Monday, October 3, 2016

A state of the Australian Model Railway "hobby" - A tale of two exhibitions

I find that exhibitions seem to reflect the way "the hobby" sees itself.
To me this means the direction we seem to be going, so, let me make this clear this is from my point of view and my observations.

Most of the "big" exhibitions in the eastern states are organised by "big" clubs.
Lets look at the ones that got the most popular - exhibits.
Mullet Creek sized layout, double track mainline no points.

Is an excellent historical piece for which the club should be proud, and they maintained the operating era during the whole exhibition, Double track mainline.

Bethungra spiral.

A great display layout, impressive, showing the actual grade, captures the prototype quite well.
Double track mainline no points.

Fantastic work on the station building, Double track mainline.

I had not seen these layouts before "new to me".  However both insisted on operating without a definitive era. : (

So by the look of things current new and popular layouts are medium to large layouts with stacks of rolling stock, going through a scene with no points!

I get their appeal from an exhibition curators point of view.  High traffic, lost of stuff going and everyone waiting to see what is going to come next!

However take these layouts home, then what do you do?  Operate?  I think not, you would be board out of your brain in about 20 minutes, little to no shunting potential.

Are these type of layouts encouraging the hobby?  or encouraging collectors in the hobby?
IE they look great, got to get one of those, wish I had a train like that. etc.

Usually I go to an exhibition and ask, hey how did you do that, blah blah.  Well at these two exhibitions, I didn't ask one question.  Mmmmmm!

Having said that Alice Springs has been set up to handle the exhibition circuit, not quite double track. However it can be converted to an serious operating layout, simply as to how its operated.

The Hobby manufactures, get to show their wares at exhibitions.
Its the perfect place to make a sale, the real thing is right there operating, you can go to a provider and purchase your very own model of the one you just saw operating on layout X.  Cant get better synergy than that!

In fact at the last Caulfield Exhibition we had a modeler ask where we got our turntable, I explained the brand and type, and stated I had seen one at a shops stand X and off they went to purchase the table.

The hobby might not be as flourishing right now, if it was not for manufactures.
They take a big risk, for a hopeful return.

Having said that, if it was not for the hobby they would not have a profit.

Peter Waterman (UK pop song producer and O scale UK modeler) maybe a nut case?
Stated that without the cottage industry the hobby is dead, and I see his point!
I saw this interview on youtube, He is extremely passionate and also realistic about the time taken to accomplish such a large undertaking.

Modelers that see a gap in the hobby that they cant buy, be that, point rodding or signals, buildings, That the large manufactures cant or don't want to make a dollar from.  But are needed to finish "their" layout.  Thus, take it upon themselves to make extras and sell them at exhibitions.

Everyone gets a chance to finish "their" layout!
Cottage industries save the hobby, by plugging the gap left by the big manufactures.

Then there are the manufactures that seem to forget that they are where they are because of modelers, collectors seem to get a free ride.

I noted one manufacture, complaining that they could not set up right away on set up day, there was a reason, Layouts and bits and pieces were streaming in and their stand location was across one of the larger access doors at the time.
I remember an organizer state to the manufacture "you only ever turn up at 6pm, so right now you will have to wait until everyone as unloaded"
Unfortunately, the manufacture was not happy, even when they were able to drive right up to the door to unload, while layout exhibitors had to carry layout sections from a long way away!

I don't think some manufactures get it, if there is no hobby or exhibitions, they may have little or no additional income etc.  Layouts bring 90% of people through the door.

As a side note, when it came to pack up time, the same manufacture was out the door in less than 15 minutes flat!

This Brings me to another point, I saw lots of Green and yellow notes being exchanged for Tranoramas 830 / 48 class sale.  (I am guilty of getting one for ultra modern), $220 a pop seems like a good idea. But its not a must.

Austrains had a fantastic walk up price on their current NR and G class models that could not be beaten.
I think Jon was a trail blazer for the industry, when Auscision was still in short pants.
If you need stacks of NRs for a modern image layout, last weekends exhibition was the time to do it!

