Sunday, March 03, 2013

The rise of the chequebook enthusiast

Don't be scared by the non-train mags railway modellers - I'm coming to chuff-chuffs in a minute

This week I cancelled my subscription to VW Camper & Commercial magazine. I've been with it since issue 1, when it was a quarterly mag you couldn't get in the shops, to the current monthly issues I could pick up in Smiths.

It's not the exclusivity that has pushed me away, it's the content. There's nothing wrong with it really. Lots of nice pictures of VeeDubs and a few event reports. If you like that sort of thing then great. What I don't like is the content of the articles.

Basically, what happens is someone buys a camper, probably importing it from the USA. They then hand it over to a company who restore or customise it. Another company will do the interior. There will be some problems which were solved by an engineering guru from yet another firm.

Compare this to Practical Classics. Each article involves the writer battling with rust and recalcitrant mechanical parts. While something like painting might be contracted out, although it often isn't, the bulk of the work is done by the owner. The end result is a triumph (other car makes are available) of their labours.

Guess which mag I read right through quickly and which sat around unopened for a couple of days.

The same sort of thing is happening with model railways (see, I said I'd get there). Less and less people make anything, preferring to buy locos, rolling stock, buildings, road vehicles, and anything else straight from the shop. It's happening in all the popular scales but especially in OO.

The worst place fro it though is in the finescale end of the hobby. People who can afford to employ the best model makers in the country are popping up and writing layout articles. Once P4 and EM modelling involved some kit building and effort. Now you just swap the wheels out of your freshly boxed RTR and plonk it on the track. If you have big money, you order a beautifully made model from someone else.

We even had someone who had done this try and enter the loco in a club modelling competition years ago!

Of course there's nothing wrong with a bit of chequebook modelling I'm told. People say that if they could afford to spend the cash they would and use the time freed up to work on the bits they enjoy. Truth is, I suspect, what they mean is if they had the money, a complete model railway would be built and installed in their purpose built room.

The thing is, once that happens, surely you'd play with it for a couple of weeks. Perhaps show it off to your friends, and then what?

Shut the door and go and do something else I suspect.

My take on all this? Simple - you get out of a hobby what you put in.

You can be a VW owner who doesn't know where the fuel pump is and shouts abuse at fellow owners unlucky enough to break down (outside Stanford Hall about 6 years ago since you ask) because you can't comprehend that a 40 year old car isn't as reliable as a modern one. You probably sell your bus every year looking for a new shiny toy.

Likewise, you can treat a model railway like a flat screen TV. You buy it, press all the buttons to make the noises and light come on and then go and buy another one.

Or you can work on the car or layout yourself. Maybe it won't be as good as the one a professional can build for you, but it has one important element. It's Yours. There is a little bit of You in there and you can justifiably be proud of something far greater than just writing a cheque.


Paul B. said...

Personally I have no problem with chequebook (or should that be PayPal these days?) modellers, as long as they acknowledge the builder and don't pass others work off as their own. It does keep a small number of professional builders employed, which can only be a good thing.
However, I do think that they miss out on what is to me the most important part of the hobby, the joy (and sometimes frustration) of putting a model, be it kit or scratchbuilt, together, knowing that the finished article is your own work. Which is why I would never pay someone to build anything for me, even if I won the lottery tomorrow.

Dana said...

This subject has been on my mind, albeit on the other end of the pond. I let my subscription to Model Railroader pass as I felt it had become "Ready-to-Run Railroader". To paraphrase Mr Dylan, "Where have all the scratchbuilders gone?"

neil said...

Have to agree with Paul on this. I subscribe to MRJ knowing I will never learn the skills to enable me to meet the high standards the modellers exhibit As an artist I still go to the Tate gallery to see great artists work knowing .....etc. So I will just bumble along pleasing myself in both categories. (I do exhibit my paintings and sometimes sell a few). Incidently in MRJ this issue is Jas Millham's Bishop's Yaxford which is in S scale so no chequebooks on show here! But what is, is atmosphere, creativity and character.

James Finister said...

I think cheque book modelers have been with us for a long time and if my memory serves me right at least one early example even featured in MRJ.

For the average modeler the question is about where do you draw the line. I think in my case I would consider using one of the Bachmann "Pendon" buildings a step too far for anyone.

Stuart Firth said...

You've struck a chord with me here. I read Practical Classics & have been doing battle with my Austin A60 this weekend. I also enjoy making my models, and I too find the numerous good-looking but nearly identical layouts in the press quite dull. Even MRJ is not what it was - Many of the models featured are by, or largely by, professionals. They may be superb, but somehow don't appeal the way a layout does when the owner has built most of it him/herself. It's something indefinable. Or is it only because I know ?

Phil Parker said...

Jame - I suppose the Bachmann "Pendon" buildings
are OK as long as you understand you haven't bought a bit of Pendon and that the modelmakers there didn't just lift their buildings out of a box from China.

If you treat them as raw materials and add an extension or two...

Iain Robinson said...

Great post, Phil, and of course I agree, although I'm grateful for "chequebook modellers" for paying my mortgage! I still get a buzz out of MRJ, knowing that I can't achieve some of the work in there, notably the watchmaker's work with valve gear by some folk. But those of us lucky enough to earn our bread by modelling still do it because we love it...and look at the models of Linda and Blanche in this month's RM...built professionally to order, but with so much passion and dedication. (Not that I could ever aspire to that level of skill.)

Richard Slipper said...

A while back I was member of a society of model engineers with plans to build a live steam loco. I bought a lathe and so forth and started out on my journey. I soon found out that I really did not have the knowledge or time needed and privately contemplated the purchase of a ready made loco or TE.
Then one night I overheard a conversation between two other members. They were decrying another member who had bought his own engine.Yes, he joined in, he took it to the club track and ran it but "he was not really the right sort." You get my drift?
To me it matters not how you do your hobby, how you make things, how your buy things, how much time you spend. The important thing is participating in some way. Let no man or woman decry another for the way that he/she pursues their relaxation, fun and happiness.

My Granddad was a medal winning model engineer, he even made his own nuts and bolts out of brass hex. He was at times a miserable old devil, unhelpful to others, and viewed the plastic kits I made as a child with some disdain.

I lived in his shadow for years, I could never achieve his standards.
Then I realised that I am me and set my own standards.

The world of modelling is stronger and richer for being a broad church. Let all be welcome.

Phil Parker said...

Richard - I'd think it's a lot harder to chequebook model engineer. Even if you buy a ready-made engine, there's a lot of work involved maintaining the thing and unless you are REALLY rich then you have to get your hands dirty and oily doing that. Then you move on to small repairs etc.

On the other hand, I could see someone who buys a series of engines which recieve no maintainance and are cast aside when the inevitable breakdown occurs would certainly not be popular.