Saturday, April 7, 2012

Stop, Look and “Listen” to the Model Railway Show, Part 3

The Model Railway Show was conceived in 2010 by Trevor Marshall. He recruited Jim Martin (co-host), Chris Abbott (technical director), Otto Vondrak (creative director) and David Woodhead (music director) to be part of the team. The first show was podcast on November 1, 2010.

In early April I sent Trevor and Jim a few questions about the show; in part 1 they shared about why they started the show, how they put it together and the response. In part 2 they shared about why they created a podcast and not a website, how they select their guests and where the podcast fits into the world of model railroad magazines, blogs and websites. In this installment, they describe the character of the show, and reflect on the future of the hobby.

How would you describe the character of the show?

TREVOR: We've also taken a very different approach—one that's informed by our experience in radio news. While other shows tend to represent a "crew lounge" conversation, ours is a classic radio newsmagazine interview format. We keep it fast-paced and many of our listeners appreciate the fact that we don't waste their time.

From your experience, and what you hear from others, where do you think the hobby is going? Will it survive?

JIM: I’m less worried than I used to be. The average age of hobbyists (my age) is still too high, but I think model railroading is beginning to re-invent itself. I’ve come to agree with Trevor that we should be focusing less on the kids (important as they are) and more on the young adults and middle-agers out there.

Emerging electronic and computer technologies are radically changing the manufacturing and supply chains while at the same time baiting the hook for youngsters looking to create things outside the virtual world.

The model railroad hobby of the future may shrink, and some mass producers may fall by the wayside: it may look radically different, but it will survive because of our ongoing fascination with flanged wheels running along steel rails.

TREVOR: As long as real trains survive, I think the hobby will too. And I think real trains are here to stay.

Trains have been disappearing from the North American consciousness for decades, primarily as people turned their back on rail travel in favour of the automobile. And people often wonder if trains have a high green into history.

But elsewhere in the world—in the UK, in Europe and in Japan, for example—trains are very much a part of how people get from place to place. Meanwhile, fuel prices are rising everywhere, including North America, and that's just going to continue. 

With oil prices driving costs higher for transportation, I think passenger trains—both long distance and commuter trains—will make a comeback in the United States and Canada. I also expect rail to recapture some of the freight business it has lost to trucking. Just don't ask me when.

This is all going to affect the hobby too. It'll be very different than what it is today, but it’ll exist. 

As for manufacturers, manufacturing will change as higher oil prices and higher standards of living in places like China boost costs. Some manufacturers go out of business. Others will respond by bringing their work back to North America—probably leveraging new manufacturing technologies to contain costs, although they will still likely rise. And still others will keep on doing what they've always done—build patterns and casting resin, or design on a computer screen and laser cut or, increasingly, 3D print their products.

As for hobbyists, we may have to do more with less. The real cost for hobbyists isn't going to be the product—it’s going to be the space to build a layout, and the time to devote to such a large undertaking. More of us are living in big cities and that trend will continue. Condo-dwellers may be able to grab a bit of wall space in a spare room for a shelf layout. And even those who can afford a home will find city lots much smaller. Meantime, people have more mobile lifestyles and our hobby will have to become more mobile too.

So I see a few things happening. First, more creative layout planning. Some of the most clever designs I've seen have been in the San Francisco Bay Area, where many layouts are built in the "California basement"—the two-car garage. By traditional standards, it's not a lot of space—about  400 square feet—and the layout may share space with a vehicle. But hobbyists like Jack Burgess have crafted legendary layouts in such modest spaces.

Second, I expect to see the North American hobby take on more of a British feel—one in which people build small layouts that can be stored when not in use, or work on modular layouts that are only set up at train shows or private gatherings. If this happens, we may see more hobbyists pursue craftsmanship—learning to use a milling machine or to cast resin, for example. More of us may be come pattern makers instead of just purchasers of stuff.

Third—and we're already seeing some of this at RPM meets—I think we'll see more train hobbyists follow the path of the amour and aircraft hobbies. They may get all of their hobby enjoyment from building top-quality models that will never turn a wheel on a layout.

Of course, I could be completely wrong about all of this. But whatever happens, the hobby will survive and continue to produce exquisite models and memorable layouts.

Click here to listen to the Model Railway Show.

No comments:

Post a Comment