I attended the regional NMRA convention last week(end). There were five days of activities, including operating sessions, clinics, layout tours, silent auction, contest, modular demo tables, banquet, and more. Much fun was had by all, but since my point here is as a Lego train modeler, I’m going to focus on that perspective.
In general I’ve found most people don’t care how you approach the hobby. HO? N? O? G? Whatevs. Scenery, buildings, plaster mountains, just plywood? Knock yourself out. Switching, fun running, strict prototype accuracy? You can run your railroad however you like. However I did run into a few people that had strong opinions on what was “model railroading” and what was a toy. This always amuses me. Like some of us are curing cancer and others are watching TV in their underwear? Ugh. No. I’ll skip the rant on that subject, chances are you could rant along with me.
Lego’s nice in that we don’t have to worry about electricity. It’s unfortunate that we can’t link switches, lights, and diorama features to commands issued from a throttle, and that we don’t have block detectors. Having two throttles on a remote is a good thing, but only 8 possible addresses is unfortunate. Being able to modify anything is great; everything on our layouts is kit-built or scratch-built. This modular nature means it’s that much easier to add moving parts.
A good bit of the banquet was spent giving out rewards to contest entrants; basically, people that had scratch-built or kit-built rolling stock, structures, bridges & trestles, etc., plus photography. Someone’s kid had entered a Lego train, built to a 4-pip-wide standard. I know, both regionally and nationally, that there’s some Lego Train modellers that could have competed well among these NMRA contest entries, but there’s so much gap between the two that I don’t know how the scoring would come out.
The highlight for me was the layout tours. Seeing a wide variety of layouts is inspiring. Being a model railroader is a decades-long hobby; none of the layouts were completed, almost all between “70% of trackwork and 5% of scenery” and “all trackwork complete and 70% of scenery”. Most of this is expense: it takes some money to buy the initial batch of lumber and to get all the wiring done, and then to buy and lay all the track, but then there’s a lot more to buy. Plaster, ground cover, chicken wire, more plywood, prefab trees, model kits, ballast, paint, brushes, cleaning supplies, etc etc — it’s not just elbow grease. And then, once it’s running and half the scenery is done, I think a lot of the motivation to get scenery done dies, because working rails and half the scenery is a ton of work and pretty close to done.
Yet preferences change year to year. Yeah, it takes years to finish trackwork and scenery, but also years to buy all that stuff. Layout builders tend to grow their layouts over the years, or to eventually move into a house where they dedicate an entire room to the hobby. Or maybe they grew to that point and then remodeled their house to enlarge that room! So do I do more scenery or operations? I haven’t yet dug into electrical rewiring and remodeling to host my layout, though, so really, I have time. It’s still easy enough for me to change from one focus to the other.
Layout tours have motivated me to care more about scenery. Cool scenery is cool. Switching is fun, but that’s an operations thing. I think, personally, my optimum operations platform would be a heavily-scenicked railroad. There’s a guy here in town that has a layout with maybe one building on it; everything else is track on roadbed on plywood. Not even figures standing about. Operations on the layout is a lot of fun; it’s very much a mental puzzle. But if he instead had a ton of scenery, the layout would probably only support five or six running trains rather than eight.
Forever the modelers quandary: “if only I had more space!”
That, of course, makes Lego a very difficult thing. I saw a couple G-scale layouts on the tour. Neat things, both outdoors. But the layouts were dirt-simple; one was three separate loops, one with a siding; the other was a point-to-point layout with one switchback, one siding, and six (extra) spurs. Yet the costs per square foot are roughly equivalent, since a single foot of G-scale track is $8 (HO is under $2/ft, Lego about $3/ft) and single cars are $100. Lego, at 38:1 (roughly), is a very large scale. HO is the most common model railroad scale, with N (120:1) and O (48:1) being the next most common. Lego is even larger than O! If I was a millionaire, I might manufacture my own half-scale Lego items just to get around this one specific hurdle. But then again, if I was a millionaire, I could afford enough space to make a huge Lego layout, too.
Scenery can be neat. The whole gist of MOC contests is that scenery and dioramas are cool. I made and renewed a lot of friendships at this convention. Personally, what I got out of it was a greater appreciation for scenery.
Which translates into a desire to add more scenery to my own layout, at the expense of operating complexity.