Sunday, September 05, 2021

The great Model Railway Journal massacre!


Forgive me, for I have sinned. A few days ago, I owned a full set of Model Railway Journal magazines. 

Every single one, including the apparently rare, Issue 0. 

Now I own a few years in original binders, and a box file with a load of articles. Essentially the distilled essence of MRJ, or at least the bits that appeal to me. 

What caused me to commit such a heinous crime? 

Lack of space for a start. The things were piling up around the place. I never really looked at old issues, even though it's easy thanks to an on-line index. Were I the owner of a proper "railway salon" with endless shelves for magazines and books, I would have left well alone. But I'm not.

Years ago, I made a real effort to complete my set, digging through piles at exhibitions and even resorting to eBay. At the time, I wasn't convinced MRJ would survive (I think we were in the low number hundreds and things looked shaky) and a complete set would join my complete set of MORILs. But I'm pleased to say, the mag keeps appearing, so the completist in me has accepted defeat.  

It's interesting to see what I pulled out for the box file. Lots of practical articles on things that I'm actually likely to have a go at. Plenty of scenery, some buildings, weathering, a few locos and some rolling stock. Gordon Gravett, Geoff Kent, Martyn Welch, Stephen Williams and Pete Kaizer are the names on many of the articles.

There's lots of inspiration in the box, and none of the things that annoy me. MRJ can be very pretentious - "peak MRJ" was a loco weathering piece by Martyn Welch, described as "the most important and relevant article we have ever published". That alone consigned it to the recycling bin. For a start, it wasn't - there are many articles from the very early days that could lay claim to that such as the first mention of electrostatic grass, something that has changed the hobby. Also, most of the techniques were in The Art of Weathering, a book that is listed as an influence in many of the articles in the magazine.


I don't care. With the possible exception of Garden Rail, no magazine is perfect. I've reduced all the ones I've not got a byline in to box-file contents. It's impossible to keep everyone happy all the time. Some topics just don't interest me - signalling and coaches being low of my list of preferred reading matter. On the other hand, I kept all the articles where Gordon G builds model boats, which I bet many readers aren't that interested in. 

I don't buy the "ALL THE MAINSTREAM MAGAZINES ONLY TALK ABOUT BUYING THINGS AND NOT PROPER MODELLING" either. There's plenty of articles in MRJ about fiddling with RTR and I'll admit I've kept none of them. The tone can often be a little bit patronising "Oh look, some RTR that we deem acceptable to us better modellers". To be honest, I don't buy MRJ for RTR stuff - I like that it is different to everything else. Even the occasional pretentiousness isn't an issue, I WANT the mag to see itself as a cut above, that's its character.

Maybe I miss the days in the late 1980s-1990s when to build an exhibition layout, you built kits. And with a bit of application, your kit built models would be better than the contemporary RTR. There was much modifying and mangling going on. That, to me was the era of the best MRJ issues - the ones I still have whole in binders. 

Anyway, the deed is done. I now have a box full of really good stuff that I will enjoy browsing through. All killer, no filler as they say in the music world.


GeoffinOz said...

Talking of Model Boats, haave you tried any of Scalescenes boat kits. I know you don't go in for card kits much but they are quite good for model railway harbour scenes. I don't think they would last long on your boating lake.

Huw Griffiths said...

Just out of interest, do you think that, over time, there might have been a change in the general tone (and content) of a number of magazines - from drawings / descriptions of locos, railcars etc. that RTR manufacturers looked unlikely to offer (plus suggestions for how to model them) - to reviews of the latest (perhaps unaffordable) wonder-models and stuff like that?

I'm not saying that this is definitely the case - but, to me, it sometimes seems a bit that way.

If my perception is anywhere near the mark, I wonder how closely this reflects modellers' attitudes towards the hobby.

I'm not saying that this would happen (because it probably won't) - but I could almost imagine someone attending this week's "Railtex" show, getting sets of drawings from all the motive power and rolling stock manufacturers exhibiting - and then publishing magazine articles including these, with suggestions on how to build models of them.

As I say, I doubt if this would happen - but I sometimes wonder how a lot of magazine readers would react if stuff like this were to appear in their favourite journals.

I think I know how I'd react. I also think I know what sort of reaction there'd be from some of the people who demonstrate real model making at shows.

However, I don't know how many of the people who read any magazines (or post on any forum sites) would actively choose to build / modify models, if the drawings, information and parts / materials required were more readily available.

Just a thought (probably not a very good one).

Phil Parker said...

Huw - All magazines change over time, both because the readership changes and also the technology. Years ago, photo reproduction was poor, and the cameras needed serious skill to get the best originals. Now, photo repro is excellent and digital cameras need less skill to use - so we can publish more pictures.

Readers have demanded (according to sales) bigger, and brighter photos.

Plans have their place, but how many people will actually use them to build a model of some rolling stock? I once asked someone bending my ear about the lack of plans if he'd be out with the metal cutters were we to publish a Dutchess drawing. "Oh yes" he replied - patiently a lie, as you could buy a perfectly good RTR model.

The big problem with drawings is that the rates of pay are so low. Would you spend weeks researching and drawing up a loco for £100? Probably not. And if you DO snag some plans from Railtex, these will be copyright and the cost of repro prohibitively high.

Buildings would be a more fertile ground for drawings - they aren't that easy to come by and people still make the things. There's still to effort require issue, but probably less so than for rolling stock.

As I say in the post, the model railway world has changed. Once RTR stock was at best mediocre, now even very skilled modellers struggle to match it. Most people seem to enjoy reading product reviews, so these are served up to them. Others like layouts and practicals (although I once read a rant by a prominent forum member about how he HATED practicals because they never seemed to be covering exactly what he wanted to build) so these are part of the mix.

For my part, I want people to have a go at some modelling, and write accordingly. I'm not trying to show off how clever I am (no point, I'm not) but to inspire others to have a go.

Huw Griffiths said...

I should probably point out that I wasn't actually suggesting that anyone should go round a trade show to source drawings for a magazine.

My real point was that (however drawings might be sourced), I was wondering aloud about how many people are actually interested in building things. The reference to Railtex was just because I happen to know that this show is advertised as running this coming week - nothing more than that.

As for the stuff about RTR models being offered of a relatively wide range of prototypes these days - well, I guess they are - but I'm not convinced that there would ever be "enough" choice available (especially at prices everyone would want to pay).

Of course, it also goes without saying that I wish there were some effective way of silencing the "nothing for me" brigade, who "pop up" on forum sites every time a RTR model manufacturer announces their new range.

Geoff said...


You are not alone. I have purchased every issue of MRJ, however I live in a small house and there just is not the room to store boxes and boxes of old magazines. Periodically I grab a batch of of MRJs and cut out the article that interest me, scan them, and then bin all the paper. Cutting the relevant pages out makes scanning easier and faster.


matt scrutton said...

Funnily enough I buy MRJ because its a bit up its own harris myself