On Scope – Nostalgia and Youth

On Scope – Nostalgia and Youth

orgive me for a “You kids get off my lawn” post, but I’m feeling that way today. I don’t want to go into the details of why – I’ve had people get pissed about things I reflect on and don’t feel like taking a lot of heat on this. But here we go.

For whatever reason, I’ve come to realize that many of the younger modelers have come into this hobby by a different path than I. While I wasn’t one of those tin-plate kids, I did start off with an HO layout I remember to this day my dad and I built. Control panels with Atlas slide switches. Two cabs (so amazing!). And even (as I’ve mentioned in the past) throwing a dice to determine where each car went. Just fun.

But I also remember flipping through those Model Railroaders while dad designed the next big layout, seeing pictures of a station operator (with a coat and tie) hooping up orders. I remember thinking it was so cool that the dispatcher would arrange for two trains to meet at a passing track in the dead of a rainy night, with brakemen with slickers tossing the points over and slowly waving their lanterns for their train to proceed. It was all part of railroading.

As I got older, I’d play Avalon Hill Game Company’s “B&O/C&O”, a dispatching game I’d play solo because none of the other kids had an interest (there was an earlier simulation by them, “Dispatcher”, which was out of print by the time I was interested but I got a copy in my later years).

I grew up with the image of railroads where brakemen were whistled up onto the roof walks. Of hobos playing banjos in the dark corners of rocking forty-foot boxcars. Of interlocking towers lining a route and setting the signals (in reverse order, mind you). And those new-fangled hump yards with retarders slowing the freight cars down. It was railroad movies like Southern Pacific’s “This is my Railroad”, company PR pieces with optimistic music while the narrator boasted of “a network of rails from coast to coast”.

It was even hobby shops with coffee urns heating on Saturday mornings, of meeting fellow modelers in the shop, of bull sessions and industry rumors while we blabbed away the hours.

But now I notice that the young under-forty crowd can’t relate to this at all. A bunch of us old hoggers were talking about the methods of whistle signals to communicate to crews, to send out flagmen or call for signals. The younger members of the club were simply not interested in this at all – it was an alien version of railroading. But what hit me was that they had nothing to counter it with. They didn’t know how actual railroads might communicate – oh, sure, radios, but what words and phrases are used. How were orders given? To them, it’s not so much they are simulating a time and place but are only running trains. Frankly, I don’t see any understanding or appreciation to true railroading. Oh, they might know the stats of a new diesel or the business move of a railroad conglomerate, but they don’t seem interested in actual railroading: how it’s done, how it can be simulated, and even how railroads truly work.

I mentioned to the club at large that I got a book on classic railroad stories, all of them written between 1900 and 1935, each of them capturing what it was like on railroads back then. Nobody reads no, of course, so there were no takers on my offer to loan it out. It seems that they’d rather speed-balance their engines, purchase the latest graffiti cars and talk about DCC. Is there any interest in actual railroading at all? Is there any interest in the world I knew back then?

I don’t think so. And from their point of view, creating a fictional 1962 Pennsylvania town with an interlocking tower and a train order station is just weird. It gets in the way or running trains.

Alas, I think this is what getting old is all about.