The Hobbyist’s Quandary
I have a decision I should make about building live steam locomotives. It’s not one I have to make but not making it is a decision in itself. In other words I am not at a stopping point where I have to make a decision to move on, but rather shall I continue where I am going or change direction. It is not a dilemma as none of the choices are truly unsatisfactory.
So I went back and read some of my own writings from around year 2003 that I posted in my The Hobbyist Machine Shop website. Hard to believe I started my publishing seven years ago. I see that most of my interests and goals have not changed in all that time.
Back then I said my plan was to design and build my workshop and machine tools to a size where I could work on live steam model locomotives in a scale size of ½ inch to ¾ inch. Mission accomplished. What has not been accomplished is actually completing any projects of that type. I do have some work done in ¾ inch scale on the Pennsy A3 Locomotive but the nearly three year layoff didn’t speed that project along.
What I noticed from seven years ago is that I said my primary interest was in ½ inch scale with ¾ inch my upper limit. I feel that is still true. So why did I start building in ¾ inch scale? There are several good reasons.
Number one is the outstanding publication of engine projects in that scale by Kozo Hiraoka. Second is the fact the parts are large enough that my PN is not much of a problem as it would be with very small parts. Third, the scale locomotives look wonderfully massive, complex and less toy like. I take no interest that they are also strong and heavy enough to pull a full size human (or two) around the track.
One question people ask me is what I will do with a model that size when I complete it. I don’t have a real answer to that. Put it on a shelf in the shop for display or travel the country to 3 ½ inch gauge tracks to run it seems to be my choices. Or <horrors!> sell it to someone with a track.
The operation of the live steam locomotive is the social benefit of participating in the hobby. For most it is the only reason, as having the time, shop, and skills to actually build live steam locomotives is uncommon.
I am assuming with planning and proper introduction, getting track access is generally not a problem. Finding their location may be. Anyplace that has a track in that gauge would most certainly welcome and permit a visitor bearing a ¾” scale locomotive to run as a guest, if only for the chance to see it run. I think the same can be assumed for Gauge #1 equipment. Regular operation should of course require membership if it is a club.
I believe that Gauge #1 has more tracks available in home garden layouts and elevated non scenic layouts than 3 ½ inch gauge track ever will. Several magazines are devoted to #1 gauge which includes a wide range of scales. 1/24 scale (1/2 inch) is one of them (but a little rare) and 1/20.3 a popular scale for narrow (3 foot gauge) models. Gauge #1 is often run indoors at large “steam-ups” using portable track.
A new jumbo scale, 7/8n2 is gaining some popularity for modeling a 2 foot gauge industrial railroad with gauge #1 track. That makes equipment dimensions larger than the ¾ inch modeling size. This industrial engine equipment, often called “critters” is usually not the typical public commerce type of railroading most people think about. However, there are classic looking two foot gauge prototype examples from Maine and Colorado railroads.
I have re-subscribed to Steam in the Garden and Garden Railways to fan any embers still glowing in the fire box for participating in gauge #1 size of construction. One friend who has worked with both scales loves the ease of transport of the smaller models. Seeing detailed scratch-build live steamer geared engines is considered rare, so they are precious “gems” and always garner a lot of attention wherever he takes them. So he has now built two. I think seeing any size or type live steamer operate is a rare treat.
So the quandary is to become a participating live steamer or just build for display? Do I take the options to socialize at steam-ups or just build in a “shop-cave” like a hermit? Which scale or gauge is going to get me there, whatever “there” means?
I don’t have the answer. Maybe I never will. But with hobbies, I am a dreamer. I may derail from one and try the alternatives. I don’t have any rigid absolutes to spoil my fun. That’s a respectable three letter “F” word and should be what a hobby is all about. There is no question that I will go where the fun takes me…
To paraphrase Lesley Gore in 1963, “It’s my hobby and I’ll try if I want to…“