The On-Line Magazine of Rideable Model Railroading


© December 23, 2007  

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Riding Scale Railroading, Two Views
Part II, Today and Beyond

Today’s locomotives 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 card-order operations.

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 hobby.

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 questions.



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