Saturday 18 April 2020

Saturday Ramble

The end of lock down week three and no real end in sight. I know I am probably repeating myself, but what is this likely to mean as far a we are concerned? There are three possible end games and a couple of results as far as I can see.
1. The UK and Europe in general opens up in June -ish and everything returns to how it was before (unlikely).
2. We open up in June but retain social distancing and there is a ban on groupings of more than 10-20 people for a long period (more likely).
3. Neither of these and we sit in a cycle of lock downs for several months possibly as far as summer 2021 with a further long extensive limit on social grouping (possible).

For health/safety reasons I would generally support any of these. This is a different argument, but how would these affect our thinking as modellers?
2 & 3 would severely impact on both model exhibitions and clubs, not to mention the manufacture of modelling goods. If this were to be the case, do we need to alter our thinking? This is very much a personal question for me, but there are a great number who sit where I am. If it were long term, some traders and shows would not survive, the circuit would remain, but in a very Darwinian fashion: only the rich and the small and fleet of foot would remain. Less shows, smaller crowds, less stuff to buy. It's quite a frightening thought. I'm a serial layout builder who is in a cycle of build/show/publish/dispose. This is a crude explanation, but that is the bones of it, and I can include most of my closer associates into this pattern.

Will there be a shift in thinking away from this? If there are less shows and therefore less opportunity to show, why build multiple layouts - even over a decade? Would the hobby shrink overall due to this hitting the magazines and the producers? Specifically, are we at a turning point where the exhibition layout builder becomes the rare exception?

I'm fully aware that exhibitions are not the bulk of the hobby, despite those in that loop thinking that they are. The hobby is people opening boxes and running things around their lofts - that's where the money is - but we may all morph into something approaching this, box openers and raw scratch builders alike, all retreating into our modelling rooms and lofts. If so the serial layouts are out, unless you have unlimited storage. And what would be the point of me designing a rear-operated exhibition layout if there is no audience? This may be the new norm', and we may have to adapt.


  1. Unfortunately as someone in the extremely vulnerable category due to an underlying health condition and age, it will be a good while before I attend an exhibition again either as an exhibitor or a visitor, as even after lockdown restrictions are lifted without a vaccine the virus will become endemic and the risk for me will be high. I have now shifted to virtual ways of enjoying others layouts and will probably switch to building a large home based layout for my personal enjoyment. The key issue is how do I maintain momentum when there is no exhibition deadline to drive progress??

  2. I concur with both You Chris and the anonymous gent above. I too have no inclination, barring a step change in treatment/inocculation, to attend any exhibitions from either side of the layout. Certainly not until the next year. Seeing how things proceed. Thos that know me know that I do have a large loft layout, unfortunately one that really needs a crew of four to operate it fully. I also have several exhibtion (?) layouts. I have always suggested that they COULD be home layouts and seemingly now have the opportunity to put mouth and money into the same situation. I have some thoughts about a simple to erect, store home layout support system. A definite work in progress. I also think that there is room for the multiple small layout approach to the hobby, after all, they do not all have to be up and working at once. Definitely a time for a rethink...

    Andrew Knights as I suspect I too will be anonymised!

  3. I'll probably keep working through the small layouts I have in mind, to various scales and gauges, just to get them out of my system. As the buildings are invariably unfixed, and store in cardboard boxes, the baseboards don't take up too much room stood on end, à la Chris Ellis. I've never yet built the "perfect for me" layout I wanted to keep forever.

  4. The interesting thing so far here is the issue of age and fear. This sort of underlines what I was thinking. There may be a desire for the clubs/managers to restart the circuit, but if there is an inherent fear (and let's not pretend that the average age for visitors is low) then it will fail and fast. Care would be needed.

  5. Hi Chris.

    Good points from all.

    A key point about the virus is the geographic issue. Here in Dorset where a quite big county has a much less dense population cases are thankfully low. Same for Devon and Cornwall I think. Close proximity seems to be an important risk factor.

    There are mixed messages coming out of government with some MPs wanting to be 'open for business' soon, whilst messages from government itself seem to err on the side of caution.

    If they wait for an effective vaccine then coming out of some sort of lock down in any major way is probably 10 months hence.