The attendees at this weekends exhibition, would have at least a passing interest in trains, and a competitively priced NR would be one of the cheapest way for anyone to get into the Australian Model Railway Hobby.  So it the perfect combination of saw it this morning on the way to the exhibition, able to purchase a model of it at the exhibition.
There is no doubt that the NR class moldings are a sign of their time of construction, however they still has separate hand rails and hoses etc, working ditch and marker lights.  The model is heavy and able to take a beating....

So, are Australian Model Railway modelers becoming detail snobs?

There is no doubt that modeling Australian Railways is expensive, how ever you have to look at the big picture, if you need alot of one model to create the right era, do you need all the bells and whistles?  Could you do with a model with a little less detail, at a lower price?

For me the answer is yes!

We are starting to see this in the US model railroad industry, with Scale trains offering different levels of detail for the appropriate price.

So are we a bunch of demanding modelers, - collectors, who like layouts with double track and no points?

I hope I am wrong.....



  1. Interesting thoughts.

    One observation that I offer, I lived for a couple of years in the USA. There the motivation for attending an expo was entirely the various vendors. I would attend a regular show in Maryland that would be about three times the size of Liverpool and it would have on average, about a dozen layouts, mostly modular layouts of enormous dimension but generally poorly executed. The layouts would occupy less than 15% of the floor space. The remaining 85% were various business ranging from the very large company, shops to small retailers. Interestingly, very few cottage industry players with "bits".

    Thanks for the post.


    1. Hi Dan, Thank you for your comments, its interesting to compare the US and the Australian Hobby markets. I wonder if you could have a successful exhibition in Australia that was a 85% industry vs 15% layout split.
      I reckon that the US market is in a much more advanced and very mature state than in Australia, there are lots of splinter groups, to focus on every part of the hobby. All coming together in the one location, with lots of new releases, probably makes this work in the US.
      And all of this is reflected in the US lifestyle and the layouts you see in the US Model publications.
      It seem that most if not all the layouts in AMRM are exhibition style layouts (And these days nothing after 1990). Could this reflect that there is a perception that the only place to find featured layouts is at an exhibition?

  2. Hi Fizzo. Interesting. I watched the Waterman interview. I agree. He is nuts, but in a good way.

    I don't know that "point-less" layouts are a bad thing for the hobby. As you know I'm a bit of a fan of Geoff Small's. (Mullet Creek, Whereisit, Odwalls,Smallden Curve and others)layouts. Geoff likes building layouts. He is not as interested in operating although he built Whereisit so that he would have something to operate at home. However most of his other layouts are exhibition layouts. He's main enjoyment from the hobby comes from building layouts.

    Re manufacturers, I take your point, but I can see why they can become a bit surly too. I remember a couple of years ago a bloke going off his nut at Austrains about a model he claimed he had sent back to them claiming they hadn't had replaced. He was getting so nasty that two security guards were standing by ready to chuck him out. Just when it was about to get out of hand one of the guys from Auscision came over and informed the guy that he had sent his model to them and not Austrains.

    Manufacturers also get a lot of grief about damaged goods,delays in production etc. Anyway they may make a buck out of the hobby but they earn it too.

    Finding the right balance between detail and price is a tough one. I know you're salivating at the prospect of your RDCs arriving from Rapido. And why? Because they are going to be exquisitely detailed at a reasonable price!

    I think that a significant number of us are modelers who like watching trains running through a nicely built layout, particularly if we recognize the location.

    There are quite a few nsw layouts that fit this bill. Yendys may not be an actual location but they have certainly nailed some highly recognisable Sydney metro design elements and knitted them together nicely. Mungo Scott is a good location based layout too. And Mullet Creek is as good a representation as you're ever going to get in 12 or so feet of the real thing.

    Are we detail snobs? No doubt many of us are. As Peter Waterman said. If you're doing a small layout detail matters. On a large one, not practical.

