Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Post ModerN Modeling: Nothing is almost still too much

In my studies in college, we talked a lot about Post Modernism, the evolution and rejection of "modernism". It's tough to pin down a definition of "post modern", but this is the best I could pull from Wikipedia .

...postmodernism tends to refer to a cultural, intellectual, or artistic state lacking a clear central hierarchy or organizing principle and embodying extreme complexity, contradiction, ambiguity, diversity, and interconnectedness or interreferentiality.

I've realized that the rejection of traditional modeling concepts has driven me toward trying many different things in my modeling. While many traditional modelers will often try to pack as much "railroading" as possible into a space, I've been determined recently to do almost the exact opposite, and pack as little railroading into a space as possible.

I was presented many possibilities for my home layout when I began it. Many of these suggestions were that I needed "more" in the space. My good friend Lee has built an entire paper mill and junction on his layout (online at WMRYWesternlines.net) in the same square footage that I afforded to a ridge of trees.

This drive makes many things tricky, like incorporating any operational interest in a small space. I believe in making scenes as large as they deserve to be, and I find trying to scale these things down to manageable and modelable sizes is an even steeper challenge than I bet it is for many others out there.

Take my recent work on a oNeTRAK module for BANTRAK for example. I struggle to fit prototypical scenes into my door sized layout at home, but fitting something that I felt worth modeling into a 1'x4' module poised an even larger challenge. At first I thought about trying to model something very mundane, which is also part of what I feel makes my modeling thought post modern.

My first thought was just a stretch of track, on a slight embankment, like in Macungie PA or this scene at Strasburg. (Just look at how post modern THIS is, it's even of the rear of the engine!)

I had thought about doing something like a simple block signal. This is something that is barely ever done on a model railroad. It seems like every signal is there for an junction, an interlocking, or just for show. I thought that doing an intermediate, boring, block signal location would be a fun change of pace, and something novel. I may still revisit this in the future, as I still think it is an interesting idea.

After discussing the clubs needs though, I realized that what was more important was a "destination" scene. Somewhere that would make some sense for trains to be going to. I agonized with this though, because I'm not good at this type of thing. I'm too aware of the actual sizes of things in real life (thanks there Maps.Live.Com and your damn 3/4 view), and this was making coming up with a convincing concept difficult.

After pouring over some Conrail ZTS maps, I realized that the ideal "industry" to model wasn't an industry at all. It was an interchange. But even with this minimalist maximalist destination, I'm still struggling.

This all made me realized I'm really into modeling "nothing", that space between the scenes that everyone else is building. For every junction in real life, there are miles of boring straight track, that can be interesting in its details, but never gets any modeling attention. For every "hot spot" where 6 different lines all cross there are millions of more simple interlockings where it's a simple crossover between two tracks. For every bridge over a river, there are hundreds of more small bridges over creeks, and for each one of those, I'm betting there are 50 culverts over drainage ditches. I feel compelled to model more of these "mundane" things than the big ones. I'm not sure if this is just rebelliousness toward the modeling I was "brought up on" (and yes, I learned how to read with Model Railroader, and it took me a while to figure out that most of the world thought 2-8-2 actually meant negative eight), or maybe it's the desire to make a better representation of the real world in my modeling.

Either way, I can attest to this. It makes planning anything "operational" a real pain in the ass.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Huberts: They're not LBF

People have been talking about Huberts Model Railroad Mfg Corp (http://www.hubertsrr.com/) a bit now, and I wanted to weigh in on the topic.

They're NOT LBF

Ok, with that said, here's the deal. LBF/McKean Models/WTF has been around for a long time in a number of incarnations. Each new name meant a new, well, I don't know what, but a new name, and I think a new way to avoid dealing with old problems. From my understanding, it wasn't the most financially solid, or savvy company around, and given the tough nature of the Model Train Biz, it never did that well. Each incarnation started out strong, but as time progressed, the business didn't, and it would fail.

Given this past yo-yo act, it's not surprising that many people (both consumers and retailers) are not apt to trust them. However, I've spoken with the guys from Huberts at the Timonium MD Show and they've been very clear that they purchased the tooling from LBF, but not the business, meaning that the people behind LBF, it's debts and its assets are NOT under their control.

I wish these guys the best. They have a good solid product (not quite as detailed as modern Atlas or Athearn stuff though) and a lineup of stuff not otherwise available. I wish their price point was somewhat lower, since $20 cars are a little out of my range, but I hope that these prices help them get off the ground and offer more good stuff.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Mike Skibbe Sums it Up

From a thread on Trainboard about new Z scale boxcars, Mike Skibbe summed up my feelings about many manufacturer shortcomings. Check this out.

There is a misnomer that "Prototype Modelers" and "Rivet Counters" take things too seriously and arn't having fun. Things couldn't be further from the truth. We have tons of fun doing what we do too. The fun just comes in different ways. This is similar to the on-going debates about Tony Koester/Bill Darnaby hard core operators vs roundy-round runners. Many people say, "Oh, too many rules and it's too much like real work, that would never be fun for me." And they are probably correct, maybe they never would enjoy it. But for those that are really into operations, it's fun to follow the rules! It's fun to treat running trains like it was a real job. It doesn't make either camp wrong, and it certainly doesn't mean either group is "eternally frustrated."

He continues, emphasis mine.
First, the NP geeps MTL just released. I read a review (Model Train News?) that said MTL used a number series on the NP that didn't have dynamic brakes, yet the model does have dynamics. The kicker is, that NP did own geeps with dynamic brakes! MTL just didn't use the right numbers. You say, "We can split hairs on what's "prototypical" or obvious structural differences, or we can strive to do the best we can with what we have and offer Road Names that help folks realize their dream layouts." Would it have cost any more to use the right number series on the NP geeps? Was using the wrong number really "striving to do the best with what's available"?

The N and Z scale RI 40' boxcars in pullman green are another example. MTL put a non-Pullman Standard built number series on their PS1 boxcar body. Yet RI also had a number series that is almost a perfect match for the PS1, with the exact same paint scheme. Doing it right satisfies both the everyday modeler and the prototype modeler. Doing it wrong only satisfies the every day modeler. Why leave out a portion of the customer base, when doing it right doesn't cost any more?

From http://www.trainboard.com/grapevine/showthread.php?t=89706&page=2

One of the best forum quotes in a while

Care of the wise Tom Mann:

It is a mystery: why are the Hallmark ornaments usable models, yet the houses made by micro-trains are not usable models?

In the new Z Scale forum on TheRailwire.net

The photo is of Robert Ray's using the aforementioned cars. What amazing work.