) Class K1. Hornby, Bachmann, Dapol and other manufacturers try to fulfil the needs of modellers. You can also convert older makes to current specification

This is part of Bradford MRC's OO Gauge track layout for Outwell, that shows the scenic aspect

This is part of Bradford MRC's OO Gauge track layout for Outwell, that shows the scenic aspect

Double O/HO, 16.5mm track gauge with 4mm scale buildings and rolling stock bodywork is an oddity...

However it's a popular oddity. Manufacturers, beginning with Hornby Dublo after WWII and then Triang Rovex produced track, locomotives and rolling stock to the OO/HO Continental gauge. (Triang at one stage brought out a range of TT products, 3mm scale, that it abandoned in favour of OO, and a thriving 3mm Society subsequently sprang from this product). New Manufacturers such as Mainline, Lima and MRM emerged in the 1960s and 1970s. Kit makers such as Airfix had ventured into model railways and were later bought out by a new company, Dapol, who produce a ready-made range of model railway products as well as kits. Even more recently Oxford Rail has produced a range of freight rolling stock, and Dapol have ventured into LMS carriage kits. The world is full of surprises, not least of which were the Hornby Peppercorn designed K1 2-6-0 and ex-NER T2/LNER-BR Q6. I keep telling myself someone will bring another ex NER loco onto the market, the P3/LNER-BR J27 that ran everywhere between the Scottish border and Hull/Leeds/Selby in Yorkshire (and according to one of my DVDs, over the border on the former North British metals of the Wansbeck branch).

Perfectionists jokingly call OO 'narrow gauge' (we know who they are, don't we!), although OO is more widespread. Scalefour/Protofour and EM Gauge modellers still have to convert ready-to-run locomotives and rolling stock if they take a fancy to them.(and they're getting better - although also expensive, kit manufacturers will find a large market for their product as ready-to-run prices climb). Although the cost of kit-built locomotives is higher than ready-to-run, especially if they are made by others. the range of pre-Grouping steam classes makes them attractive to modellers who specialise in out-of-the-way areas. As I've said before, only two former NER locomotive classes have been produced as ready-to-run. That leaves over 100 not covered. If you want to model the railways before 1900 you have to venture into kit-building. Still, the likes of Hornby, Bachmann, Dapol etc with the ready-to-run market are branching out (forgive the pun) onto hitherto untouched lines.

Scale variations: EM Gauge (eighteen millimetre)

The EM Gauge Society (EMGS) produces a newsletter and holds exhibitions around the UK, to which they invite layouts from OO and S4/P4 groups

The EM Gauge Society (EMGS) produces a newsletter and holds exhibitions around the UK, to which they invite layouts from OO and S4/P4 groups

EM Gauge Society's Shenston Road (70s) layout shows off the scenery and signalling as well as the locos and rolling stock

EM Gauge Society's Shenston Road (70s) layout shows off the scenery and signalling as well as the locos and rolling stock

The difference is in the back-to-back measurement

Eighteen millimetres is not quite all the way, although in scale closer to the real thing. As I've hinted earlier, there's a friendly rivalry between EMGS and DOGA modellers. You can get the same degree of detail with either gauge, and a clever modeller can disguise the difference. (You'll find EM Gauge in Australia, but not in the US. It's not an issue there, as the scale is 3.5 for rolling stock, motive power and lineside detail). The EM Gauge Society, like the Scalefour Society holds its own exhibitions, although other other scales and gauges are represented. As ready-to-run stock needs to be converted with longer axles, they offer the tools to achieve their end for sale in the EMGS magazine. Often, as with many OO Gauge modellers, they choose kits for the locomotive classes not on offer by the 'big boys' (Hornby, Bachmann, Dapol and Heljan - yes the Danes have got in on the act). They are also catered for by the likes of C&L Finescale who produce trackbuilding kits similar to those of the Scalefour Society.

And of course there's Scalefour/Protofour

Scalefour News, the society's 'voice'. In the 1980s when I was a member I had a couple of articles published here

Scalefour News, the society's 'voice'. In the 1980s when I was a member I had a couple of articles published here

An iconic Scalefour layout, Bramblewick was the result of several modellers coming together with an artist to produce this piece of art - it's more than a mere layout. Sadly creator Tom Harland died some years ago and his creation has been 'retired'

An iconic Scalefour layout, Bramblewick was the result of several modellers coming together with an artist to produce this piece of art - it's more than a mere layout. Sadly creator Tom Harland died some years ago and his creation has been 'retired'

Scalefour turnout template showing some of the tools applied to creating pointwork with scale sleeper spacing

Scalefour turnout template showing some of the tools applied to creating pointwork with scale sleeper spacing

Is the Scalefour Society a perfectionist elite?

You don't usually have Scalefour or Protofour layouts at general exhibitions or shows, so we could be forgiven for assuming an elite outlook. However what they have for them is the precision of the gauge, 18.83 mm = 4'-8". End of argument? Strictly speaking it is, but then there are many more OO gauge layouts on the circuit. Quantity over quality? You can get the same degree of modelling skill in either gauge. That Double O modellers stay with a gauge of 16.5.owes a lot to loyalty, but that's a personal thing.

Scalefour modellers are more exacting in their aims, and they've come a long way since someone decided that Double O was inadequate and EM was little more than a halfway house. The 'vehicle' that promotes their exacting standards, the Model Railway Journal, shows some pretty intimidating results - such as the famous 'Bramblewick', loosely based on Robin Hoods Bay near Whitby - that many of us could aspire to. Having been a member both of the DOGA and Scalefour societies, I understood the ethos behind 18.83, and I also understand that of 16.5. You aim for what you are capable of, and aspire to what you wish to achieve. It's that simple,whether you want to carry on with conversions or enjoy working with what's available and improve on appearances.