    Viva la difference. Cheers Doug

  3. Hi Doug

    Thanks for your comments, at Caulfield we actually voted for Mullet Creek as best layout Exhibitors choice! I think he did a great job of the water. His favorite part of the hobby is clearly building exhibition layouts and good on him.

  4. Interesting read Scott - I always enjoy getting other people's views on the current state of the hobby. It gives us a good reason to reflect on our own motivations and observations.

    I like your point about the double-track mainline theme. Unlike the UK modelling scene, where space in the home for a model railway is at more of a premium, I get the impression from the layouts featured in AMRM and that I see at exhibitions that we're not really forced to come up with an alternative to the double-track mainline standard in Australia. Sure, there are exceptions as you've mentioned and I've seen a few Australian point-to-point layouts in people's homes, but the exhibition scene does seem to lend itself to what a friend has termed the "slot-track" design.

    Last year I had to move interstate for work, which meant leaving a 3-bedroom house for a 1-bedroom apartment. With fewer rooms I had to ditch the intermediate junction station roundy-roundy I was building. To fit into the new place I built a small, inglenook-style layout, using the Oz-32 competition this year as a motivator to actually finish it, seeing as I'd spent two years on the previous one and was only up to track laying. I have to say that despite being smaller and with only two operators, it was challenging to keep an interesting shunting puzzle going for the crowd, and have a meaningful chat with people who showed an interest in it. Part of me yearns for the ability to just select 'forward' and let me sit back for a while!

    Regarding the split between layouts and retailers, the Thornleigh (EMRC) exhibition a few years ago was almost split 50/50 between layouts and retailers due to one of the exhibitors pulling out. While I definitely benefitted from having all of the stores I needed under one roof, the absence of other layouts was noticeable. Not a direction I think the Australian market could sustain beyond a single event.

    One aspect that I think bodes well for the hobby in future is the rise of online groups such as those on Facebook. Not being affiliated with a club, I've found one of the online groups in particular through Facebook to be quite useful in getting help with materials, scenery, scratchbuilding and just learning new techniques from others. Through the existing exhibitions I've ended up meeting most of these guys from the group and viewing the models and layouts they've been working on in the flesh. Can't forget the blogs either, though I find them to be less conducive to a conversation if you want to find out specific aspects of what the modeller did beyond what they've listed in their posts.

    Good to read everyone else's thoughts on this too. As long as we keep getting quality layouts and a healthy mix of retailers I'll still happily pay to go along.


    1. Hi Ben , thank you for your detailed comments, space for a layout is always at a premium. As they say nessesity is the mother of innovation. I would like to see some of your work. There were two young guys a Hobsons Bay this year with a small NSWGR layout, really liked their approach and captured the feel of suburban Sydney really really well. I have also been looking at a small layout to hone my scenery skills. Definitely not contiuious run! I think the UK exhibitions are the best reprentation of individuals work, with small layouts the skill base is more concentrated, level of detail can be lifted right up there, and people can be easily inspired, "oh wow, I wonder if I can do that in the space I have". I personally find Facebook hit and miss, sometimes a post for information gets hijacked "I saw an elephant" "I saw one too". "I have three elephants and they run great". "Elephants are great but I have a tiger". And it goes on..... There is no search functionality so you have to scroll endlessly through stuff to get what you want. Blogs can be searched and off topic comments can be omitted if needed. Facebook definitely has a place, Barcoola has a Facebook pace. I appreciate your insight Ben, thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    2. Small world Scott, those two guys with the small NSW layout at Hobson's Bay this year was my brother and I! I've got a blog going for it here:
      Was nice to see A Town Like Alice in person there too.

      You're spot on about the Facebook thread hijacking. It's like watching a rope disappear off the side of a boat and knowing that even if you try to grab that last metre or two, it's well and truly headed for the deep already!

      Have you tried the search field under the banner photo on the right-hand side in the Fb groups? I've found it works fairly well, and even delves into replies to posts. It does rely on the item you're looking for being named in either the description or comments though. See how you go :)