Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Times That Try Men's Souls

Hunters have their duck blinds, mechanics their garages. Others will sit in a beach chair and lose themselves in a book, or just watch the surf. People are very adept at finding solace in their leisure time, even if it's catch as catch can. It's a vital survival strategy as life seems to get more complex every day.

There's a lot of things going on in the world right now, giant oil spills, wars, economic downturns... It's enough to make your head spin sometimes, especially if you or someone you know is dealing with hardships related to any or all of the above.

The forums tend to light up in times like these with threads predicting gloom and doom, and the demise of the hobby as people find their disposable income dwindle away. I find myself up to my eyeballs in alligators at the moment, with stresses ranging from dwindling income to difficulties at work, two children and my wife all in college, aging cars and a house that needs painted... So I can totally relate to the disposable income situation.

But I reject the notion that trying times spell the end of model railroading as we know it.

First of all, when the bullets are flying overhead, outside of time spent with my family, there is no refuge more comforting than the train room. When it's time to sort out the news of the day, the bills in the mailbox, the nonsense at work, I drift up to the attic and turn on some music, and look around for something to do.

There's always plenty to occupy me. I'm in the process of expanding the layout, so there's everything from benchwork to wiring to tackle. There are still parts of the railroad that are operable, so I can do some switching if the mood strikes. There's also a workbench full of projects that are in various states of completion. Decoders need installed, a structure needs painted, a bridge needs to be detailed.

When times are good, I have a tendency to stock up on stuff that I know I can't get around to for awhile... it's the old saw "when I have enough money, I have no time, when I have enough time, I have no money." But the Boy Scouts always admonish us to "Be Prepared," so I keep a healthy supply of scratch building materials, tools and paints at the ready so I can treat myself to an hour or so of idle tinkering to help clear my head whenever the need arises.

I suppose the people who complain the loudest about the demise of the hobby are the guys that rely on "ready to run" and "factory assembled" products for their enjoyment. While these products are indeed convenient, they are also a lot more expensive. So if you're in a situation where you don't have a lot of money to spend, you're going to feel like you can no longer enjoy the hobby. For me, that's where my enjoyment begins.

My favorite challenges are making something out of nothing. Or looking at some abundant and inexpensive material, and re-purposing it for the model railroad. (My latest foray has been to salvage teabags from the big vats of iced tea we make this time of year, drying out the tea leaves, and using them for ground cover.)

I enjoy seeing the results, pass or fail, and learning things as I go along.

Which also helps me deal with the other challenges in my life. So while the train room is a great place to escape from the "real world"... it also can provide a way to sharpen my way of thinking about work, home life, and the world in general. Everything is a process, with a beginning, middle and an end. You just have to get on with it.


Anonymous said...

Excellent post, Lee. Timely and topical. I can so totally relate, as well.

C said...

Lee, great post. These are trying times indeed, but it's in times like these that we really do need to indulge in the things that comfort us. Maybe one day I'll put up a model trainset of my own (I've been reading up on model trains and trainsets on lots of different sites, and am QUITE inspired, but am a little stymied by the complexity). Sites like yours are a real inspiration to me!