The term railway modeling is native to the United Kingdom, Australia, Ireland and Canada, but it the United States most people refer to this hobby as model railroading. It doesn’t really matter what you call it; the end result is the same. It is a hobby that involves modeling and building rail transportation systems on a small scale. The models hobbyists use include locomotives, rolling stock, streetcars, tracks, and signaling in addition to buildings, vehicles, model figures, lights and many other features including streams, hills and canyons.
Model railroading is a very old hobby that dates as far back as the 1840s when it was called "carpet railways." Collectors began to see electric trains appear around the turn of the 20th century, but these early models had very little likeness to the real thing. Model trains have evolved greatly since their humble beginning, and modern modelers choose to create railways and layouts that depict real locations and specific periods in history.
Those who are involved in model railroading partake of the hobby in different ways. This may vary from just possessing a train set to serious hobbyists who spends many hours and substantial sums of money to erect a model that is an exact replica of a railroad including the scenery that it passes on his route (this is called the layout). Many of these hobbyists build models that are large enough for a person to ride. Many hobbyists also collect model trains and go to the trouble to build a landscape for the trains to pass through or they might operate a miniature railroad of their own.
There are a variety of different layouts, and depending on the hobbyists these can vary from a stretch of circular or oval track to a replica of real places. If you have an opportunity to visit the Pendon Museum in Oxfordshire, United Kingdom, you will discover an EM gauge model of he 1930s Vale of White Horse is under construction. The museum is also home to one of the earliest scenic models. Called the Madder Valley layout. John Ahern built it somewhere between the 1930s and late 1950s, and because of its realistic modeling it gained acclaim in magazines on both sides of the Atlantic. The oldest model village is Bekonscot in Buckinghamshire which is proud owner of a model railway that dates all the way back to the 1930s. The world`s largest model railroad is located in Hamburg Germany while the largest working steam layout is Train Mountain located in Chioquin, Oregon with 25 miles of track.
Model Railroad Clubs
If you are looking for model railroad clubs, you don`t have to go very far—they exist anywhere enthusiasts meet. Model railroad clubs display many of the different railroad models for the public to see and admire with one branch specifically focusing on larger scale models that usually operate on track gauges between 3.5 to 7.5 inches. These models are usually built by hand and operated by real steam or diesel-hydraulic. In fact, these models have engines with enough power to haul dozens of human adult passengers. Railways of these sizes are referred to as miniature railways.
During the 1950s the Tech Model Railroad Club (TMRC) engineered a model at MIT with automatic control of track switching. They accomplished this by using telephone relays. The oldest society, however, is The Model Railway Club that was established in 1910 and is located near Kings Cross in London, United Kingdom. It not only builds model railways, but it also has a collection of 5,000 books and periodicals. The Historical Model Railway Society is located at Butterfly near Derbyshire and specializes in historical events. It has archives that both members and non-members can access.
Building from Scratch
With all of the modern manufacturing techniques, it is possible to mass-produce models that still have an abundance of precision and realism. This used to not be possible, so building from scratch was a very common practice among enthusiasts and manufacturers. It was easy to make a simple model using cardboard engineering techniques while more sophisticated models require a combination of brass and temperature castings.
Sometimes there were parts that required machining such as wheels and couplings, and in that case the hobbyist purchased the parts that he or she required. Even today etched kits are very popular and include low temperature castings. These kits allow the railroad modeler to build models that are not available from the major manufacturers as well as sizes that are available through mass production outlets. The introduction of laser machining techniques makes it possible to produce thicker materials for both steam and locomotive models.
In the beginning both spring-drive and live steam locomotives ran until they no longer had any power left. It was impossible for the operator to stop and restart the locomotive or even vary the speed it was traveling. The arrival of electric trains in the commercial market in the 1890s changed all that because operators were then ale to control the speed of the train by simply varying its current or voltage. As time assed transformers and rectifiers entered the picture along with throttles that were more sophisticated. Trains that were powered by AC and DC power and had the ability to change direction or go into neutral gear soon followed.
When trains began to use electricity for power it helped operators gain control because the electricity provided control because it divided the layout into different isolated blocks. This process allowed the train`s operator to slow or stop the train by simply reducing or stopping the power going to that block. It also meant operators could run multiple trains without having to be concerned about trains hitting one another because one is slower than another one. Another capability the blocks have is triggering signals or other accessories thus creating a sense of realism to the train and its layout. Those who operate three-rail systems quite often insulate one of the common rails on a particular piece of the track and then utilize the power from a passing train for providing the circuitry and activation of one of the accessories.
