Three ways to broaden your hobby

There are far too many manufactured images out there for posts about broadening your horizons. Ugh.
So instead, here’s a nice picture of a Niagara St. Catharines & Toronto Railway train on the bridge over the Welland River in Welland, Ontario to accompany this post about looking for inspiration beyond the train show. (Take that, Shutterstock!)

In yesterday’s post about my banquet speech at Queen City Express, I noted that as railway modelling enthusiasts we can’t engage with other people interested in making things if we limit our public presence to train shows. I’d like to expand on that thought by suggesting more events and venues that we can add to our hobby/social calendar. I present these merely as ideas – in order of relevance to our hobby.

If you’re not already, get on the RPM circuit

Railroad Prototype Modellers (RPM) is a loose association of like-minded hobbyists interested in building better, more accurate, prototype-based models and layouts. Primarily a North American movement, regional RPM meets are held across the USA and Canada throughout the year, and vary in size from a handful of people to a couple hundred. Members share information about sources, tools, materials, and techniques – all in a non-judgemental way. Plus, the models on display at such events are always inspiring.

As a result of the pandemic, a number of RPM enthusiasts established virtual meets. The best-known of these is Hindsight 20/20. This virtual RPM attracted a global following and has proved so popular that the organizers continue to host a one-day event once or twice per year.

It’s easy for those who are not prototype modellers to dismiss this cohort as “rivet counters” but the reality is that many of the amazingly accurate, ready-to-run models we enjoy today can be attributed to the research of people in the RPM community. What’s more, the RPM community operates in the spirit of helping each other to become better modellers. There are no rules (except possibly, “Don’t touch the models on display without permission”)… no dues… and no officials… and no contests. Also, there are few if any egos on display: Everyone at an RPM is there to learn.

As an informal organization, there’s no “RPM website”. But there are several sources online for finding out about the various RPM held throughout the year and they’re just a search away. And if there isn’t a meet in your area, maybe that’s an opportunity to start one!

Check out the IPMS

The International Plastic Modellers Society (IPMS) is the NMRA equivalent for those modellers who focus on armour, aircraft, ships, vehicles, sci-fi and fantasy subjects, and so on: Basically, everything except railways.

IPMS has branches around the world – including in Canada and the United States.

I think the types of railway subjects exhibited at Railroad Prototype Modeller meets would also be well received at IPMS events. And given how the plastic modelling hobby has improved railway modelling through the introduction of materials such as photo-etch plus new new paints and finishes, I think we have a lot to learn from our IPMS cousins.

On the flip side, modelling is modelling, and those builders of airplanes, tanks, submarines, hot rods, and spaceships might be interested in what we’re doing, too.

Join the Maker movement

The Maker movement is a technology-powered extension of do-it-yourself culture. It brings together traditional construction activities such as metal working and wood working with electronics, robotics, 3D Printing, and other technologies. It encourages tinkering, and encompasses both the creation of new things and the reimagining of existing things in ways they were not originally designed to be used.

That description should sound pretty familiar to railway modellers: As a group, we are comfortable with applying technology to our hobby, and we often treat objects as sources of raw materials for our ideas.

Maker Faires are conventions for Makers, while Maker Spaces are community workshops where Makers can collaborate on projects, share ideas, and access tools (from power tools to lathes, mills, laser cutters and 3D printers).

However, there’s a caveat with this: There has been some decline in the number of Maker Faires and Maker Spaces in North America, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. That said, there may still be a Maker Space in your community.

The availability of any of these will vary from community to community, and sources of information about these will vary in quality and accuracy. The best advice is do some online searching then follow up with and email or phone call.

Published by Trevor

Lifelong model railway enthusiast and retired amateur shepherd who trained a border collie to work sheep. Professional writer and editor, with some podcasting and Internet TV presenting work thrown in for good measure.

