Thursday, December 15, 2011

What do Chinese Workers Think of Model Trains?

Chinese workers working on Rapido model trains.

I was looking at the above photo of Chinese workers making model trains in the latest Rapido Trains News when I thought: “What do they think about this hobby, anyway? Do they think it strange that people devote time and money to model trains?”

(Mind you, I’ve often had the same thought wandering through most any store, looking at the trinkets. toys and doodads on the shelf, wondering what some poor worker in Bangladesh, Vietnam or India thinks about the kind of people who buy that stuff. But I digress.)

So I sent a note to Jason Shron of Rapido, who forwarded it to Bill Schneider, who is supervising work on Rapido’s models in China. Here’s what Bill wrote back to me.

“Coming from a U.S. production background (Bill used to work for Branchline Trains), I can honestly say that for most of them their reaction is likely to be exactly the same as the U.S. workforce. That is, for most employees on both sides of the Pacific it is just a job, and while they do it to the best of their ability, they really do not understand the passion behind it.”

Production line at the Rapido factory.

Recalling his days at Branchline Trains, Bill says that “at one point we had 25 or so people in the production department, another 15-20 in the distribution warehouse, 4-5 in the office and about 6 sales people. There were only two modelers in the entire group, and I was the only one doing model trains (the other was into cars and sci-fi stuff). This really is not an unusual situation.”

In fact, he says, “many times I was asked by employees what people did with this stuff and would end up dragging out copies of MR or the like. The reaction went from ‘Wow, that’s neat!’ to ‘Really? Don’t they have a life?’ It’s about what you’d expect in any random group.”

One of Bill’s favorite memories is when a printing supervisor said, after seeing a beautifully weathered version of one of their kits: “IF they’re going to do THAT to them, then why do we get so fussy on the lettering?”

At the end of the day, Bill concludes, “from the business end you want to hire people that can do the job properly, not necessarily folks to invite over for an ops session on Friday night.”

Plus, he adds, it might be easier not having modelers on the workforce. “Having spent many hours developing a product, it would be frustrating to have all of your assembly people questioning whether you have the right horn location for unit 1234 in 1965!”

That said, it's important for those of us who are fortunate enough to have the money, time, space and leisure to pursue this hobby to remember how incredibly lucky we are. As someone who has travelled in the developing world, I know that most people in the world don't have time for a hobby; working just to earn enough to eat is the main priority.

And when we complain about jobs in model railroad manufacturing moving offshore, we can at least know we are providing much-needed employment for someone, even if it is in China--and even if they don't understand what we find so fascinating about model trains.

Wonder what he thinks of this hobby?

1 comment:

  1. WOW......dam fine post man...(just to summate my thoughts)