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The future of the hobby

Will operates the North Local with the ProtoThrottle during a recent visit to my layout. He really enjoyed the operating session.

What is the future of the model railroading hobby? That is a question that has been asked many times and there are a wide range of opinions. Many will say the hobby is dying, while others say it is better than it ever has been to be a model railroader. While I don’t have a specific answer to the question I do have a few observations.

A couple of weeks ago I had my friend Jeff over for an operating session and he brought his nephew Will along. Will is 19 years old and has enjoyed the hobby for a few years and wanted to see and operate on my layout. Will did an excellent job operating the locomotive slowly and realistically with the ProtoThrottle. He learned a lot about prototype operations during the operating session and had a good grasp of switching and what moves needed to be made to accomplish the job. As model railroaders we need to encourage the youth to learn more about the hobby and put a throttle in their hands to control the trains. I belong to a model railroad club that has open houses for the public and rather than have the kids “just watch and don’t touch”, I give them a throttle and assist them with operating the locomotive. You should see their eyes light up when they are controlling the train and I even have them pick up and drop off cars. That operating experience might be the catalyst that has them become a model railroader. The future of the hobby is in today’s youth, encourage them and the hobby will be in good hands.

Jeff and Will operate the North Local during a recent operating session. A two person operating crew makes it easier for new operators to learn the ropes and enjoy the operating session with less stress about making a mistake.

The second observation about the future of the hobby is that it is changing in how model railroaders communicate with each other. In the past you had to meet other model railroaders at the hobby store or join a local club. With today’s electronic media it is much easier to connect to other modelers all over the world. By posting a few videos on YouTube I have met some great friends that I will have for a lifetime. Modern technology makes it easy to meet other model railroaders and learn all kinds of information. There are many excellent YouTube channels on prototype and model railroading, all you have to do is look for them and then subscribe. Those that are not taking advantage of the technology are missing out.

Recently I was interviewed by Lionel Strang who hosts A Modelers Life pod cast. Lionel has said many times “I think the hobby is going to explode and we are all going to be covered in model railroader goo”. Lionel asks all of his guests if they think the hobby is dying and not one that I have heard has said “yes”. While I don’t think the hobby is going to explode, I do think the hobby is changing and that it is a great time to be a model railroader. A lot of prototype information can be found on-line and with Google Maps you can rail fan the modern era rail lines without ever leaving home. In addition, with just a click you can find that much needed piece of model railroad equipment you need for a project or your layout. Sound and DCC have been real game changers in how we operate our trains and with the release of the ProtoThrottle it brings the entire experience of controlling our trains to the next level of realism. Lionel has a lot of interesting guests on his pod cast that talk about the future of the hobby, I highly recommend subscribing to A Modelers Life pod cast on YouTube. Here is a link to my interview with Lionel if you have not listened to it.

So, do you think the hobby is dying? I don't think so, but it is up to us to pass the hobby on to the next generation and embrace new technology and ways to communicate so that it can be enjoyed for many years.

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