Ruffle Thy Feathers - "The Hobby is Dying"

Discussion related to everything about model railroading, from layout design and planning, to reviews of related model tools and equipment. Discussion includes O, S, HO, N and Z, as well as narrow gauge topics. Also includes discussion of traditional "toy train" and "collector" topics such as Lionel, American Flyer, Marx, and others. Also includes discussion of outdoor garden railways and live steamers.

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Ruffle Thy Feathers - "The Hobby is Dying"

Postby Gilbert B Norman » Sat Feb 13, 2016 12:03 pm

I'm willing to bet that this Wall Street Journal article will arouse a few around here with its theme "which will die first; the hobby or its participants?":

http://www.wsj.com/articles/end-of-the- ... 1455157546

Fair Use:

For Christmas in 1960, Ron Mei got a Lionel train set. More than 55 years later, he still hasn’t found a better toy.

By creating model railroads, “you learn carpentry,” said Mr. Mei, 62 years old, who runs a motorcycle-parts business in Phoenix and spends 20 to 25 hours a week with his trains. “You learn electric. You learn painting. Kids today, they have skill in one thing—that’s a videogame or a smartphone.”

Once thought of as every boy’s dream toy, model trains have become a domain mainly for old men. At clubs devoted to the hobby, members below 60 years old are the young bucks. Some retirement homes provide model-railroading rooms for their residents.
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Re: Ruffle Thy Feathers

Postby Backshophoss » Sat Feb 13, 2016 8:55 pm

This was in friday's print version?? The club I'm a member of hosted the youth club of the NMRA Regional group (Division 6)
today,they have 20 members,all under the age of 18.
We have at least 4 members under the age of 30 to boot!
Most clubs have some sort of outreach plan for youth membership now.
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Re: Ruffle Thy Feathers

Postby Gilbert B Norman » Sun Feb 14, 2016 7:10 am

Mr. Backshop, WSJ Thursday February 11, front page "below the fold".
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Re: Ruffle Thy Feathers

Postby Otto Vondrak » Tue Feb 16, 2016 1:32 am

The article is so much tripe. In the 1950s, trains were dying out because of television. In the 1960s it was rockets and slot cars. In the 1970s it was something else. In the 1980s it was video games. In the 1990s it was the Internet. All of these things were supposed to spell the "end of the hobby." Since we are all still here talking about trains in 2016, clearly the hobby has not died out.

What this WSJ article mistakenly portrays as the end of a hobby punctuated by graying members is in fact a generation gap. Old guys have the money to fuel the interest they developed as boys... I certainly have more discretionary income now than I did 20 years ago, so you bet I'm enjoying the hobby in a much different way.

Now, go on, someone tell me how everyone is being priced out of the hobby and it's too expensive to participate.

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Re: Ruffle Thy Feathers

Postby CNJ999 » Tue Feb 16, 2016 9:03 am

While I would agree that the recent WSJ article lacks needed citation of facts, it nevertheless voices the present state of the hobby quite accurately. For anyone thinking that our hobby is healthy and doing very well these days I suggest reading the thread further down this page concerning model railroading in the 1970's vs. currently as a little wake-up call.

Honestly, the topic of the hobby's vitality has been dealt with from time to time in a vast number of posts to be found scattered across this and other forums. However, without exception those voicing the idea that everything is just rosy always do so based strictly on their own unsubstantiated personal opinion, or simple hear-say. Never have I seen even one of them offer any verifiable facts or figures in support of their contention. On the rare occasion when actual facts and figures are present by someone - and they are always on the negative side - those folks in support of the Polly Anna vision of the hobby will immediately claim that the facts must lie or be drastic distortions!

Folks need to accept and enjoy the hobby for what it is today. There is no need for any self delusion concerning whether it is growing or shrinking as long as we are willing to acknowledge the actual situation and not lie to ourselves, or to others. Fear not...the model railroad hobby is likely to survive in some form as long as most of its current practitioners live...albeit at an ever growing cost and with decreasing new product availability.