Computers control most of the railways that are currently in operation. The common system that is commonly used as an industry standard is the Digital Command Control (DCC). The advantage of DCC is that it allows the operator to control individual pieces of equipment rather than controlling the voltage to the track like previous systems did. Since the modeler has the ability to control individual locomotives along the same stretch of track, it allows the layout to assume a more realistic operation. Some DCC decoders are able to generate sounds through a speaker that is hidden inside individual locomotive though less common proprietary systems are also in existence.
Both radio control and DCC in the garden are commonly used for large-scale layouts, especially garden railways.
National Model Railroad Association
The National Model Railroad Association – or NMRA as it is commonly known—is an organization devoted to model railroaders. It promotes the idea of model railroading to the worldwide community through education and standards in addition to offering advocacy and fellowship among other railroad modelers. It allows those interested in the hobby of railroading to learn and communicate together in order for them to develop the knowledge and skills necessary to build the biggest and best model railroad layouts. Like any other hobby, the ability of being able to meet with other enthusiasts creates a type of camaraderie that in essence increases the love of the hobby. It also helps show others what each individual hobbyist is doing and allows those same hobbyists to not only learn new things but to develop relationships with other hobbyists and share experiences.
Regional Focus: "Steam on the Prairies" Regional Convention
The Thousand Lakes region had a total of 146 registrants for the "Steam on the Prairies" regional convention. The convention was held in Winnipeg, Canada and was the largest attendance the NMRA had seen in over five years. Attendees had their choice of a dozen different clinics and 20 layout hops.
In spite of the large number of attendees, the weather was rather foul for the event and dumped a total of four inches of rain on the area during the weekend of the convention. The storm was totally unexpected and was the worst on record in 50 years! Mother Nature invoked a total of 13 hours of thunderstorms between Friday and Saturday that amounted to six months worth of thunderstorm hours in just one weekend turning underpasses in swimming pools, farmers` fields into lakes and uprooting tree. In addition there was flooding of over 1,000 basements, power outages throughout the city and mal-functioning traffic lights. It was certainly not a pleasant sight when you also consider that some of the pumping stations in the city failed and the Red River reached a height of over ten feet.
In spite of all the rain and thunderstorms, attendees of the event enjoyed a fantastic view of the storm from the passenger cars of the Prairie Dog Central Railway. It is seldom possible to watch a thunderstorm of such magnitude cross the flat plains of the Canadian prairie. Attendees of the event also learned (sadly) that century old passenger cars are highly susceptible to leakage when it rains!
The event was not a complete washout, and there were dry spells in those places of great importance with the rain stopping right before the scheduled extra fare excursion that arrived in Portage La Prairie and Lower Fort Garry. The sun also showed its face when attendees toured the Prairie Dog Central facility. Fortunately there was no rain on Sunday to interfere with the layout hops though there was more rain during the clinics when everyone was indoors.
Unfortunately the barbeque at the Assiniboine Valley Railway on Friday night had to be canceled because even though the trains were still operational, the grounds were completely saturated. The plans for that event had to be changed to an indoor location, and thanks to the Canadian Mennonite University, it became a reality. They set up tables in their chapel rather quickly, which allowed the sponsors of the convention to move everything necessary for the barbeque to the campus quickly. The speed with which alternate arrangements were made allowed attendees to still ride the trains at the AVR.
Once the Prairie Dog Central arrived at Warren, Manitoba attendees were able to tour a grain elevator. Because the elevator had an awning immediately over the station platform, they were able to remain dry when they exited the train.
There was a banquet at the Hitch `N Post Restaurant—sponsors had hired chartered buses to provide transportation from the railway tracks to the restaurant so no one got wet in spite of the rain. Of course, it was necessary to cross a soggy gully in order to reach the restaurant from the highway, but the complaints ended once everyone reached the restaurant.
Fortunately in spite of the unexpected and record-breaking thunderstorm, the event brought out a substantial number of entries for the model and photo contests. In fact, there were so many entries that it became necessary for the judging to enter into overtime!
This event is just a sampling of the kind of fun and camaraderie that is likely to exist when railway modelers join the organizations that bring them together. It doesn`t matter what the weather is or where they may be, there is still the sense of belonging and or being together with others who share the same love of model train collecting and operating.