MR used to be an inspiring magazine, well worth its cover price. I used to buy (or subscribe) to both MR and RMC because I could learn much and gain much inspiration from each of them. The first issue of MR I bought was the Jan. 1969 issue that featured a big photo essay: "A Local Run on the Gorre and Daphetid". It really blew me away! That feature used a formula found in both magazines: they would follow the action of a particular train around the railroad, much as a railfan might follow an actual train. RMC did the same thing with the V&O.
I was to find out later that both railroads used rather sophisticated electronic control systems, but mention was not made of that in the articles. I feel if such a story were to be done today, the main point of the whole feature would be the electronics. This would be too bad, as control systems are at best a means to an end. On a really good model railroad, the control system should not even be apparent.
The human element seems to have dropped out of the picture. RMC always incorporated some background on the builder in the story. MR, if it includes it, puts it in a sidebar. This is an editorial decision. One of the most memorable (for me) was the story in RMC of an operating railroad based on the O&W's Whitehall (NY) Yard. The retired gentleman who built it worked his railroad career in that yard, and knew how it should operate because he lived it. And his wife let him build this HO railroad in their living room! Now, that was inspiring!
There was enough prototype railroading in RMC to remind us what we were trying to model. In an article "Red Combine to Moscow", the author traveled to Texas to ride a mixed train, on a backwoods short line (Moscow, Camden, and San Augustine) that appeared on its last legs. Twenty years later, such an operation would be a tourist attraction. But there was a period between Mom and Pop short lines and tourist roads that claimed many of the former.
Another, extreme backwards operation featured the Edgemoor and Manetta. This swamp logger was crude in the extreme 45 years ago. It consisted of one or two saddle tank steam switchers and equipment that would not have been out of place during the Civil War. Cars were joined with link-and-pin couplers! In 2005, I was working on a railroad in South Carolina and would drive through Manetta, but I could see no sign of the little road.
Other RMC authors I found inspiring back then were Jim Findley and Bill Schopp. Jim had a regular column where he contributed articles based on his railfan adventures while being stationed as an Army Officer in South Korea. His interest in local railroading seemed to amuse the local train crews, who were still operating steam trains in the 1940's American style. Bill Schopp blithely butchered expensive HO brass steam locomotives to create models of commercially unobtainable locos. A cab here, a boiler there, a couple unobtainably expensive brass locos, and you wound of with an esoteric masterpiece (and a lot of parts in the junk box). For me, his articles were a great source of information about the particular engines he was modeling.
Another thing I really miss were the ads. There were pages of ads from mail order houses with discount prices on trains and equipment. Manufacturers would introduce new products that were actually affordable. I remember the ad Athearn put in magazines introducing the PA1. "The most beautiful locomotive in the world!" Who would argue?
My own model railroad was built to express the ideals of that time. It was not built to impress anyone (well, maybe my grandson) and for anyone who buys into the values expressed in MR it would be a disappointment. No DCC. No onboard sound. No computer. No car cards or switchlists (it's a passenger railroad). Sectional track with attached roadbed. 113/4 inch N scale curves. Smooth running Kato and Proto locos. Con-Cor and Kato cars.