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Re: Ruffle Thy Feathers

Postby Otto Vondrak » Tue Feb 16, 2016 10:34 am

CNJ999 wrote:Folks need to accept and enjoy the hobby for what it is today. There is no need for any self delusion concerning whether it is growing or shrinking as long as we are willing to acknowledge the actual situation and not lie to ourselves, or to others. Fear not...the model railroad hobby is likely to survive in some form as long as most of its current practitioners live...


Amen, brother!!

albeit at an ever growing cost and with decreasing new product availability.


I was with you up until the last statement. You imply that there are fewer new products on the market, and the ones that do appear have inflated costs.

I'd say it's actually quite the opposite. Hobbyists are demanding models with greater fidelity. Current manufacturing allows for fine models with specific details to be built at reasonable cost. There is a fare greater variety of new products available now than there was 10 years ago, or even 20 years ago. Niche markets, oddball prototypes, all can be served using today's manufacturing processes. Don't forget that this hobby is built on the back of small companies run by one or two people. Large suppliers like Walthers and Bachmann and Athearn are the anomaly, not the norm. Despite all of the advances in design, engineering, and manufacturing, producing quality models and getting them to market will come at a cost.

Just so I'm not blowing hot air, please cite an example of "decreasing product availability?"

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Re: Ruffle Thy Feathers

Postby CNJ999 » Tue Feb 23, 2016 4:51 pm

Otto, I understand that you desire to promote the hobby, not reveal its current serious flaws. But let's take a moment to be downright honest about how things have evolved over the past dozen, or so, years. Today there is only just the illusion of a wider diversity of products available. A more critical look at the situation will clearly show this to be true. While the number of different models introduced in say the past 5 years is perhaps greater than at any time most of us can recall none were actually in production any actual span of time. In the past manufacturers kept most of their models in production for many months if not years - today's models are almost without exception examples of just individual one-time “runs" with a relatively limited number of actual items. Once these sell out - and today more than a few do so even before the models have reached U.S. shores - they're gone and the manufacturer quickly moves on to his next model. The result has been today's pre-order mania. Miss purchasing a desired model and you might have to hunt for months on eBay to find an example...and then buy it sight unseen from some basement bomber dealer sometimes well above original retail. Let's take a look at Athearn, long considered by hobbyists as the basic go-to for common availability. What you’ll find today is that while they do list a host of cars most carry a note that they are either no longer available, or are scheduled for delivery later in the year. For Walthers and its great “bible” of hobby products you may have perhaps a 40% shot at finding the products listed therein as currently available – unless it happened to be a poor selling piece and now needs unloading. Another name for the Walthers Co. these days is "Back-order USA". Years ago either of these companies could be counted on for any of their listed products being available from them directly, if not indeed to be found right on the shelves of the local hobby shop. Now your only real hope of finding what you need is endlessly scanning the screens of eBay.

Escalating prices? Athearn and MDC were the modeler’s go-to for bottom dollar cars of any reasonable quality in the past. Look at them now. Athearn freightcars (if you can get them) mostly range $25.00 to $30.00. Yes, they have more detail than years back, but these thin plastic pieces are mostly too fragile to stand regular layout handling. You may even find their steps and grabs already off when you open the box for the first time! Go to the supposedly better companies like say Tangent and the cars are in the $36.00 and up region. If they are coming off eBay, adding the shipping to any small discount the dealer might be offering on the item generally results in no real overall saving and the mails are not gentle. I won’t even bother to address passenger cars as many today are being offered at Athearn diesel locomotive prices from not that many years ago. Nor do I wish to call attention to the prices being asked for many old and 2nd hand Blue Box Athearn, MDC and Train Miniature cars that originally sold for a fraction of those sums in the past.

Is it the best of times? Not from where I stand thank you.

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Re: Ruffle Thy Feathers

Postby Otto Vondrak » Wed Feb 24, 2016 5:08 pm

CNJ999 wrote:Otto, I understand that you desire to promote the hobby, not reveal its current serious flaws.


I think you and I disagree on what a "flaw" is.

