The decline in the number of model railroaders?

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Frank

Active Member
I have to agree with what the majority of people have said - the hobby is in decline and will continue to decline for all manner of reasons.

I don't think you can use a "show" to illustrate the popularity of the hobby though. I may be wrong but many people attend things like that because they are "there" or "out of interest" but not necessarily because they are engaged in the hobby itself. The on thing that numbers at a show to give hope to is that "some of those people" might actually take the hobby up and help expand its survival.

Lloyd,

You are, of course, right - not ALL model railway hobbiests (is that even a word?) belong to forums, so forums can't be used to evaluate (accurately) the level of interest in the hobby.


You got THAT right !!!
I wouldn't consider a show to be illustrative of the popularity or lack there of. I'm fortunate enough to live relatively close to a large show, but the show itself draws in people from Canada as well as the PNW, so, that's a large geographic region to be drawing people from. There's I think 3 significant shows within 50 miles of me at various times during the year. It's where I wind up buying most of my stuff.

That being said, the folks I talked to last year when I attended were saying that the show itself was growing and that they'd had to expand into another building to hold the displays and vendors.

IMHO, getting people to attend shows like this is probably one of the best ways of promoting the hobby. Second really to having a friend or close relative that's serious about it. You get to see all of the things that are possible and there's usually folks there that have all sorts of helpful suggestions about how to get started.

Personally, I'm intrigued by those tiny layouts. Especially the ones that fit in a coffee table or a suitcase. And I was astonished at how good lighting has gotten since I was playing around with using tiny incandescent bulbs 20 years ago. Those campfires, welding lights and signs have gotten really impressive.
 

chessie_system3

Well-Known Member
Being that I'm most likely one of the young ones here. I'll give my two cents. Something even my wife has pointed out to me. The hobby itself is expensive! I fall victim to the price of the hobby. You can't get a cheap train set anymore. Even the one with a simple 36" circle of track is $100. That's without any bells and whistles. A locomotive maybe 3 cars and a power pack that ain't worth anything. eBay you might get lucky but you have to stay on it all the freaking time! Even then cheap stuff is outdated and will need work to get it somewhat to a decent standard. Without any knowhow you won't know what to do with the older stuff. And I agree that there ain't interaction with trains anymore. I find my interest was peaked by interacting with trains at a young age. It worked as I was hooked. I did the same with my daughter. Who cried when she saw I had taken my layout down. So she is hooked. If you never had interaction with trains you aren't going to be interested in the hobby. My brother has even stated he don't see the excitement of watching a train go in circles. It's me re than that. But he makes a point. He didn't have the interaction with trains like I did. So there lies the difference. My wife is the same way. She was never put into a position to interact with trains. I'm a firm believer that to keep the hobby alive starting with the young ones. Peak their interest and they will most likely keep that interest. Not saying that it's a fool proof way as it may not work in every case. I just know in my cars it works. My daughter loves running trains like I do.

Justin
 

Hawkesburytrain

Well-Known Member
Justin,

I never had a train set, never been on a train and was never around trains and today I'm building a 40' x 20' layout and that just because I bought a house and didn't know what to do with the basement. Funny thing, last night in our hangout we talked about that and 4 out of 9 didn't grow up around trains, all they wanted is a hobby.

You are right about getting kids involved, but they won't be very interested if all they do is watch it go round and round. You need to get them involve in craftsmanship. Get them to build a house, a street, what ever scenery they want to build. Once something done, you get them a freight car. That's how you would get to grow the layout.

As for price, there's a Facebook page about budget model railroading, some very good ideas a very low cost or no cost.
As for know how, lots of information on Facebook and YouTube.
 

chessie_system3

Well-Known Member
Justin,

I never had a train set, never been on a train and was never around trains and today I'm building a 40' x 20' layout and that just because I bought a house and didn't know what to do with the basement. Funny thing, last night in our hangout we talked about that and 4 out of 9 didn't grow up around trains, all they wanted is a hobby.

You are right about getting kids involved, but they won't be very interested if all they do is watch it go round and round. You need to get them involve in craftsmanship. Get them to build a house, a street, what ever scenery they want to build. Once something done, you get them a freight car. That's how you would get to grow the layout.

