Model Railroader mag 70's and now

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Model Railroader mag 70's and now

Postby BobLI » Mon Nov 09, 2015 10:04 am

I was looking through some old Model Railroader magazines and the change from the 70's until now is amazing. There seemed to be a wealth of scratchbuilding articles for structures and locomotives along with a lot of electrical projects.
Granted that new technology has made some of those electronic projects plug and wire now but it seems the art of building locomotives from brass stock and scratchbuilding structures gone.
I also noticed a lot more locomotive and building plans in the old magazines. It feels like the current hobby has lost something?

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Re: Model Railroader mag 70's and now

Postby CNJ999 » Sat Nov 14, 2015 9:07 am

Indeed, Bob, the hobby today is dramatically different from what it was two, three, or four decades ago. The distinct shift that you note in your post is nothing new to us old-timers. I and others have remarked on it at various times over the years on this and other forums.

In point of fact, the change hinges on the sort of individuals the hobby drew upon in the past and those it caters to these days. Back in the day model railroading was truly a craftsman's hobby. The average hobbyist enjoyed a broad spectrum of hands-on talents that derived from everyday life back then and were also required by most hobbies of the period 1930's to the 1980's. These skills and talents are no longer broadly prevalent in our society today.

If you experienced the hobby first hand during the period under discussion it soon becomes clear that a drastic alteration took place rather suddenly between the 1990's and early 2000's. Up until that time model railroading publications were largely about scratchbuilding, or kit-bashing models, the latter approach using commonly available, inexpensive and mass produced rolling stock and structure kits always to be found on the shelves of your local hobby shop. With very few exceptions these models were obtainable a very reasonable prices ($5-$10) that had changed little from decade to decade. At the same time, the publications themselves were edited by highly talented hobbyists who had spent decades in the hobby and whose creativity was unmatched. They monthly presented clever ideas and approaches to modeling for the readership.

With the initial rise of Internet forums one saw a supposed demand voiced by newcomers for increasingly superdetailed, RTR, models largely because they lacked the necessary skills or the desire to expend time actually modeling. In large measure these individuals seemed to be older fellas who never had experienced the craftsman hobby in their youth, or graduated beyond perhaps Lionel or Flyer trains as kids. But now as middle-aged or older adults with good incomes they wanted to take up model railroading as a hobby, yet found themselves lacking in the necessary traditional skills. Since the size of the hobby itself had been slowly shrinking since about 1980 the manufacturers welcomed the new blood and sought to meet their voiced needs for finished models, naturally at higher sticker prices. The more detail the manufacturers added the more these newcomers cried out for more specific, limited run, new models. The manufacturers followed suite...at ever increasingly higher prices and smaller production runs. The locomotives of the sort that typically sold for $35-$50 in the early 1990's have been replaced today by examples in the $300 to $500 range. While unquestionably better looking and running than those of the past, if priced are beyond 90% of today's hobbyists they hurt, rather than improve, the model railroading hobby. The same is true of $50 rollingstock, or $100 pre-built structures. In addition, I would point out that buying is not modeling and this hobby is called "model" railroading.

Also worth mentioning as an influence on the situation is that Model Railroader magazine underwent a major shake-up in its editorial staff about 2000. This saw the majority of the truly talented/experienced modeling staff leave the magazine. With the exception of David Popp, the replacements (including a Lionel hobbyist as the editor-in-chief!) were journalism majors no more skilled in model railroading than many of the magazine's latest newbie readers. Between the decline of inexpensive, shake-the-box models to act as fodder for the kit-bashers and the concurrent demise of kit-bashing articles (the MR staff were far more interested in "pretty picture" articles that lacked any substance at the time) the craftsman aspect of the hobby increasingly dwindled. Today the HO hobby far more resembles simply a scale extension of the Lionel hobby than it does traditional model railroading. And with the current escalating pricing structure and lack of outside exposure I see circumstances progressively hastening the hobby's sunset I'm afraid.

