Friday, 30 June 2017

Railway Modelling Vs. Blogging

I've often given thought as to how many model railroaders there are worldwide who simply keep their hobby to themselves. My guess is that there's a lot of them. The recent edition of the U.S. Model Railroader magazine featured a massive home layout by none other than Rod Stewart, (the link to the back issue is here). I've read of Rod's layout before, and his story is model railroading's equivalent of an urban legend. Taking his models with him on the road when touring, and booking a second hotel room so he could work on them in peace and quiet, while downstairs in the lobby the media and paparazzi could only dare speculate about what was going on in the second room is still a hilarious story! I'm sure that the mystery only helped him sell more records. The truth is, the Rod Stewart that we knew over the radio was a closet model railroader, who over the course of 23 years constructed quite an amazing layout in the upstairs level of his Beverly Hills mansion. So how many more like him are out there? And for all the amazing model railway blogs that I've so far discovered, how many more layouts exist beyond the wide, wide world of web?

For whatever reasons known only to themselves, these modellers choose to share their hobby only with their closest family and friends. I've heard of stories here in Australia, where people have lived beside their neighbour for almost 10 years before finally catching a glimpse of the giant model railway that occupied their neighbour's double car garage. While many railway modellers are involved in clubs, regularly displaying their layouts at model train shows and hosting open houses and operating sessions, for many their hobby is simply their way of unwinding, and perhaps shutting themselves away from the world for hours at a time. So why should they care about uploading details of their layout on the internet? It makes a fair point.

The other thing I've given a lot of thought to lately, is just how much time does setting up and regularly updating a blog or model train website takes away from our hobby? I can probably answer that honestly when I say, "sometimes a little too much."

Since May when my layout Philden first appeared in public at the 2017 edition of the Brisbane Model Train Show, I've had a short list of things that I wanted to see completed before my layout's next outing in August at the Pine Rivers Model Train & Hobby Expo. In that time, I've set up a photo shoot and written an article for Australian Model Railway Magazine, refreshed the general layout and updated the links on both this blog and on my author page at, wrote 4 posts for this blog, 1 more for my author blog, self-published a new full colour railway poetry book and handled all the necessary social media updates that accompany such an occasion. As for the items on my short list? I've managed to weather just 3 freight wagons. Time is always hard to come by when you run your own business. Hobbies, including my writing, always come second, and blogging I have to admit just seems to eat into what should be time spent on my model railway.

While this all sounds like a good argument as to why we should just switch off the computer and get back to working on a model of some sort, there's another point of view we need to consider, and that is the internet. Google, Blogging, Instagram, Facebook or whatever, just so happens to be some of the greatest resources that we have for model railroading in the modern age. Without it, asking questions from other modellers as to how they managed to do this, that or the other becomes reserved for model train shows when the person is really too busy to be answering in-depth questions. Stuck for a photo of a wheat silo from north west New South Wales as it appeared in the 1950's? Just Google it. Chances are you'll find a photo of one somewhere on someone's blog. Sharing your own how-to experiences and modelling titbits on a blog then becomes a way of giving something back to the hobby in return.

Perhaps all we need is a little bit of balance. I'm a storyteller and am guilty of long posts. Others let a picture tell a thousand words. I follow some modellers' weekly blog posts more than I follow the news. If having your finished layout published in a model railway magazine is the equivalent of having front row tickets to a Rod Stewart concert, than surely following someone's model railway blog becomes a bit more of a casual affair, like being invited to Rod's home for a BBQ. You get to learn a little more of what made that person model that particular railway in that particular era. In my opinion, the two complement each other nicely.

As for me, I only have a small layout. Starting a blog when I first began constructing Philden became a way of expanding my hobby beyond the space limitations of a small apartment. I've really enjoyed writing posts of how I built bench work, laid track and melted light poles in a matter of minutes with readers from all around the world. Now that the layout has joined the exhibition circuit, there really isn't a lot more I can write about it other than to provide some photo updates of any scenery tweaks, new rolling-stock additions and share my thoughts on operating a small layout with the hobby population in general. And that's the beauty of blogging. It keeps you in touch with other model railroaders and puts a name (or blog) to a familiar face when you attend a model train show. To me, that is a much better outcome than keeping all this to myself and locking my layout away for only friends and family to see.

