Riding Scale Railroading, Two
Part II, Today and Beyond
are scratch built, kit built or ready to run, new, used, and powered by steam,
gasoline, diesel or batteries. Click to enlarge.
Written by Rick Henderson
Riding Scale Railroading, Today
(continued from Part
I, A Half Century of Change )
It took me 47 years in model
railroading before finding my way into the 7˝" gauge side of the hobby, now
over six years ago. I had resisted this niche in the railroading hobby as there
was so little known about it in the smaller table-top scales and it was
miss-portrayed as a very special interest group, made up of well off people
that were not very open to people from smaller scales, something that was far
from the truth for the most part. There were also no known tracks to check out
the hobby. Had I known more about 7˝" gauge railroading, I would have gotten
into it much earlier. With about 6000 to 8000 riding scale railroaders in the
US today, I
think the hobby still has the same problems of visibility or awareness among
the general public. However, with the ever growing issues of liability, many
clubs and especially private layouts are seeking anonymity rather than
publicity when it comes to the public.
What attracts people to riding
scale railroading is the ability to ride on the railroad you helped build. Over
recent years we have seen many people entering the hobby and most turn to the
more ready to operate and affordable gas or electric motive power rather than
the more expensive steam locomotives. Most are not a live steam enthusiast;
however they find the wide variety of motive power available attractive for
them to select from. Very recently, a couple brand new in the hobby purchased a
complete train of diesel locomotive, six cars and caboose along with the
trailer to transport it for about the cost of a small live steam locomotive.
Most club members are judged
more on their contributions towards building the railroad rather than personal
wealth measured in train inventory. The better point is that having a train is
not mandatory to enjoying and contributing to the hobby. Very few people
getting into the hobby today have the machining skills or equipment to get into
building or even maintaining a live steam locomotive. A lot of people want to
get a steamer and plan to ‘one day’
when they are older and have more time, but they do not realize that when you
retire, somehow you seem to have less time and more left over projects to
finish first. The rising cost of steam locomotives is a very limiting factor.
Change is part of life and as in real life; steamers may become scarce on
riding scale railroads over the next 50 years.
Riding trains rather than
watching seems to be the big draw to individuals of all ages who discover the
hobby, often from smaller scales. It seems that in all hobby interest clubs,
you have your real core of workers and then the other 80-90%. This is not all
that bad as those additional people bolster the hobby by creating a demand on
the manufacturers for an expanded product line. If manufacturers depended on
just the worker bees for business, the hobby would still be very small and
unknown to most due to the lack of product variety and availability.
Litigation or the threat
thereof, was rarely of serious concern in the 1900’s. However in the 21st
century it has become an increasing apprehension for everyone and a reality for
those unfortunate to have faced it directly, often on the loosing end. This
threat has made several railroads shun public attention, often refusing to open
their railroad to people outside of the hobby. To some degree it also makes
some hobbyists reluctant to belong to a club that is open to the public.
The future of the hobby lies in our youth who
do learn safe operation at a very young age. Click to enlarge.
Riding Scale Railroading, The Future
So where does the future of
riding scale railroading lay? In all likelihood the hobby will grow; however
the focus is likely to continue to turn away from live steam power due to cost,
dwindling resources and experienced people able to share the technical skills
necessary to promote that aspect of the hobby. Instead the likely growth in
motive power will continue with the easy to obtain and maintain gas and
electrically powered locomotives.
Train cars for riding and show
seem to be coming from dealers more now than in the past. While some hobbyists
do make the effort to build their own car, more than likely the trucks and
couplers come from a dealer. While the focus for many years was to build cars
people could ride on, most often low sided gondolas or flats, we are seeing a
trend towards the safer to ride bench style riding car and a little more demand
for revenue type cars that can not be ridden but used increasingly in
Railroad tracks, private and
club, will very likely continue to grow despite legal concerns. Due to
liability issues, you may see many of them have a ‘closed door’ policy when it
comes to public visits while still keeping an ‘open door’ to all others in the
What ever the course turns out
to be, we should be looking to the future with a few things in mind. What will
happen to my trains? What will happen to the railroad? Who will manage
everything and keep the hobby going? Think about these questions for a moment
and the only reasonable answer to all three is the youth, okay, people younger
than many of us. None of us want to see our work wasted when we reach the point
we can not contribute, or simply are no longer around. We need to include
middle aged and younger people in our planning now, for they will be the ones
taking the lead sooner than you may think.
Please take a few moments and
answer our short survey below. Answer the questions based on your assessment of
the hobby after thinking about all of the questions.
It is very likely we will have many great
tracks to explore and enjoy for the foreseeable future. Click to enlarge.
Written by Rick Henderson
read part III: Your Impressions
The final part of this article is going to be written by you through the
completion of a short survey. If you skipped ahead to the survey, please go
back and read the article which explains the reason for some of the