It's a hobby after all, not a second job.

Going big, if you've got the funds - and the space -, why not try O Gauge (scale 7mm = 1 foot)

Gauge O Guild Summer Exhibition, an extensive dockside layout demonstrated here shows a high level of modelling expertise

Gauge O Guild Summer Exhibition, an extensive dockside layout demonstrated here shows a high level of modelling expertise

New York O Scale advertisement poster for an exhibition across the Pond

New York O Scale advertisement poster for an exhibition across the Pond

Crawley Model Railway Society's Torrington layout, based on BR Southern Region's presence a little way out of the North Devon town (when I was there in the 90s they were in the throes of setting up a railway centre)

Crawley Model Railway Society's Torrington layout, based on BR Southern Region's presence a little way out of the North Devon town (when I was there in the 90s they were in the throes of setting up a railway centre)

If you build your own it's cheaper...

Although the enjoyment comes from seeing your models in a setting you've created - as with 2mm or 4mm scale - and working in a prototypical manner or as you want them to. The realism you achieve is as much in your head as it is on the layout. You could go bigger, although the choice is limited by your pocket and the space you've got available. O Gauge can be squeezed into a back bedroom, Gauge 1 can't.

7mm comes in two choices, as with the 2mm and 4mm scales, Finescale and regular. If you've got the modelling skills, 7mm is a size you can pack more detail into. Components are also more expensive, and you probably won't own as much. That's why we join clubs and societies. Together we can show off our skills in any scale. Ready-to-run in 7mm is available, but pricey. Alone, if your modelling skills are limited you won't get as much out of 7mm as you would from, say Double O. But you can learn, and with a club you'll find encouragement.

And that's the top and bottom of railway modelling club/society membership. You put as much into it as your talents let you, and in a while your skills will expand. I know mine have.

Or go small with N Gauge (2 mm scale), if you've got the patience for small detail

N Gauge Society hopper conversion shows the lengths the modeller went to produce this model

N Gauge Society hopper conversion shows the lengths the modeller went to produce this model

1970s British outline models.  The detail in both these cover illustrations is remarkable

1970s British outline models. The detail in both these cover illustrations is remarkable

A well detailed post-privatisation Departmental Seacow ballast hopper is shown off in this view, with a pair of private owner bogie wagons in the background

A well detailed post-privatisation Departmental Seacow ballast hopper is shown off in this view, with a pair of private owner bogie wagons in the background

Widespread small scale = N Gauge or 2mm

Again it's down to choice, what you want to achieve, the impression you want to make or the space you've got to achieve it in. You can pack a lot more into the same space taken up by Double O/EM Gauge/Scalefour, and more yet than in the space taken up by 7mm/O Gauge. In terms of price 2mm is not a lot less than for 4mm, depending on your skill levels. As the illustrations show, you can get good results whichever road you take. Your choice is your own.

As with 4mm and 7mm scales, good, convincing 2mm layouts are achievable with perseverance. How much you get out of it is down to you, and you get more from your hobby the more you're able to do. It gets to a point where you are short of challenges if you let it. To keep your interest don't treat it as if it's work. Research work, reading, watching DVDs and going out to take photographs or collecting prints at exhibitions all adds to the interest. It's what I've stated in previous parts of this series. Enjoy your hobby and keep your interest alive. .

If you've followed the series, has it been helpful?

Lastly, a look back on previous pages

The driver looks ahead for the starter signal (figure from the ModelU range, engine is a Hornby Q6 0-8-0 weathered to look care-worn and used)

The driver looks ahead for the starter signal (figure from the ModelU range, engine is a Hornby Q6 0-8-0 weathered to look care-worn and used)

The driver of this (Hornby) K1 looks out for the guard with his green flag along the platform at Thoraldby

The driver of this (Hornby) K1 looks out for the guard with his green flag along the platform at Thoraldby

On the Thorpe Carr mini-layout the scenery begins to take shape

On the Thorpe Carr mini-layout the scenery begins to take shape

Again at Thorpe Carr, the main station building is positioned where it will stay after the platform surface has been completed

Again at Thorpe Carr, the main station building is positioned where it will stay after the platform surface has been completed

Research material: visit sites, take pictures, find measurements etc.. You get out of your hobby what you put in. This is the NER vintage platform shelter at Grosmont (NYMR) on the 'Up' platform. There's fun in them thar hills!

Research material: visit sites, take pictures, find measurements etc.. You get out of your hobby what you put in. This is the NER vintage platform shelter at Grosmont (NYMR) on the 'Up' platform. There's fun in them thar hills!

Incidental architecture: this is the Birch Hall Inn at Beck Hole, near Goathland on the NYMR. Field trips can be fun. I told you, didn't I

Incidental architecture: this is the Birch Hall Inn at Beck Hole, near Goathland on the NYMR. Field trips can be fun. I told you, didn't I

You're in the driver's seat now, let's see you lift your train like a 'pro'

Model railways for pleasure, don't turn it into a second - and more demanding - career path.

Comments

Alan R Lancaster (author) from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) on May 11, 2017:

Hello Bill, keeping quail is a hobby now then? (At least you don't have to turn on the power to watch them move - more economical than model railways, I suppose). Just let's keep this between us, or all these railway modellers are likely to switch to quail collecting - oops! Hope nobody saw this!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on May 11, 2017:

I was thinking of the question you posed. My wife and I started with five quail....a little hobby...we now have 200. Evidently we have no learned restraint with regards to hobbies.