As for price, there's a Facebook page about budget model railroading, some very good ideas a very low cost or no cost.
As for know how, lots of information on Facebook and YouTube.
I couldn't agree with you more. Building broccoli trees as my daughter calls them with her is a fun endeavor. like I said my situation may be different may not be what works and doesn't work. And budget railroading is something I've done a lot of lately. Hence my sacred sheet layout. I never finished nor got close to finishing and it's tore down. But getting back to budget railroading. Most people if not all come into the hobby not knowing anything. Much less thinking to look at budgeting for a model railroad. Shelf prices at the local hobby shop is enough to run some away I'm sure.

Justin
 

Selector

Well-Known Member
Being that I'm most likely one of the young ones here. I'll give my two cents. Something even my wife has pointed out to me. The hobby itself is expensive! I fall victim to the price of the hobby. You can't get a cheap train set anymore. Even the one with a simple 36" circle of track is $100. That's without any bells and whistles. A locomotive maybe 3 cars and a power pack that ain't worth anything. eBay you might get lucky but you have to stay on it all the freaking time! Even then cheap stuff is outdated and will need work to get it somewhat to a decent standard. Without any knowhow you won't know what to do with the older stuff. And I agree that there ain't interaction with trains anymore. I find my interest was peaked by interacting with trains at a young age. It worked as I was hooked. I did the same with my daughter. Who cried when she saw I had taken my layout down. So she is hooked. If you never had interaction with trains you aren't going to be interested in the hobby. My brother has even stated he don't see the excitement of watching a train go in circles. It's me re than that. But he makes a point. He didn't have the interaction with trains like I did. So there lies the difference. My wife is the same way. She was never put into a position to interact with trains. I'm a firm believer that to keep the hobby alive starting with the young ones. Peak their interest and they will most likely keep that interest. Not saying that it's a fool proof way as it may not work in every case. I just know in my cars it works. My daughter loves running trains like I do.

Justin
Justin, I do understand your position and what you mean about costs. However, to put a bit of perspective on the matter, how much does the latest middle-of-the-road (not the most expensive version currently available) smart phone cost on an average plan, not the platinum data plan? Most plans offer last year's top-of-the-line phone plus the minimum $40/month data plan for an outright phone purchase of between $200-500, depending on the phone offered and how desirable it still is once the newest one is up for sale. When all added up, your new last-year's smart phone and its data package, the smallest bundle the company sells, runs about $1000 the first year, and $480 the second year. The first year you have to pay for the plan, it's monthly data costs, and the phone. The second year, only the data plan monthly subscription. I mention this because virtually all of us have something like that phone plan...the minimum plus either a pay-as you-go, or an unlocked phone, and over the two years you have it until your contract is up and you elect to replace that horribly outdated phone, you are paying for about six locomotives and train sets. Plus a new DCC system. The expense you don't think twice about is the phone. ( I don't mean YOU you, but 'we', as typical phone users). And granted, it's far more important to all of us. But the paltry $100, what I spend for my internet and phone, minus cable, at home each month is something that we carp about for what is only a hobby. We'll have that $100 locomotive long after we've moved on to Phone 2020 and 2022. But we'll have spent well over $3000 on the phones and their yearly plans.

To an extent, I agree that exposing younger people to model trains early is important. However, if you were to poll all 100k kids exposed to their uncle or their older brother's, or their dad's or grandpa's toy trains when they were still able to sit on those larger laps between last year and this, and handle a throttle, and then poll them 30 years later, they'd tell you that it's all just a dream...maybe when they retire. Very few kids who played with their dad's trains go on to play with them themselves in later years. Maybe two or three in ten, but possibly less. Eventually, yes, but long after their kid's tuition and first home down-payments have been met as help. But, like me, I went on to telescopes, photography, classic music CD's, racing bicycles, and only latterly back to trains when I retired. By then I was able to afford the type of locomotives and rolling stock that my retirement allowed, and those run me an average of $299 for each of my BLI steamers. Walthers heavyweight passenger cars run about $40 heavily discounted these days. I need at least six of each for each passenger locomotive, meaning I currently have about $1500 into passenger cars alone. I never paid MSRP, either, always discounted by at least 30%.

