While I was preparing this column, I came upon the March 1983 installment by Keith Wills from our special 50th anniversary edition which carried the heading “Optimism in the Formative Years.” As I read the historical notes on 1933 and what the hobby landscape looked like, it was interesting to see many parallels from that challenging era with our own contemporary times. For example, railroad mergers and takeovers are noted for that time, along with the economic pressure of the Great Depression taking its toll. It was a heck of a time to launch a magazine, especially one dedicated to hobbies when most people didn’t have a lot of “disposable income.”
We can find similarities in today’s North American railroading with the situations mentioned 90 years ago. For example, there’s always mergers… what will happen to Kansas City Southern and how will its future be decided?
Railroading was entering its streamliner boom years with Burlington’s famous Pioneer Zephyr, and Union Pacific’s M-10000 promised a bright future for rail travel. Today’s Brightline high-speed service in Florida and other similar services are part of an exciting wave of new options with enhanced amenities that mark a trend in this segment of the transportation industry today. Can we also draw comparison between 1930s diesel locomotive innovations and today’s alternatives like battery and hydrogen power for operating a locomotive?
ABOVE: These colorful passenger cars were custom runs produced by Athearn to mark the 100th anniversary of the Golden Spike in 1969 (“Ramsey 4,” top), our 40th anniversary in 1974 (“Fredon 6,” middle), and our 70th anniversary in 2003 (“Advertising Car/Editor’s Office 0722,” above). —Otto M. Vondrak photos
The hobby’s continual evolution is not without a comparison to 90 years ago. It is noted that the early 1930s saw the hobby looked to be “too expensive” with a “superb scale” Lionel O Reading Railroad P-7 Atlantic-type steam locomotive priced at $125 (with a $20 option for rivets on the tender). Can you see parallels between this concern of the early 1930s and today?
What has not changed is the desire and drive for a pleasurable pursuit for one’s leisure hours through model trains. The competitors for this quality time may be different. That 1983 column mentions radio as “a cheap form of entertainment” and occupying idle hands that could be active in model railroading, In the 1950s and 1960s, the threat came from slot cars. In the 1980s, it was video games. Today, you can replace “radio” with “streaming videos” or “surfing the internet.”
The internet may be a distraction, but it also adds much and makes better my enjoyment of prototypical railroading and model trains. The wealth of information opened to us at the stroke of a few keys and a click of a button is astounding. I can confidently say that my own collecting exploded beginning in the 1990s with the arrival of the internet. The knowledge available and easily accessed makes collecting model trains much more rewarding. Models I never knew existed or always wondered about are now more easily found today, and I remain continuously surprised to learn more about the hobby’s history thanks to many other enthusiasts participating online and sharing their knowledge…