In the past manufacturers kept most of their models in production for many months if not years - today's models are almost without exception examples of just individual one-time “runs" with a relatively limited number of actual items. Once these sell out - and today more than a few do so even before the models have reached U.S. shores - they're gone and the manufacturer quickly moves on to his next model.


That's a difference in manufacturing and market demand. For instance, Athearn could make a decent GP38, paint it for a variety of owners real and imagined, and flood the market with thousands of them. They had to keep the tooling active for years to pay off the cost of production. A GP38 was a common diesel, owned by many railroads, needed by many modelers, so it made sense to take the plunge and produce the model.

The result has been today's pre-order mania.


I'm not a fan of pre-ordering, but I think this makes sense when you look at the very specific new models coming out that are attractive for a specific hobbyist. The manufacturer needs to guarantee a certain amount of sales before they commit to producing the models. I don't think every new model is this way, but you are right, a lot of new introductions are by "pre-order only." However, my experience has been that even the "limited pre-order" models end up on the secondary market often for far less than the original MSRP. It all comes down to "need" versus "want." I recently decided I "wanted" two of the Rapido New Haven 8600-series coaches they are coming out with. I don't model the New Haven, I don't even have a layout right now. But I decided they will look nice running down at the club. So I bit the bullet and ordered two. I could have waited around and hoped they show up on the secondary market later, but I decided not to. If I had a New Haven-themed layout and "needed" 6 coaches to represent passenger service for my time period, then goshdarnit, I'm gonna plunk down and make my pre-order. So what I'm talking about here is the hobbyist's perception of value. If you don't see the value in plunking down $90 for a coach, you're not gonna do it. :-)


For Walthers and its great “bible” of hobby products you may have perhaps a 40% shot at finding the products listed therein as currently available – unless it happened to be a poor selling piece and now needs unloading. Another name for the Walthers Co. these days is "Back-order USA".


Does anyone really know what Walthers is doing these days? The problem is two-fold. Walthers is keeping less stuff in warehouse. Where they might keep 200 Plasticville water tanks in stock, they might only now keep 10 at a time in stock. Also let's not forget that the majority of products in the catalog are produced by small home businesses who are batch producers. They don't work in the volume of Atlas, Bachmann, and so on. Not to mention the overseas suppliers like Noch, Heljan, Kibri, and so on, who sometimes make their product hard to get as well due to how they produce and distribute.

Escalating prices? Athearn and MDC were the modeler’s go-to for bottom dollar cars of any reasonable quality in the past. Look at them now. Athearn freightcars (if you can get them) mostly range $25.00 to $30.00. Yes, they have more detail than years back, but these thin plastic pieces are mostly too fragile to stand regular layout handling.


Oh I agree, I don't care much for the $30-40 freight car market... You're paying more because there's a market for ready-to-run equipment with finer detail. I balk at the prices, but people are buying them. Someone's buying them or else they wouldn't make them.

Looking for budget and value? Bowser and Accurail continue to make very nice kits that are reasonably priced, have crisp decoration, and good detail. I'm sure there are others.

Is it the best of times? Not from where I stand thank you. --CNJ999


You're entitled to your opinion :-)

I don't like everything going on in the hobby, but we are very far removed from the WSJ article bemoaning the end of the hobby because they interviewed a few grayhairs.

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Re: Ruffle Thy Feathers

Postby ApproachMedium » Tue Mar 01, 2016 12:47 am

The biggest problem with young "model railroaders" today? They want to just open boxes and come to the clubs and run their trains. They dont want to help, they dont want to work. They dont want to be involved. I am not saying this is all of them, but its the current problem we have had in area clubs in NJ with younger membership. Some we had in their 20s and 30s were actually doing work and making some nice progress on a layout, signals, scenery etc but thanks to the old heads politics and "you are doing it wrong" attitude and not actually helping they packed up and left. I was one of them.