Those who remember my Railway Reminiscing blog posts on my author blog will know all to well why sometimes you just have to put the brakes on something. I wrote exactly 100 articles (they're also indexed right here on my Reminiscing page) after taking a break from writing novels. Although it was sharing my love of trains on the blogosphere, it was also preventing me from completing my model railway layout. I finished the series in October 2016 to concentrate more on my modelling, and just on 6 months later my layout was ready to be exhibited for the first time. Now that the layout is up and running like clockwork, I can finally put some time back towards another project I had been wanting to do for some time, and that is write a series of railway bush poetry books complete with some stunning and haunting photography. The first book Last Train to Brisbane came out this week, and you can read all about the why and how this book came together on this post on my author blog. In between modelling and Philden's next exhibition, I'll also start work on the next instalment which will cover the Northern Rivers of New South Wales and the Murwillumbah line.

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The secret to creating a successful model railway blog is simply to get the balance right. A good blog should complement your modelling, not detract from it. Right now, Philden is being prepared for another model train exhibition. The grain-of-rice incandescent lights are coming out of the railway station and goods shed, and in their place I'm fitting some tiny soft light LED's. The cement plant's interior is also going to be fitted with these same soft light LED's. I also have a whole new train to be incorporated on my layout, not just a new locomotive, and to make its reason for being there seem logical I have to alter a corner of my layout. But as usual, I'll let that be a story for another day.

See also; Reaching the 100,000 Visitor Milestone


  1. Hi Phil,
    I like your post. Particularly about the number who keep their hobby to themselves. In many ways that applies to me and it has made me consider why it is that I am careful about mentioning it to my friends let alone other people.
    The catch-cry "Oh, you have got a train set have you?" sends shivers down my spine. Or, "I will bring my 3yr old grandson around to play with it".

    I have been in the hobby a long time having had, as a child, the traditional start with a wind-up Hornby loco and rolling stock - a real train set!

    My immediate neighbours don't have a layout lurking in their house or shed but I don't know about those further away. And how do you find out? I could run an advert in the local paper but I shy away from that because of the loonies it might attract.

    My career has seen me move all over NSW, currently living in our 19th house. So I haven't had time to make many local contacts in the train world or to build many (perhaps any)monumental layouts. I do have fond memories of the Warrimoo club in the Blue Mountains West of Sydney and in such a club you are guaranteed a common interest. They are all "true believers"!

    Now I have retired to a fairly isolated village on the Far South Coast and I do have a reasonable layout room. Some people have seen it. Most have no interest whatsoever. A few do, but they are predominantly vistors from far away. Some like the "train set" but they are not true believers. I do have a few modeller friends in Sydney and we keep in touch with my blog.

    Which brings me to your comments on blogs. Yes, at the moment I am spending too much time blogging. No, you won't have seen my "blog" because for years it has been on my website and only known to a few. I have NOT been a convert to social media up till now, but I can see the benefit of it to get my blog better known or perhaps I should have said "known at all". But it has taken a lot of time to convert it to Wordpress - time that would have been better spent on modelling.

    Maybe it will help me to track down some other far South Coast modellers?
    Regards - Rick

  2. Thanks for your reply Rick. I too can relate to the chills that would go down my spine when my children were young and their friend's parents would call by and tell their 4 year old terrier who was jumping all over our couch to go and play with the train set while the grown-ups talked. It was the stuff of nightmares!

    I too have never been a member of a club. I've always preferred using my hobby time to unwind from work and relax. Being a writer and needing even more time than my hobby to put towards writing a book, kind of dictated that joining a club and the time that this would occupy would not help my writing career. The down-side is; now that my kids are both University age, as a grown man in his Forties, it can also be a bit of lonely hobby. There are no golf buddies, social outings or drinks after an operating session for lone-wolf modellers. Which was one of the reasons I wanted to take Philden to some Model Train Shows. I feel that we all need that social interaction with other modellers in our hobby.

    A blog however... well it does offer some sense of belonging in the model train community. If someone follows this blog, or leaves a comment such as you have, it does leave you with a sense of appreciation for sharing some photos and updates of your layout. Best of all, its a lot safer sharing pictures of your layout online, than inviting total strangers into your house or having to fend off someone else's kids who keep asking if they can make the trains have a smash.

    Let me know if you'd like me to include a link to your blog when its up and running and I'll gladly add it.
    Kindest Regards, Phill O


Thanks for taking the time to visit Philden. I hope you'll book a return ticket soon. Cheers, Phil