So, what am I getting at? Discretionary income, whether for that latest all-singing, all-dancing blue sapphire smart phone, or it's distant much poorer unlocked cousin, and the plans that enable them to work, even pay-as-you-go, or for those crappy train sets, are only permitted by the value that we assign to them RELATIVE TO ALL OTHER EXPENSES. And that's all these expenses really are...they're meant to be after all much more serious and recurring obligations. So, nobody owes us anything, least of all help in getting into our preferred hobbies by undercutting their own business and taking a beating so that we can run trains. Nobody lasts any length of time selling at cost unless they have very deep pockets and can find other ways to keep them full. In our hobby, most suppliers, and their importers, need to make money for investors or for a living for themselves.

Is the hobby expensive? To a young couple who are early in their relationship and having to count pennies, yewbetcha. Been there, done that. It wasn't until I was swimming in a lot more discretionary income that the goodies began to come. And when you think about it, it's this older dollar that has kept the steam locomotive so popular, still, in the hobby. Us old codgers are making a very healthy market for them. When your time comes, and we're all pushing up garlic and tomatoes, you'll want those prized diesels from yesteryear, and you'll drive your market as we did. Meanwhile, there'll be those who lust after train sets because that's about all they can leverage away from the dutiful and fretful wife who wonders how she's going to get the dress for your Christmas party at work.
 
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chessie_system3

Well-Known Member
Ok so if expenditures and liquid funds are the issue there are other ways of doing things. Take in point. This is where me as a model railroader differ from others I'm sure. My first layout I was 14. It was a 4'x4 sheet of plywood I found in a barn loft. My second I was in the army. I used pallets and boards off a parts crate. Third was a piece of plywood I found outside at work. I don't shoot for high end locomotives. My most expensive one on my roster was $90. My first layout I actually bought the lumber for was the one I just took down. At the time I built it I was making $10 an hour. My heart is in this hobby so much so I've always found a way to stay in it. Maybe a couple years of running on the kitchen table here and there but I've stayed with it. I have a budget I go by. If I can't afford it one week or month I wait. Yes it sucks but I wait. I don't invest in high end smart phones. My phone plan is $35 a month. I have always found way. But that is me and everybody is different. My daughter is set already for trains if she wants them down the road. I have in place locomotives and rolling stock I don't use as well as track. And my experience I'll pass on to her. I'm a firm believer that if you want something bad enough you go out and get it. Make goals and achieve them.

Justin
 

chessie_system3

Well-Known Member
So my last post doesn't get misunderstood. I'm not flaming up here. But the moral here and I think it's evident. It comes down to two things: desire and financial obligations. Are you willing to give up that expensive phone for the expensive locomotive? Tuition payments for college. I'm lucky I have my GI Bill in which most do not but college tuition most won't even get paid off until well into retirement. So I see that point. The dreamers. You can always make a dream reality if you do your digging and find answers. There's no shortage of that. Youngsters will fall away from the hobby. I know I did. Girls were a thing as a teen. Yeah I had my layout but it sat non running. It wasn't until I was 21 that I returned. I guess I had the determination to make it work on my crappy private first class pay. I made it work. It's all on the would be modeler I suppose.

Justin
 

Selector

Well-Known Member
Exactly, Justin. Something is only expensive when we yield to the stark reality that it is justifiably beyond our reach. I live on a serviceman's pension, and even though I am well into retirement, I have obligations that many retirees don't have. I took on a lot of debt after I retired to help out my youngest to go through grad school, and my middle child needed a year's living allowance and tuition for college as a dental chairside assistant/technician. It put a lot of things out of reach for my wife and me. I can't really afford even the refurbished returned locomotives that BLI sells unless I take the money allotted for something else. In that respect, anything that costs more than a couple hundred dollars is expensive, whether it's a new sports watch with WiFi capability, a new camera, a new car, or a new roof.
 

wombat457

Well-Known Member
Staff member
The what seems to be an escalating cost within the hobby, presumably as a result of, or in part due to, the introduction of "modern technology" has made it more prohibitive to many people, including those already in the hobby. There is a huge difference between buying a $60 or $70 DC engine compared to even a cheap (on sale) $175 DCC engine, let alone a top of the line DCC with Sound $400 one.