10 thoughts on “Three ways to broaden your hobby

  1. Good words: I have long thought and said that the “maker movement” is an opportunity for railway modeller, yet we seem to evade it. Which brings me to the real purpose of this comment. Why is it that if I go into a local hobby shop, there is a good chance that it will serve all model-making hobbies, apart from those which run on iron rails? Granted there are some which are just about model railways, but I find few that are dedicated entirely to say, model aircraft. Even if they focus on that, they still usually have kits for vehicles and indeed other military modelling activities? Not a problem personally: my needs are more aligned to raw materials – where non-railway or general model shops are often better provided – and some very specialist items which I can only get via a scale-specific model railway society (because there is insufficient demand to create any other form of supply), but why, quite simply, are railway modellers almost self-excluding from other model-making hobbies?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s a good observation. When I was a teenager I lived in a city with an excellent full service hobby shop. It had everything in abundance – from trains and plastic kits to painting and other fine art supplies.
      Even so, it was broken into departments, with trains in its own area. Okay – so the train hobby has a lot of stuff (track, DCC, etc.) that kit-building hobbies do not. But even the paints were separated: railway brands like Floquil at the back of the shop, and kit brands like Testors at the front.
      It seems this silo effect runs right from the associations (NMRA / IPMS), to the magazine publishers and manufacturers, to the local hobby shops, to local activities like hobby shows and meet ups.
      Maybe one place we can change that – if we want to – is by finding out where the kit-builders hang out and attend their meets? I know of a group of kit-builders here in Saskatoon that meet regularly for group work sessions, for example. Would they throw me out if I showed up with a Pacific Rail Shops boxcar kit?
      Another thought on hobby shops: I have a general hobby shop about 15 minutes from me. Its train department is pretty rudimentary. (And at the back: Why are they always at the back?) It would serve someone looking for a train set for under the Christmas tree, and – I guess – a place to pick up a few things to expand that set onto a 4×8 starter layout (which is a whole other subject). But I’m okay with that because what I really need is the glues, primers, paints, and finishes of a kit-building shop, and my local shop is much better at that than they are at trains.


  2. Three other ways to broaden your hobby:
    1. Switch from the Maine 2 foot gauge railways to Rio Grande 3 foot
    2. Switch from narrow gauge to standard gauge
    3. Switch from standard gauge to broad gauge

    I’ll show myself out now.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. In all seriousness, I must be one of few modellers not interested in military models at all. Having said that, I discovered The Weathering Magazine put out by MIG Jimenez and I was astounded by the modelling on display. While the title may say “weathering”, for these modellers that starts from the point they start to put the finish on the model — it is in no way an afterthought like it is for most of us railway modellers. There’s a lot to be learned here, and every issue is chock full of step-by-step articles on how to achieve these spectacular results.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Exactly. If we look beyond the subject to focus on the techniques, there’s lots to learn.
      But there are many, many modellers in our hobby still struggling with learning from other model railway scales. Ask any magazine editor and they’ll tell you they regularly get requests from readers for “more O scale” or “more N scale”. If the reader focuses on the techniques, scale should rarely if ever be important.
      I wonder if editors of military modelling magazine get the same complaints? Do readers write to ask for “more 1/72 modelling”? “More 1/35 modelling”? “More Shermans / Panzers / Leopards”? “More Spitfires”? I don’t know…

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I really like attending my semi-local RPM meet (Bridgetown RPM in Portland, OR) every year. I’ve looked into the local IPMS groups in the Seattle area. They have a major multi-day exhibition once a year, but I’ve yet to stop by with the best of the best of my modeling to display. For some reason I feel like my modeling is just not up to snuff and/or I’d be the lone wolf of a train guy. I’m not sure why the IPMS group excludes the model railroading category. Could it be the IPMS looks down on us model railroaders the same way RPM folks tend to look down at shake the box builders?


    Liked by 1 person

    1. I suspect there’s no “railway” modelling category because of a structural division between train and non-train kit-building hobbies. Maybe in the murky mists of hobby history IPMS and the NMRA agreed to not poach from each other? It’s a divide that’s bigger than just associations: even the paint manufacturers are completely separate.

      You could attend an IPMS meet without taking models: there’s nothing wrong with going just to learn.

      And I doubt the IPMS looks down on railway modellers, any more than they look down on someone who builds guitars or knits sweaters for a hobby. I think they simply consider model railroading to be a different hobby. And with the exception of RPM modelling, it mostly is. Similarly, I’ve never encountered an RPM enthusiast who looks down on shake the box builders. Rather, they tend to consider most model railroaders to be in a different hobby: equally valid, but different. (Railway modelling does encompass such a big tent that I often find myself wondering why we consider it all the same hobby…)


      1. Trevor,
        You said it more elegantly than me, but I think you understood the analogy I was trying to make. I was trying to make a comparison between RPM level of modeling and the high quality I tend of think of at IPMS events.

        I guess the better question is if the goal is to promote model railroading RPM style (and there’s a few folks out there that just build for RPM’s and have no layout) to IPMS modelers, how is the best apple to do that?

        Is it by merely starting a conversation with vehicle models that have been detailed for a model railroad layout? Or something else?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. The goal can also be “Improve my own hobby by learning about other hobbies”. Or better yet, both: learn about other hobbies as we promote our own. It’s a win-win, I think. I’m not sure about the best approach beyond “Show up”. Finding out what others are doing is a good place to start…


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