Community of Trains, Vol. 4

The thought-stream that underlies this blog series is that a community sits behind our thoughts more than we are capable of giving credit to. With respect to our hobby, what do we see when we focus on the larger group? It is a philosophical exegesis of sorts--you know, philosophy trains.

Real metaphysical train bullshit.

An idea was introduced in the previous blog that I would like to develop a little further. I proposed that the creative impulse that existed in John Allen's work is an undercurrent in the hobby today. Some people may find this assertion odd insofar as modeling tends to laud a different aesthetic (think Pelle Søeborg, again from my previous blog). However, I believe that a kind of baseline creative impulse is at play for a lot of what we do. And, it exists even among layouts that don't present themselves with Allen's fictional aesthetic.

Let me explain:

Consider the photo below.  It is from Rob Spangler's HO scale Western Pacific layout.

This scene depicts a Western Pacific freight train moving along the WP's 8th sub. On Spangler's layout, the 8th sub is a fictional subdivision that served the WP as an alternative route at the east end of the railroad. Where the prototype railroad operated into Salt Lake City via a route to the south of the Great Salt Lake, the 8th sub is a fictional route to the north of the Great Salt Lake. It is reasonable that the WP could have built a line as depicted by Spangler's layout. The terminal city, Odgen, is a de-facto railroad hub in the state of Utah, and by using this route, the 8th sub. would have followed the original transcontinental line. So, it is all in the fabric--so to speak.

Where Allen created a fictional universe, Spangler has created a fictional narrative that intelligently coheres with the real universe. It is so well placed that, in fact, one would have to know a fair amount about the WP to be confident that it is actually a fiction. And, one would have to know an awful lot about railroads generally, history, and geography to appreciate just how well the 8th Sub. narrative is at rest within the actual universe. (Hint: it is not unlike how well he blends the back drop with the background scenery in the photograph above.) The impulse to create--to tell the story--is still at play with Spangler as it is with Allen, and it is at play for a lot of people who participate in this hobby.

Spangler is proto-lancing. And for what it is worth, I think that Spangler's layout can serve as a thought exercise to beg questions about how we conceptualize "prototype modeling" and more fictional modeling as dichotomous. Differences exist, for sure. And these differences are the result of different ideological persuasions, for sure. But, I think what proto-lance teases out is the degree to which there is overlap in these ideologies. it is not the case that "prototype modelers" are individuals who give deference to outcomes that are only faithful to the prototype-which, by the way, is what the meaning of the words "prototype modeler" suggests. (And it is sometimes how we like to represent ourselves.) My experience is that many people who refer to themselves as prototype modelers accept fictions in their modeling all the time. And so, it seems to me that the difference between prototype modeling and other kinds of participation has more to do with what fictions are permissible for each of these two ideologies.

Let me explain:

In what now feels like another life, I once managed a group home for people with relatively severe mental disabilities. The primary interest of my employer was to create the highest quality of life for these individuals, and I can attest to the fact that, in many cases, we did. In this industry, documentation is important, and one method of documentation is the creation of scrapbooks. Scrapbooks tell a story, and from the point of view of this institution, these stories are important. They speak to its quality-of-life kinds of objectives in ways that other forms of documentation cannot.

And I learned something when scrapbooking for the business, a photograph from a camera is not objective. There were occasions where a particular event was a hot mess, literally diarrhea and fist fights and hurt feelings. And yet, a camera in the right location and at the moment time shows only social euphoria.   

Less the diarrhea and fist fights, prototype modeling can be a little bit this way.

Always in modeling, regardless of what is being modeled or how it is being modeled, there is always the question of where and when to place the camera. For model railroading, 'placing the camera' relates to how one represents a scene in an given space. What does one show and what does one exclude? How does one transition between scenes? A story is being told regardless of whether one is prototype modeling or proto-lancing or operating with upside-down trestles (does anyone else remember that article from Model Railroader?). Given that model railroads are mired in selective compression, subjectivity is always at play. It will always be the case that there is a subjective timbre to everything we do--even when we are prototype modelers.

Despite a fictitious route, Spangler has created a layout that captures the look and feel of the late Western Pacific as well as any other railroad of which I am aware. When you operate on it, you are there. Yet, there never was a "there." Meanwhile, I have visited other layouts that are more prototypically bent, and yet, they are far less persuasive. Shouldn't prototype modeling keep that from happening? 

And this is the point.