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Re: Model Railroader mag 70's and now

Postby BobLI » Mon Nov 16, 2015 1:07 pm

CNJ999,
You made some excellent points regarding the state of the hobby as it is now.
I do feel that a certain magazine seems to be pushing the DCC agenda and if you use DC you are plain old fashioned. We all dont have the bucks to shell out to retrofit some older models which run fine under DC and purchase a DCC system which is still major bucks for a basic system.
Seems like a lot of modelers are missing the fun of getting a basic building kit and paint and assemble it. Walthers has some kits which I enjoyed assembling and I cant think of spending big money for an assembled building.
I agree that the MR editorial staff did greatly change. Linn Wescott and others were modelers who also had the skills to edit a model magazine. They published a lot of material under their own names in the magazine.
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Re: Model Railroader mag 70's and now

Postby CNJ999 » Wed Nov 18, 2015 10:30 am

Indeed, that "certain magazine" has had a number of specific agendas over the years that it has attempted to impose upon the hobby, some dating back to a surprisingly early era. From the late 1940's the senior editors apparently believed that "operations" should be the be-all end-all objective of the hobbyist, a most peculiar outlook back in the 1940's, 50's and 60's given that nearly all actual hobbyists were far more interested in building layouts, their associated detailed models and accessories, or simply running their trains on the occasional whim. At the time, the magazine's articles were almost totally centered around craftsman-level modeling. It was not until the 1990's with the advent of the hobby's "new breed" did operations finally seem to take hold, as the major interest in scratchbuilding/modifying of models began to decline and the magazine's traditional readers go elsewhere. Now don't get me wrong, I do enjoy operations with a small group of friends these days. But for the lone wolf hobbyist, which the majority of us are, I think the practice would soon become relatively boring. It certainly would for me.

In addition to operations, I would also point to other attempts to influence the hobby over the years. There was the push for Astrac, IIRC the name correctly, a predecessor of today's DCC-type of operating system back I think in the 1970's. Limited in scope and very expensive for the time, this effort lasted maybe a year or two before dying out. A more recent and even more short-live promotion arose I think around the year 2000 when the magazine attempted to promote commercially built layouts for hobbyists in its pages. But here the readership openly rebelled at the idea that having someone else build your layout was just the same as you doing your own modeling and the associated articles shortly ceased, especially once the editor's saw a mass exodus of readership - which incidentally has continued to this day. Today readership of that "certain magazine" is nearing 50% of where it was two decades ago and is steadily slipping yearly in spite of the very recent half-hearted attempt to return its content to that of an earlier time (i.e. construction articles) .

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Re: Model Railroader mag 70's and now

Postby Bigt » Wed Nov 18, 2015 3:08 pm

I agree with all of you. Certainly, Model Railroader is not the magazine it once was. I have found the same
holds true for it's sister publication, Trains, which I have read since the early 1970's. I was a faithful subscriber
for years. Yet, David P. Morgan would be rolling over in his grave if he saw an issue of today's Trains Magazine!
For a magazine that used to give the reader in-depth, detailed articles on various subjects, we now are faced with
a photo laden, abbreviated caption layout on a few pages that is passed off as an "article". Sorry, that does not cut
it for me. The same holds true, in my opinion, of Model Railroader. They now seem to push whatever is the buzzword
in the industry, be it rolling stock, locomotives, structures, electronics, etc., from the same few contributors. And,
consider their specialty magazines....nothing more than a reprint of articles that occurred in the magazine previously.
A lot of "smoke and mirrors" if you ask me.........

That is why I have been a faithful subscriber to Railroad Model Craftsman. I have always found it to be a refreshing
alternative to the competition. Even to today, one can still pick-up an issue and find articles on scratchbuilding, kitbashing,
etc......articles that we all can use, and more importantly, afford to do. I certainly hope that White River Productions
continue with this trend in their ownership of RMC.
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Re: Model Railroader mag 70's and now

Postby CNJ999 » Mon Dec 14, 2015 3:49 pm

More-or-less tying into the theme of this thread is the publication of 2015 end-of-year circulation stats for Model Railroader Magazine, appearing on the last page of the January 2016 issue. These indicate that the magazine's printed circulation has declined significantly for the 22nd consecutive year. In fact, the current number of subscribers is now almost precisely one-half of what it was back in 1993. Another interesting number to appear in the listing is that of how few individuals have taken the electronic version of the magazine in place of/in addition to hardcopy - a mere 8,000 or so - implying that younger individuals who might be anticipated to be the readers most welcoming this modern media format are dramatically lacking. At the same time the magazine's monthly page count has dropper from the meaty 224 of the January 1993 issue to just 104 today. And as something readers might venture to be adding insult to injury is the fact that with the January 2016 issue the newstand cover price apparently has been raise by another dollar to $7.99. :(

