Notch 8: The joy of building
Two things recently reminded me of the joy of building things in this hobby.
The first was a shooting day at the TrainMasters TV studios in which we launched a new series. “Notch 8” is all about sharing tips and techniques for detailing, weathering and finishing locomotives and rolling stock.
I hosted the first day of shooting, which featured Efram Ellenbogen as our guest clinician. Efram is a younger guy – younger than me, anyway – who does absolutely top-notch work on HO scale diesels. Here’s a link to the “Notch 8” series ... we expect many installments to come in this series.
(If Efram’s name sounds familiar, it’s probably because his beautiful, Candy Apple Red Soo Line SD60M was the cover story in the January, 2015 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman magazine.)
I’ve been in the hobby for several decades now and thought I knew everything about detailing a model, but I learned a lot of new techniques just by hosting the day of shooting clinics with Efram. I know I’m going to be adding some tools to my collection, and some new techniques to my skills. Thanks for that, Efram!
Of the many things I took away from the day’s shooting, I was most impressed that our subject locomotive – another Soo Line model – started life as an Athearn “blue box” SD40-2. Over the first few segments of “Notch 8”, Efram demonstrates how to upgrade the chassis with an Overland replacement, how to open up the roof-top fans and add photo-etched screens, and two techniques to upgrade the handrails. The model looks better already, and I look forward to working with Efram on future episodes to see what else he’ll do to improve it.
The Athearn blue-box SD40-2 was a terrific model at the time it was released, and much of the molding still looks great today. That said, these models are a few decades old now, and a stock “blue box” unit is a far cry from today’s state-of-the-art locomotives. For many, that raises a reasonable question:
Why would one bother updating an older model such as this?
There are many answers, but I liked Efram’s observation that he’s put a lot of work into this particular model over the last decade or so – and therefore when he looks at it, it reminds him of his journey in this hobby. There’s sweat-equity in this – an investment that can’t be made by dropping a credit card on the latest model and pressing it, unmodified, into service on a layout.
On the way home from the studio, I thought about the joy of building that’s so obvious in how Efram approaches a project like this. And I realized that while today’s state-of-the-art locomotives are beautiful models that deserve to find homes on our layouts, there’s also something to be said for enjoying the process of taking an older model – like Efram’s SD40-2 – and a baggie full of aftermarket detail parts to bring it up to today’s standards. At the end of the day, I’m confident these labors of love will become the pride of one’s fleet, because we can point to the model and say, “I built that”.
When I got home from the studio, a friend had shared an exchange from a newsgroup for freight car enthusiasts, in which a member had advocated buying a ready-to-run (RTR) model over building an available resin kit. The argument was that the RTR model “saves the time of building the kit”.
Having just spent the day watching the joy of building in action, my reaction was that this was an odd approach to a hobby in which the building of kits is part of the fun. (And the modeler in question is an accomplished kit-builder, so I know the comment was not made as an excuse for lack of confidence.)
Sure, there are good reasons to use RTR models – for example, to provide enough equipment to host operating sessions on a layout in a timely manner. But this is a hobby – not a job. There are no deadlines beyond the ones we impose on ourselves.
Foregoing the joy of building in favor of buying means we miss out on the joy of creating our own models. As with Efram’s SD40-2, who wouldn’t want to point to a boxcar, or a refrigerator car, or a caboose, and say, “I built that”?
In the end, it’s all about attitude. And the best expression of that attitude comes from my friend Tim Warris – owner at Fast Tracks. In an ad for his company’s line of tools and materials to hand-lay track, (which can be found in several issues of Model Railroad Hobbyist magazine), Tim writes, “You don't HAVE to build it: You GET to build it!”
What a great approach to this great hobby!
- Trevor Marshall
Do you upgrade older locomotives and rolling stock? Do you scratch-build or kitbash equipment? Why? Let us know via the comments section to this post!