I belong to a new club now that doesnt have too many younger members, but it does seem to be the level of interest for some. They just want to come run their trains thru the pretty scenery. When the time comes to actually get stuff done to maintain the railroad its a problem. I cant say the youth is not interested in trains like they once were. There is def a large population of train enthusasts who are also interested in buying models, but actual model railroading is another story.
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Re: Ruffle Thy Feathers

Postby Bigt » Mon Mar 07, 2016 1:19 pm

I agree with CNJ999. I am 56 years old and have been in the hobby since 1972.
For those of us who are of my age group or older, I believe we have seen the best
years of our hobby. Maybe we didn't always operate prototypical equipment for
our chosen road, but, we certainly could be sure of being able to buy more of it
whenever we needed / wanted. A trip to the hobby shop meant meeting up with
friends, exchanging ideas and suggestions, "shooting the bull", and almost always
leaving with something you "absolutely had to have, or, needed" because the shop
had all of "the old standards". Do I make purchases now? Yes, but they are always
Accurail or Bowser - which make excellent products - never any of the limited run,
pre-order, high priced items which now prevail. Two (2) years ago I did place an
order (pre-order) for three NYC / Rutland cabooses. Yes, two years ago. Have they
arrived - no. Are they on the horizon - hard to say. You can't tell me that is progress
for our hobby.
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Re: Ruffle Thy Feathers

Postby Otto Vondrak » Tue Mar 08, 2016 11:53 am

Bigt wrote:I agree with CNJ999. I am 56 years old and have been in the hobby since 1972. For those of us who are of my age group or older, I believe we have seen the best
years of our hobby.


I cracked open a Model Railroader from 1952 and found a guy around the same age who wrote the same sentiments you did. Except for him, plastic models were the end of the hobby and no one would build anything anymore.

Do I make purchases now? Yes, but they are always Accurail or Bowser - which make excellent products - never any of the limited run, pre-order, high priced items which now prevail.


Sounds like you are still able to find exactly what you need and are enjoying the hobby as much as ever. The higher-priced, limited-run models do not appeal to everyone, nor are they required to enjoy the hobby.

I splurged and bought an FL9 from Rapido. Most money I ever spent on a single model. I don't have a layout to run them on, I don't even model exactly the operation that would use a Conrail FL9... But I grew up with the real ones, Rapido makes a fine model, so I bought one "just in case." My current hobby activities don't justify me spending upwards of $1,000 to field two six-car commuter trains powered by double-headed FL9s... But it's nice to know the equipment is out there and available on the secondary market should my situation ever change.

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Re: Ruffle Thy Feathers - "The Hobby is Dying"

Postby NaugyRR » Thu Mar 10, 2016 12:29 pm

Just to add some perspective to the conversation...

I'm a 24-year-old young man and I've been interested in railroads (both models and the real-deal) my entire life. That being said, I've grown up and lived through/in the generations of TV/internet/computers/video games/smartphones/etc. and if anything it's allowed me to expand upon my hobby. I didn't start really getting into model trains until my teens, and even then, if it wasn't for access to railroad resource and fan sites online, I would've never truly begun to grow upon my interests in railroading, at least not to the extent I am today. Sure there were books and VHS/DVD's, which most libraries don't carry and they usually cost more money than a young teen could afford, but nothing to the extent of information available online. With the web I could go on YouTube and watch any kind of railroading action from across the globe, connect with other buffs and railroaders online, and read up on histories and tech info published on the web. Starting with Microsoft Train Simulator I was able to get a rough idea of what things were like for people who had careers in the industries, and I expanded this with Trainz and DTG's Train Simulator. All the while I was still maintaining my model railroad.

Unfortunately, here is where cost comes into play. As I got older and more interested and knowledgeable on the subject, I began to develop more specific interests, as we all do, on the topic. The HO Warbonnet F-Unit I started off with as a child was fun and all, but then I became more interested in railroads that were close by and related to me. So the Warbonnet F-Unit became an O-Gauge NYC Atlantic steam engine. Well then I realized I preferred diesel and electric power more than steam so then that became a Lightning-Stripe F-Unit. Well, as I got into my early teens and my interests expanded into transit, I couldn't quite get my family to justify that $300 for the O-Gauge M7 set. So I returned to HO, and between birthdays and my limited budget from working, I was able to amass a nice layout of used and new HO trains covering a large majority of interests. After I turned 18 and moved out I took my collection with me, but the rooms I rented meant it all stayed in storage. I did try N-Gauge for a bit, but it never grew on me.