As someone said - even going into a toy shop to buy a "train set" now can't be achieved under $100 for anything remotely respectable and for filling. I'd hate to sit back and think about how much I have spent on the hobby over the past 5 years, especially when you take into account things that may get over looked like timber and screws and adhesives and foam and so forth.

It certainly isn't a hobby that can be fully explored if you have financial constraints, and that could become frustrating for someone in the hobby and off putting to a person wanting to enter the hobby.
 
I would still argue that you can start small and have a lot of fun, even on a budget. You could buy a used Atlas GP35 in your favored roadname for about $40-$50. Buy some used or new rolling stock, since new rolling stock on sale can be as cheap as $11 per car. So for perhaps for a $100, you could have a neat little consist that looks and runs pretty great. Add a used MRC Tech II controller for $20. Get a Kato Unitrack V11 kit for $76.99 (N-scale) and you're good to go. Add Kato expansion kits and more rolling stock as future paydays allow. Any hobby is going to have a start-up cost. Compared to Lego sets, console games, monthly dataplans, I think model trains fare pretty well.

Plus, there's always sales . . . MTS had a 35%-off Kato sale two months ago, and I got a DCC-with-sound loco for $86! Another month, a brand new Walthers GP38 for $40! And Scenic Express always has their annual Black Friday sale with 20%-off all products (and no sales tax if you're not local), and it seems no matter how much stuff you buy, the shipping is always only $10!
 
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montanan

Whiskey Merchant
Crandell - I can see where you can have concerns about the cost. I do feel fortunate that I started my layout around 30 years ago. I did purchase most of my locomotives and rolling stock when I started construction. I started hand laying my track and turnouts (code 70) because it was a lot less expensive than buying them. I did have a number of dealerships with distributors such as Walthers which saved me a lot when buying locomotives. The majority are the first gen Atlas Alcos that came out with the Kato drive.

Now I look at the prices of some of the locomotives and rolling stock and cringe. DCC was not around when I started and I do still operate DC as I really have no need to run multiple locomotives. My original DC Atlas Alco locomotives cost me I am guessing around $40 each. I recently got an Atlas Gold RS-1 with ESU LocSound. $280. I got it mainly to fun at my model railroad club but still costly.

Over the years I have helped a few people get into the hobby and instead of a "train set" I always recommended getting a decent quality locomotive. Most train sets do not have the best locomotives in them. A lousy running locomotive can be frustrating for someone new to the hobby.

I am lucky enough not having any debt but still am scared away from some items because of the prices. Does a youngster have the bucks to spend on a three to four hundred dollar DCC locomotive. I doubt it.

All things considered, someone can get their feet wet in the hobby by starting off with the basics and getting the feel of the hobby before trying to build an empire at the start.
 

Frank

Active Member
The what seems to be an escalating cost within the hobby, presumably as a result of, or in part due to, the introduction of "modern technology" has made it more prohibitive to many people, including those already in the hobby. There is a huge difference between buying a $60 or $70 DC engine compared to even a cheap (on sale) $175 DCC engine, let alone a top of the line DCC with Sound $400 one.

As someone said - even going into a toy shop to buy a "train set" now can't be achieved under $100 for anything remotely respectable and for filling. I'd hate to sit back and think about how much I have spent on the hobby over the past 5 years, especially when you take into account things that may get over looked like timber and screws and adhesives and foam and so forth.

It certainly isn't a hobby that can be fully explored if you have financial constraints, and that could become frustrating for someone in the hobby and off putting to a person wanting to enter the hobby.
I think that a large part of the problem are people who are living paycheck to paycheck because the best job they can get is paying minimum wage and having the rent check eat up half the take home. Doubly so for folks that are working multiple jobs in order to make ends meet because the local companies are too cheap to hire one person for full time and go with two people for part time.

For other people, it's mostly a matter of learning to budget. Unfortunately, that's not something that's taught very well and the banking industry is comprised of some of the worst pirates since actual pirates.

