In the November 2021 issue of RMC, columnist Jason Shron talked about not only sharing your passion for the hobby with others, but not waiting to make your hobby dreams reality. Back in 2001, I published an article in another magazine that emphasized the importance of building your layout now and not waiting until “someday.” That article was published when I was 36. Now I’m 57. What a difference those years make in terms of life lessons, modeling abilities and skills, and other experiences. On the other hand, there is also the impact of time on visual acuity, body flexibility, manual dexterity, and the number of personal contacts made.
I’ve been working on my 10×16 ft. layout since 1991. Most likely it will always be a work in progress. But even in its unfinished state, the layout has paid dividends. Model railroading has allowed me to develop many life skills including problem-solving, creative self-expression, and a number of practical mechanical, woodworking, and electrical skills. It has provided hours of personal fulfillment and joy. It also has allowed me to introduce others to the hobby.
Although my two adult sons have no interest in model railroading, my nieces and nephews, Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, fellow church members, train show acquaintances, and neighbors do! Having a fully operational model railroad allows folks without a layout to bring their latest creations and purchases over to run trains — and there’s no better way to bring people into our community than letting them run trains.
—Mark Greg photo
Bringing in the next generation starts with talking with people about your hobby. During conversations with people, I usually ask them, “What do you do for fun?” I then have an opportunity to tell them about my hobbies and interests. Sometimes natural curiosity leads to follow-up questions, but resist the urge to fall into the full-on “hard sell.”
Many of us are involved in some type of social organization like a church, service group, community center, park district, health club — you name it! Both of my adult sons are Eagle Scouts and I have more than 20 years of Cub Scout and Boy Scout leadership experience, as well as Venturing (which is a co-ed Scout program for high school age youth and young adults). There’s a local Venture Crew that focuses on building an HO scale modular layout and meets monthly at a church in the next town over from mine. I frequently attend their events and I support their fundraisers. Why not connect with a Venture Crew in your area or start your own that focuses on model railroading?
Another way to expand interest in the hobby is to invite people over and let people run trains on your layout. Gasp! Perhaps some of you are clutching your chests in horror, imagining guests losing control of your precious models and lining them up for a disastrous cornfield meet. But I say, let them operate a power pack, throttle, or switch. Let them pick out a locomotive and cars to assemble a train and run it! Coach them gently in the fine art of train handling, but don’t get too upset when accidents happen. It’s all part of learning, and we all started somewhere. Select pieces from your fleet that can stand a little abuse from a novice runner, and maybe save the super-detailed models for future guest runs.
When people do visit, I often give young families with children starter train sets that I’ve assembled to take home as gifts. These sets are made up from second-hand items I pick up inexpensively at swap meets and train shows. In fact, you don’t even have to go out and buy new cars. Consider giving visitors an old freight car kit or two. I’m certain most of us have enough merchandise in our basements to stock a hobby shop. Offer to help them build the kit. Let them use your paints, glue, and supplies. Teach them how to hold and use a hobby knife with a blade, a sprue cutter, liquid cement, and a paintbrush.
There are so many ways we can all share our passion and encourage the next generation of modelers. Here’s to growing our hobby and bringing others a lifetime of enjoyment.