Now that I have my first apartment and a bit more room, the most I've done is display my trains. Sure I'd love to do another layout, but cost and space are a factor. Would I love to buy a Rapido FL9? You bet! But between rent, bills, insurance, etc., when it comes down to it I'm more inclined to buy a Train Simulator add-on during a Steam Sale than save up and buy HO models. Trainz was nice too because I could build a virtual layout as large as I wanted to, as realistic as I wanted to, how I wanted to, with whatever trains I wanted, with most of it being free on the DLC.

I'm sure as I get older and get married and buy a house with more space and have more income freed up, I will return to modelling, but until then I will agree it is an older gentleman's game for the time being. Now I'm not speaking for any other younger buffs, either, just for myself. I will agree that a large population of young modelers exist that have the same cross-interest between tech and models as I do, but the large majority of the group and the ones with the advantage of being more well-off are the 30-plus crowd.

The other thing to look at is the social aspect as well. I've met a lot of older grumpy buffs that look down at younger buffs as an annoyance and disrespectful of the knowledge that the older gentlemen possess, which has turned me off on several occasions. Yet at the same time I've also met several of the younger buffs that are the reason the older guys are so grumpy, and yes, they do get overly-excited, can have know-it-all attitudes, and do fit the stereotype of the 'foamer'. This has been off-putting as well and has made me avoid connecting with buffs around my age and keep my hobby quiet and to myself. The first time I met an employee of a local railroad, and asked him about it, he said jokingly "Uh oh, you're a foamer", to which I replied "No sir, just a buff!".

So to wrap this up, yes I feel there is a large generational difference in regards to model trains and railroading in general as a hobby. But I also think as buffs my age mature and tone it down a notch, and if some of the older grumpy buffs become a little more open to sharing their hobby with a younger crowd, that the gap could close.
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Re: Ruffle Thy Feathers - "The Hobby is Dying"

Postby Allen Hazen » Mon Mar 14, 2016 12:22 am

Replying to something Otto Vondrak said in the fourth post to this string:
I think the idea in the 1950s that television was killing off the model railroading hobby probably had a good deal of plausibility. "Model Railroader" magazine had an article in some anniversary issue (50th in the 1980s?) on their own history, with a graph of circulation over time: there was an ABSOLUTE drop in circulation for several years in the 1950s -- quite a large one, maybe (not that I trust my memory of a graph I looked at decades ago!) 30% or even 50%, and the timing seemed to me to make it the obvious hypothesis that this was due to people spending the evenings in front of their new TVs instead of in the workshop or train room. (It would be interesting to no if other hobbies saw similar drops.) Ultimately population growth and increasing disposable income turned things around, and by the time of the anniversary issue circulation was well above what it had been before television. But I suspect not what it would have been if the boob tube had been strangled in its cradle!
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Re: Ruffle Thy Feathers - "The Hobby is Dying"

Postby Ken S. » Mon Mar 14, 2016 1:50 am

Part of the problem these days is the amount of burden placed on kids between the outrageous amount of prep for Common Core testing in schools and parents micromanaging their kids' lives to the point that the kids don't even know where the parent ends and they begin. Sadly, parents (and schools) don't realize what was said in this thread about the various technical skills learned through model trains.

Related to this is something I've seen on Facebook about how if a kid is taught to model trains, the kid spends his/her money on that instead of drugs. I know I've done that myself over the past 10-15 years (I'm 30 now) between Proto NYC Subway sets, IMW Comets, Rapido O-B Coaches (LIRR versions), the plated Walthers Superliners and Amfleets (once the prices came down a bit; eBay is showing the new Amfleets these days with prices similar to the old Amfleets), among other locomotives and cars.
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Re: Ruffle Thy Feathers - "The Hobby is Dying"

Postby SemperFidelis » Mon Mar 14, 2016 7:36 am

Could you provide a link to the page that shows the correlation between model railroading and decreased spending on drugs? I'd love to see how they came up with those numbers.
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