Monday, March 26, 2018

Collecting, operating, and all that

Some while back, I wrote a brief discussion of the somewhat opposed instincts of model railroaders, the instinct to collect things on the one hand, and on the other hand, to assemble a group of models for realistic operation (you can read it at this link: ). A few years later, I returned to that topic, emphasizing how a modeler who is starting a layout may progress from an “anything goes” kind of modeling for fun, to focusing on what is needed for that layout. That post is here: . Then a couple of years after that, I again visited this topic, this time recognizing that there are “impulse purchases” in my past, as is true for many of us, but also adding that sometimes a model gets built just because it looks like it would be fun to build (see the post at: ).  Modeling challenge is certainly an ongoing motivation as part of my car fleet decisions, and I want to expand on that point, and clarify some terminology too.
     Most of my modeling is oriented to my main interest, freight cars. I already have a pretty big car fleet (see photo below of my staging tracks), so it’s certainly not the case that I particularly need more cars. But I often like to add variety or extend examples of a particular prototype.

Visible here are nine of the twelve tracks on this “transfer table” style of staging. This is just one part of where I store and how I  manage my oversize freight car fleet, as I described at some length in a previous post (at this link: ).
     The commentary in my opening paragraph was stimulated by my recognizing that I have a variety of projects in place on three different work benches, some barely started, others almost complete. I decided to make a list of what is underway, hoping not only to bring to the foreground some long-dormant projects, but also as a way of prioritizing projects that need to be done, as opposed to those that will merely be fun to do (that sounds a bit like that first paragraph, doesn’t it?).
     Quite a few of the projects turned out to be really just from the side of things that adds cars to the collection, maybe a car I didn’t have, maybe as part a particular car group, or a paint scheme I didn’t have. These of course are partly fun, but not primarily that. There were a few projects that were purely fun, and naturally I may get these done first! And there were a few that actually contribute to the operation of the layout. Naturally some projects were rated with more than one of these categories, but I tried to list the major aspect of each project first.
     I even found a few projects that didn’t quite ever start because some needed information couldn’t be found, or vital parts weren’t located. For the most part, these have simply been retired and the various components returned to storage boxes. But I did have the joy of finally finding the second half of a long-stalled project (stalled because I could only find half of it), and that one is definitely going back onto a front burner.
     This kind of self-examination leads also to looking at the stash of unbuilt kits, and many of the same kinds of identifications and conclusions can be reached. These kits too include a range of objectives, from fun to collecting to operating, but I realize with many of them that, at this point in my life, they simply have no urgency. In fact, they are what I call “some day” kits. They are cars I would like to build . . . some day. Most of mine are in the shelves shown below, along with some former kit boxes used for storing parts.

This photo also shows a souvenir beer can from Pittsburgh Brewing (makers of Iron City beer), one of the then-annual cans of “Olde Frothingslosh” (the beer so light, the foam is on the bottom), and also a souvenir baseball. Your storage shelf doesn’t have to be all kits!
     There are also a certain number of kits that I usually call “cannon fodder,” a term from back in the day, when we had few plastic kits to start from, and accordingly had to do varying degrees of kitbashing and modifying of that plastic to obtain acceptable models of particular prototypes. Like many modelers in that period, I periodically would pick up the generic kits of the day, such Athearn Blue Box tank cars or box cars, so as to have a stock on hand of the stuff that would have to be kitbashed, etc. Thus the term "cannon fodder,” though today RTR has really changed all that. Most of my cannon fodder is now surplus.
     Probably most modelers have a variety of stalled or postponed projects — likely I have more than my share — but it is always helpful to make a list, so all of them can be looked at in one place, and some evaluations made. I know it worked for me.
Tony Thompson


  1. My last layout, while unfinished, could be operated with stock I had built with only a handful of cars to be built from the "Home Hobby Shop" on the shelf to flesh out the variety. As each new section was to come on line (as I was building in phases) I would build more cars to match those industries in each new location.

    Now that we've relocated I will be building a new layout, again in phases, and for the most part I'm set for what will be needed to operate the first section. That is, I have most of the cars or car types, but some are still in kit form. That said, I probably won't stick to building cars (or structures, for that matter) exclusively for the layout. Like you, I have those cars I purchased just because I liked them for what they were - something neat I couldn't live without.

    Thanks for sharing your decision making process about what you build and why.

  2. You're welcome. Your approach of fitting cars to industries is a good, basic strategy, but of course you will want more than one car per . . . and soon your fleet grows and grows!
    Tony Thompson