    Personally if they open up any time before a vaccine is available I am going to keep away from other people. I'm 61 next month and whilst a darn slight slimmer and fitter than Johnson contracting the virus would not be a trivial exercise.

    How this whole thing will affect the hobby is a moot point. The demographic is an older one and the changes in the retail environment have lead to a steady decline in the number of local model shops.

    Personally I see the hobby declining to a point where large scale releases of RTR as we have seen in recent years are no longer viable.

    So which companies might come out of this doing OK.

    Number one is Peco, with their sub brands. They have been in business since the late 1940s and the only wobble was during the Suez crisis when the old man went out and got contracts for cargo nets for the air force to tide them over. In 2008 they didn't take a hit as such and just flatlines, supported by their exports. One can complain that they are a cautious firm, yet they are still there, bringing out new products, manufacturing in the UK. What is not to like. I gather they caught a cold in the 70s or 80s on contracting out an N Gauge loco to a German firm and have not been keen to repeat the process.

    Hornby, Dapol or Bachmann. Two out of three.

    Metcalfe. Yes. Scale Scenes. Yes.

    Heljan. Not so sure.

    Small scale producers like Tim Horne and others are in with a shout.

    Traditional model shops unless they do volume will be killed off by things like business rates and rental values change.

    I don't know enough about the exhibition circuit, having never produced anything worth displaying. If I was going to go down to Bet Freds I would put my money on smaller local exhibitions with a more community feel. Maybe like Larkrail.

    Anyway. Stay safe everyone.


  6. Yes, I think it'll be a long time before we can strut our stuff to an average crowd of punters. A lot of them are even older than me! They will need to be totally confident of safety before jostling shoulder-to-shoulder in a crowded hall. But it will come. Even the great plagues had their day eventually. And in the meantime, from what I see, a lot of good modelling is going on now we have almost unlimited time, ready for the all clear.

  7. As I have only ever built portable exhibition layouts it’s a bitter blow for me. I enjoy the the whole circus of getting a layout ready, transporting it to the venue, setting it up then playing trains and chatting. For some time I have been mulling over the idea of combining my layouts into one permanent one so all is not lost.

    The other thing that has slowly dawned on me is that there are probably far more ‘shed’ and ‘loft’ layouts than those on the exhibition circuit. This is made evident, not only by the number featured in the model railway press, but by the huge number of startlingly good - and extensive - layouts that appeared in the recent virtual exhibition.

    Bearing this in mind, I suspect although the emphasis will change the hobby will still continue.

  8. This is not a medical blog and I'm no virologist, but I think viruses have a usually clearly defined life cycle of infectivity in communities. I hope so anyway, otherwise I'll get depressed too!

  9. I agree with your comments Chris.In the early stages I thought if we follow the advice we will be okay but then hang on most of the members in the 3mm Society are in the 50+ age bracket and at risk so we took the decision to cancel our AGM. As for the virus, I think you will find it is here to stay and will be an annual event just like flu that's why they want to develop a vaccine.i hope a lot of the suppliers survive as we need them to keep us going.

  10. I think you are overly optimistic - option 3 currently seems like the most likley to me. The trouble is that this means the economy will collapse. Governments won't be able to pay salaries for furloughed staff, unemployment benefits for those who then lose their jobs or pensions for all the old people. This virus will never go away, no matter how much we lock down. Maybe some sort of improved treatment or vaccine will help, but I expect in the later case, the anti-vaxers will be out in force and take up won't be as high as we need. When they aren't burning down mobile phone masts that is.

    If I'm (hopefully) wrong, some firms will survive - those who have adapted, or are willing to adapt to the new reality. Some already are and are reaping the rewards. Others have shut shop "for the duration", possibly under the mistaken impression this will all be over in a few weeks. They will go under along with the shops with no mail order. Supermarkets have shown it is possible to adapt to the new reality and I suspect they will continue to ecvolve away from stores you visit into purely on-line outfits. Think how much more efficient your local store would be if it was a warehouse serving vans for example.

    Without shows, I suspect the hobby just reverts into a small number of people building disposable layouts for their own amusement, a larger number just collecting boxes and an even greater number moaning on the internet.