Which are you?

Front cover of Railway Modeller June 72Recently while making space for some of my father’s things, I came across an old issue of Railway Modeller magazine.

While leafing through the pages, a letter caught my eye.

It was from a C. A. Zanelli in Trieste, Italy and his letter titled ‘Is This A Railway?’ expanded on a topic I’ve long considered. Namely, what kind of modeller are you?

Mr Zanelli commented, “I think there are two kinds of persons…. I call them the ‘Railway Modellers’ and the ‘Modellers of Railways’.

“A Railway Modeller is”, he explained, “a modeller whose main interest lies in railway practice, and he is therefore an expert (and a modeller) of tracks, paintwork, signals, rolling stock, engines etc. etc.

“The charm of his layout is Operation: he studies timetables, he modifies his tracks according to his necessities (which may – and may not – be realistic, I mean be ‘prototype’ necessities) he amazes his relatives and friends by operating fifteen trains at a time: his is easily recognisable by looking at his layout, that is mostly track, sidings, points, a tremendous amount of engines and wagons, a lonely station building and some proprietary huts, meadow hedges, a road coming from nowhere, leading nowhere else, three slightly off-scale model cars, two scale figures per square yard.

A Modeller of Railways, on the contrary, is a modeller interested in preserving (or re-creating) the atmosphere of a real railway, and he is therefore the strange guy which is often seen on holidays wondering along branch lines, with his camera and copy-book and a fanatic look on his face. He is not so expert in timetables, but he modifies his layout only to make it the nearer to reality the possible.

The charm of his layout is this, indeed: Reality. He amazes his friends and relatives by showing them the scale pipe in the scale mouth of the scale stationmaster (pipe handpainted in chocolate and brown!) and similar wizardry.

His layout is very easy to recognise: few tracks, many houses, cottages, cars, trees, a river and 12-scale figures per square yard. “

This fascinated me. I’ve long held a similar view, that people creating model railways fall into one of these two camps and I suspect you, as a reader ModelRailwayEngineer fall into one of these camps although I would also add a third.

And a third…

Along with Railway Modeller and Modeller of Railways, I know many who I’d describe as Model Railway Operators. If you’re one of these, your enjoyment comes from just running trains.

You’ll be less focused on the correct operation or glorious models around the railway although you want the layout to work credibly and to have some landscape/buildings as your enjoyment comes from seeing your trains running. The other two are simply a means to an end for running the rolling stock around.

But which are you?

Is your layout an accurate representation of a real railway or are you a Modeller of Railways and get your buzz from creating lifeline landscapes, scenery and town scenes?

I’m very much the latter.

I pay attention to my railway elements but I get a bigger buzz from the creativity of making dioramas and landscapes through which my trains operate.

Which are you? Share which of these three types you are in a comment and let’s see which is the larger group.

Founder of ModelRailwayEngineer, Andy Leaning

Andy is a lifelong modeler, writer, and founder of modelrailwayengineer.com. He has been building model railways, dioramas, and miniatures for over 20 years. His passion for model making and railways began when he was a child, building his first layout at the age of seven.
Andy’s particular passion is making scenery and structures in 4mm scale, which he sells commercially. He is particularly interested in modelling the railways of South West England during the late Victorian/early Edwardian era, although he also enjoys making sci-fi and fantasy figures and dioramas. His website has won several awards, and he is a member of MERG (Model Railway Electronics Group) and the 009 Society.
When not making models, Andy lives in Surrey with his wife and teenage son. Other interests include history, science fiction, photography, and programming. Read more about Andy.

Afflliate disclosure:The links on this page may take you to carefully selected businesses, such as Hornby, Amazon, eBay and Scale Model Scenery, where you can purchase the product under affiliate programmes. This means I receive a small commission on any orders placed although the price you pay does not change. You can read my full affiliate policy here. I also sell my my own ready to use, pre-made and painted buildings and terrain features. browse the range.
  1. I’m 63 and started my first ever layout 3 years ago in the loft. Didn’t have a clue where to start and just made it up as I went along.

    I decided I wanted a village end and an industrial/yard end.

    Somehow it all appeared over time, even a canal running the whole length, but, my trial & error crash course in track spacing, track radius and train gauges, meant I really had to squeeze a lot in.

    I’m not sure what my category would be but, I have found that you need to be a builder, joiner, engineer, electrician, roofer, interior designer, model maker, track & train technician and have a talent for sneaking newly arrived parcels past the missus……..none of which I’m any good at.

    Anyway, the main objective was to get trains running around on straights, curves, bridges & through tunnels…………..and to my amazement, they do!

  2. Hi Andy, the dry stone wall was a piece of cake compared to what is behind it. The cliff is real slate stone sliced from large stones from a Devon quarry with a mixture of bolster hammer and wide carving knife. The hard bit was like putting a jigsaw of random sizes and thicknesses into a narrow space in such a way as to look half real. The slate stone cliff covers a track with entry and exit at either end, it is lit and faced inside with brick over stone effect paper. Several videos before number 29 show the process. Video 3 from 3.37 shows the start and concept of not ever being able to get to 5ft of the track. Video 23 from 1.2 is rock busting and video 27 from 2.52 for a short while then at 4.18. If you do look at them, I hope it explains the slate wall.

  3. I am a modeler of railways. The atmosphere is everything to me. It has just taken 5 months to construct a 5ft real ‘slate stone’ cliff. To see what I mean, my youtube channel is ‘Castlebridge OB owner’. (I owned and restored a Bedford OB coach) Video 29 is the end and several before show the pain, pleasure, and enjoyment.
    It is a great hobby no matter at what level.

    • Hi Barry, cheers. BTw, the stone-walling you refer to appears to be Jarvis Dry Stone Walling (JDSWOO) available in a lot of model shops, ebay etc. Andy

  4. Hi,

    I’m none of these. I come from the LEGO generation and the fun of building a model railway is to :

    a. have fun making the most imaginative layout – depending on the space available.
    b. get as many trains running realistically on that layout.
    c. collecting engines which have significance to me. It may be the Pullman I had as a kid or trains that I have seen; even some that i have had cab rides on. Whatever reminds me of a good time.

    I have recently created an N-guage, 5 running track layout in my man shed which also acts as an office, music room, cinema, editing space and storage archive.

    There may come a time when I do some “modelling”, but for now the fun is watching the trains wizzing around my layout and adding sidings etc that fit the areas that I have left.

    I understand the reason that most of the modellers do what they do, but I think the younger generation would get more involved IF there were more people doing what I do. I have found that the KATO brand of track is ideal for my projects as it is more like a LEGO brick than the MECCANO tracks used by the majority.

    Hope this opens up yet an extra avenue of thought.

    regards – Gordon james

    • Hi Gordon, I can’t argue: I’m a Lego builder too (I definitely think Hornby could learn a trick from them about click-together track, Kato are getting there but Lego still nail it for simplicity!) and my youngest son (12) enjoys cramming wagons onto my N gauge layout and running huge long trains. Cheers, Andy

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