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Re: Model Railroader mag 70's and now

Postby Otto Vondrak » Tue Jan 19, 2016 6:15 pm

There's a certain monthly magazine that's been around a year longer than Model Railroader that hasn't forgotten what scratchbuilding is all about... ;-)
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Re: Model Railroader mag 70's and now

Postby FLRailFan1 » Tue Apr 19, 2016 8:13 pm

BobLI wrote:I was looking through some old Model Railroader magazines and the change from the 70's until now is amazing. There seemed to be a wealth of scratchbuilding articles for structures and locomotives along with a lot of electrical projects.
Granted that new technology has made some of those electronic projects plug and wire now but it seems the art of building locomotives from brass stock and scratchbuilding structures gone.
I also noticed a lot more locomotive and building plans in the old magazines. It feels like the current hobby has lost something?

Comments??


I remember that MR had a section for teens. I was a teen in the 70s, and I saw a few articles that kids wrote about their layout. I don't think teens are involved in the hobby as it was in the 70s.
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Re: Model Railroader mag 70's and now

Postby Benjamin Maggi » Thu Apr 28, 2016 9:54 am

Otto Vondrak wrote:There's a certain monthly magazine that's been around a year longer than Model Railroader that hasn't forgotten what scratchbuilding is all about... ;-)


I recently picked up an issue of RMC at the hobby store and couldn't believe how good the content was, but how poorly it was presented. It was too modern, I didn't like the layout at all, and it struck me as a copycat of Model Railroad News. Perhaps I am just getting older, but I had difficulty reading it.
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Re: Model Railroader mag 70's and now

Postby Engineer Spike » Tue May 03, 2016 4:03 pm

Part of the issue is that there are so many free modeling forums on the web. These cover many specific areas. I belong to one about kit bashing diesel locomotives, a Yahoo eGroup for DCC, and another about prototype freelance.

One engineer that I worked with on BN is a modeler. He has a nice layout, which he even hand layed track. It has been a work in progress for many years. He rightly pointed out the lack of actual modeling projects in MR. He also pointed out how they show off these huge layouts, which are beyond the reach of most. I don't just mean the financial reach. One would have to have this level of layout be one's one and only focus. How could that person attend kids' sporting events, mow the lawn..., or even work more than just 9-5?
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Re: Model Railroader mag 70's and now

Postby CNJ999 » Wed May 18, 2016 10:59 pm

Engineer Spike queries as to how can a modeler possibly complete those very large, often super-detailed, layouts one typically sees in MR in recent years unless by devoting all their off work hours to just endless hours of modeling? I think the answer to that question is quite often to be found somewhere right in the text accompanying those stunning layout images.

It has become rather commonplace to have the layouts featured in MR be not simply be the work of the layout's owner alone, but rather with the regular assistance of a small group of the hobbyist's modeler friends. Round-robin groups who work on each other's layouts in turn on a regular, often weekly, basis seem increasingly prevalent in the hobby these days. Each member of the group bringing the particular modeling skill that he is best at, allowing multiple aspects of the layout to be worked on separately at the same time. Often you'll see that the caption for a photo in an MR article notes that such-and-such very impressive building(s) in the image is/are actually examples of the scratchbuilding talents of the hobbyist's friend so-and-so, not the author's own. The same applies for particularly impressive scenery elements. complex hand-laid trackwork and so on. With such regularly scheduled and frequent group work sessions a large and impressive layout comes to fruition in just a few years, not in decades. The first that I saw of this practice in print was in MR perhaps in the mid to late 1980's, although I'm sure that instances of it had been going on before that.

Years back nearly all the featured layouts in MR were much smaller than the empires one sees in their pages these days. Those layouts of yesteryear truly were the work of owner/hobbyist alone and with a bit of effort, within the reach of the average Joe. But unless we are talking about a 20 or 25 year personal effort in modeling, most of today's basement-filling layouts are more-or-less out of reach except as the result of a group effort.

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