Saturday 21 September 2019

Saturday Ramble - how to make things yourself

Making things yourself, the great quest of our time
On the back of the last post I pondered for a moment and fell into the doom and gloom trap of thinking that we aren't modellers anymore. Or that there aren't modellers anymore. This is a little glass-half-empty, but here is the growing evidence. Firstly I'm not talking about the old hands with a full workshop and a lathe, but the generation of newcomers of any age who are turning up online and asking logical but at the same time dumb questions. They are not dumb to them, but some older hands bite and then it becomes a them and us situation. I'm not complaining about the questions per se, more about the reasons why those questions are being asked.

With reference to the last post which is here : if for instance there is a kit in your possession and the chassis is now not available, why run around asking for that chassis, which is rare, and if you can get one is probably worn out anyway? The answer is make a new footplate part or adapt the existing one to fit an alternative readily available chassis. I'm talking mainly of 009 here but it applies to other situations as well. My worry is that in previous times there would have been no need to ask the question in the first place. People would have been trained to make and adapt by the previous generation. Now they are not. Skip two throw -away generations and we have people who do not consider fixing things.

What about the older newcomer though? That argument doesn't fit - it's a confidence issue.

Can we change this?
Here's a left field idea. Instead of inviting say ten layouts to a show (usual billing in RM etc) invite seven and invite the other three layout builders as 'tutors'. Not the standard demo stand, but as fully expense paid exhibitors. Maybe this already goes on and I'm just not aware of it, but a major shift would be to let punters sit next to, and not across from, the demonstrator. It would pull people in and pass on some basic skills. I'm not talking 'how to EM a RTR loco' but something more base-line. Marking out plasticard or card, tool selection, building card kits, fitting fishplates, really low end stuff. Why? Because that's the level where the questions are, not the slightly higher conversions and super-weathering-with-an-airbrush. We need to give people the confidence not just to buy RTR stuff and build a train set, but how to mark-out, cut, file, solder, and bodge around a problem as well.


  1. I think many of these questions, when asked on-line are more a "look at me look at me" type thing where the person asking doesn't really care about the answer, they just want lots of people doing free work for them as entertainment.

    I don't doubt that everyone has questions, I'm a fan of "the only dumb question is the one you don't ask" but wonder every time I see something asked that is massively general or could be answered by Google.

    A recent one was something along the lines of "I'm thinking of building an industrial layout. Show me the photos of what you have built so I can get some ideas." Because there are no photos of industrial scenes in books, magazines or the Internet. I'm afraid that if I see that sort of "entertain me" question on Facebook, I block notification from that person as they are just going to clutter up feeds and never do any actual modelling. On the other hand when someone shows some modelling and asks for help, I'll type loads of words.

    As for the show, 5 years ago, we tried something along these lines. It was called RMweb live and those who came said it was brilliant. Sadly, there weren't enough of them for the event to show enough promise to carry on. The other problem is that it's all very well saying you'll show people how to mark Plastikard, but what are you going to do all day for 8 hours? And who's going to pay for all the materials you'll chew up marking and cutting the stuff out? It'#s a great idea, but needs a bit of detailed thinking - and if anyone comes up with more detail, I'm all ears as I would be happy to give it a go.

    1. As you may have gathered, I hadn't got into the detailed thinking on this, just a bit of blue-sky consideration that instead of 'presenting' the finished blow-them-away layouts we are yes, inspiring, but not necessarily leading the more novice modeller into the warm water. Exhibiting, especially the more complex layouts to not lend themselves to detailed explanation as the operators are busy doing just that.

  2. Haven't modelled in a few decades but I don't recall getting a great deal of guidance from other modellers, despite belonging to a model railway club in Tunbridge Wells. What I do recall are the magazines which I think had more how-to stuff back then.

    But based on my experiences with online writing groups I think there's something bigger and more subtle going on and it's to do with expectations, both in terms of learning and in outcome, and how both have changed over the last few decades as a result of the internet and increased pressure to succeed.

    Basically, online writing forums get a lot of 'dumb' questions along the line of 'how long should a chapter be?' That question implies two things: that the questioner thinks there is an actual answer and that they haven't been paying attention when reading books. In fact, almost all such questions can answered by reading and observing what other writers have done.

    It's also the kind of question that would have been much harder to ask, or to get an audience for, prior to the internet and one worry might be that ease of communication has replaced thinking about a problem and coming up with a solution (in this case what do actual books do) which will be an issue at some point because writing a novel will throw up far more complex questions so you will need to develop self-reliance at some point.

    An allied issue is the changing meaning of success.

    Young(er) people today are far more pressured to succeed than I was (I'm 58) and it's no longer enough to do something less than well in order to learn from the experience: the thing must succeed on its own merits or you have failed. Success has also become more proscribed and restrictive in meaning and that has led to an appetite for rules: hence the vast number of books extolling the ten rules of successful/rich/happy people and the implication that following those rules will lead you to be rich and or successful and happy.

    Taking your example. While you and I would regard adapting an older kit to fit a chassis it wasn't designed for in order to make a reasonable representation of a prototype loco as a success, someone with a more proscribed sense of success would think they have fauiled because they haven't followed the rules.

    1. I agree wholeheartedly with that, and it underlines the thinking to a degree. Though I find your first para' quite alarming. Is the premier point of joining a club not to pass and gain information? Or do existing club members regard newbies as just bodies to direct the car parking at the exhibition?

  3. Who cares what other people consider "success"? It's just a hobby, it's not life. Good idea Chris to have some basic demos at shows. I'd be up for it, if only to demonstrate there's no mystique or great skill required to do basic stuff. Anyone can.

  4. Yes that's the point above. The internet has unwittingly produced a desire to always succeed as it will be viewed. I imagine that this blog counters that as it contains a fair amount of cock-ups and failures.

  5. It is an interesting discussion, and one that echoes a day job discussion about "best practice" that took place at 6am this morning. Our professional conclusion was that we are wasting time solving the right problem for the wrong people, if that makes sense. I worry about comaprisons to the good old days. After all recieved wisdom when I was a teenager was you could build anything with little risk as long as you used a Traing 0-6-0 chassis in OO or an Arnold chassis in OO9.People do genuinely panic about anything below the footplate.

    As to exhibitions I think successful demos depend on so many factors. Oftern they feel like deadspace in an exhibtion hall with zero interaction. Then again I would never have had the confidence to build my first EM gauge point without one.

    In Phil's case I suspect many people feel they already know him, so are more prepared to talk to him than why would be to other demonstrators. A good demonstrator has to be skilled with people as well as modelling.

    1. I think the underlying question in all of this is do we view exhibitions as pure entertainment or educational? Or a mix of the two? Of course we all know modellers/exhibitors who view exhibitions as a vehicle for there own entertainment and regard the paying public as a nuisance. You're 'right problem for the wrong people' is an interesting turn of phrase and could have been made for this question.