I think an ostensible response recognizes that there are a lot of ingredients to make a meal. And for a layout to be persuasive, good execution needs to happen on a number of levels. But, I think that there is something else going on too. When the term "prototype modeling" is used colloquially, the domain of things it refers to is narrow. We are comfortable describing ourselves as 'prototype modelers' pretty much if we don't accept fictions in our rolling stock and locomotives. When we use 'prototype modeling' in this way, it is as though we only to refer to the quality of the flour when baking. 'Prototype modeling' doesn't normally describe how well one represents a scene in an given space, what one shows and what does one excludes, or how one transitions between scenes. And like the scrapbook, this kind of "documentation" also contributes to the story, as Spangler's layout demonstrates.

So let me close by doubling back on something I said earlier.

We conceptualize "prototype modeling" and more fictional modeling as dichotomous. But, the difference between prototype modeling and other kinds of participation has more to do with what fictions are permissible for each of these two ideologies. They aren't diametric. The way we solve the problems of space and time allow for extraordinary creative latitude--even for the most rigid of prototype modelers.

So, where do you place your camera?

  

Blaine Hadfield


7 Responses

Bill Schaumburg
Bill Schaumburg

August 23, 2017

The latest edition of your blog rekindles the idea that the hobby is a personal art form based on real things. Just as different painters and photographers render the same scene differently, so it is in model railroading, especially when building a layout. Not everything fits! Different aspects/elements capture builders’ attentions. Goals vary. We create 3-D memories or reactions to (railroad) places and things, often the best memories we never had. Whether prototype-specific or created images, or overlaid on geography that never had tracks, editing yields a new reality. Good thinking, good writing. Onward!

Rich Mathews
Rich Mathews

August 21, 2017

Solar Eclipse Day! Space and Time vs the amount of space available and the amount of time we have to spend on our hobby. My first Layout was a 15 radius circle. I added a station, a road and street lights. Within days of finishing the layout, something was wrong, it was a shock to me, how could this be so boring? I was about 10 years old and had no idea how important space and time comes into play when operating a layout. I just knew my train was chasing its own tail (caboose). Well, a figure “8” was next, better, not great, then added a siding. Space and Time were expanding and enjoyment grew as I puzzled over how to make my Layout more interesting, a yard, engine house, a junction.
As time past, I attempted to copy the real thing as close as I could.
I totally agree with your theory, prototype modeling and more fictional modeling our not opposites and that dichotomy exists. Perhaps, this is the reason we enjoy our Hobby as much as we do, can one exist without some of the other being part of the picture?
Great Blog Blaine, keep it up.
Rich

Ramon
Ramon

August 20, 2017

Studying Communities of Practice (Etienne Wenger) which has a similar idea. Competence through social interactive/practice communities.

Rick LaFever
Rick LaFever

August 20, 2017

" diarrhea and fist fights"
Sounds like a couple of model railroad club meetings I’ve attended!
Proto-lancing is an excellent term.
As much as many of us would like to build and operate say the SP in The Bay Area, one only has so much room or there are things of one railroad you like along with parts of another.
So you make adjustments.
As I sitting here recovering from shoulder replacement surgery, I am drawing some new track arrangements for my layout space.
Based on NW INDIANA & SE Chicago, I know that to do what I want, I am going to have to proto-lance somewhat.

There just isn’t enough room to have the NKP and South Shore Line interact with the IHB and BRC/C&WI with out some adjustments.

Nick Hoffmeister
Nick Hoffmeister

August 20, 2017

This hobby is big enough and small enough to allow anyone to do anything in any scale and still have something to talk about and bond over.

I have been enjoying this hobby for nearly 40 years. Many of those years I spent on the hobby essentially alone. I joined a club nearly 2 yesterday ago and the opportunity to share the hobby and interact in a way I hadn’t before has made the hobby just that much more enjoyable.

Thinking about the hobby in the ways you describe is something that would not have occurred to me, but your ideas clearly strike a chord.

Thank You!!

Pete Terwilleger
Pete Terwilleger

August 20, 2017

I have to re-read your article because you write so eloquently it’s a little difficult to grasp the first time around. That said, my goal is to cram as much prototype detail into my 5′ × 9′ layout as is possible. I’ve decided to focus on one particular prototype locale in detail, using an extension staging area permitting connecting roads operating rights through there. Modelled in the congested northeast 1940-1960 era, it’s conceivable that most if not all the roads could have used these operating rights to save operations through mergers. This is the modeling reality sacrifice made when space is at a premium.

Andrew Johnson
Andrew Johnson

August 20, 2017

Hi Blaine,’

Another very well written article. Your articles often make us look at this great hobby from another perspective. To be honest, I really don’t mind if the modeler has created fictional universe or is proto-lancing. If the layout or scene is well done (era correct structures, transportation vehicles, scenery, back drops etc.) one is convinced that the scene really exists or could have existed. The modeler “kind-of” turns into an artist. ExactRail products has also accomplished this. You guys have raised the bar is plastic modeling to a new standard. Love your product (especially the short line and regional rolling stock).

Andy

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