For me personally, I use a smartypig.com account to set aside the money that I need for my layout. I'm really looking forward to the train show in Monroe, WA next February and I'm setting aside a small amount of money each paycheck so that I have funds for that.

I definitely get that there are people who really are on a hugely tight budget and I do get that it's a larger number than during the golden age of model railroading. But, by the same token, some of these people are choosing to do things like drink alcohol and smoke which are a massive waste of money. Likewise, most people don't really need a cellphone, they can get one of those charity rate internet connections and buy a used handset to talk via internet and save a bundle. Or get together with a couple neighbors for a shared connection. I personally have one because I need it for business and in case I drop my motorcycle, but I'd much prefer to not have one at all.

Realistically, the more hoops people have to go through in order to get involved, the less likely they are to get involved as trains aren't just expensive, they're time consuming as well and for those that are working multiple jobs to make ends meet, it's not just the money, but the time as well that they increasingly don't have.
 

chessie_system3

Well-Known Member
I would suppose I'm lucky as I have a budget to work off of. I know what I can afford and I know that even though some locomotives I'd love to have are just out of my ability to afford. I settle for anything for the most part under $100. Even then I can only do it once in a blue moon. Usually my cap is around $50-$60. Most of my power I purchased in that price range and they look decent and run decent. Sadly I used to live paycheck to paycheck as well. Not to mention living in apartments. Can't exactly move coal on a switching layout. I guess I could but it wouldn't be as interesting. I think that's why I have some boxcars and grain cars in my inventory. Just in case scenario. But I model within my means. I'm lucky to have a great paying job too as I only have to work a single job.

Justin
 

Hawkesburytrain

Well-Known Member
Frank, you're absolutely right on.

I'm a financial planner, I help everybody learn the in's and out's of money. The first thing I teach is to pay yourself first. You work hard enough, so why not put money aside for you. The logical number is 10% of what you make and if you can't, well drop a few percentage, at least you are doing something for you. Once this is done, you then plan all your expenses with what is left. I thought my daughter the basic principal and today at the age of 32 with 6 kids with only one revenue being hers (air force) everybody is happy. They have one computer and one cell phone, kids learn to play outside and help their parents. All I'm saying is what ever life style you decide to have, it's your decision and you'll have to live with the consequences (money wise).

This hobby is as expensive as it was in 1950, so is gas, milk, rent, etc, it's called inflation and add to that technology. Rule of 72..... 72 divided by 4 (the average rate of inflation of the last 60 years) is equal to 18, this will tell you in how many years cost will double. Therefore, if something costs $5 in 1950, it would cost $10 in 1968, $20 in 1986, $40 in 2004 and $80 in 2022, so if a DC locomotive in 1981 costs $50, that same loco would cost $200 today. With today's technology would you pay $200 for a DC locomotive? To say that today's prices are expensive, well they're as expensive as they were in earlier days.

We all have our hiccups in life but being a positive person, I see my glass as always half full. There's always a light at the end of the tunnel and tomorrow is another day.
 

Frank

Active Member
We all have our hiccups in life but being a positive person, I see my glass as always half full. There's always a light at the end of the tunnel and tomorrow is another day.
We do and for the bulk of the people in American society, this is a hobby that they can get into if they set aside the money over time. It might not be one of those super-elaborate ones that people build in basements, but I'm working on a 3'x2' modular layout and it is rather expensive, I'm probably going to be at least a grand into it before too long, but my first train in recent memory was roughly $130, for a simple loop of ez track and a non-DCC train.

That was a new train off Amazon, I'm sure that if I had been knowledgeable enough to buy one off of eBay, a swap meet or a possibly a pawn shop that I could have gotten it for less.

All the other things that a person might need or want can be added piece by piece as money comes available.

There are unfortunately an increasing number of people who are at the bottom and can't rise above that without somebody else falling behind, but if the hobby is falling out of favor, I don't think they're the reason. People should object to the working poor being allowed to be poor while still working full time for other reasons.
 

Marlin39

Member
This hobby is no different than any other. Different generations follow different things.

I was a competitive shooter and collector of pre-WW2 leverguns. The majority, of today's youth, don't really want or care about any firearm that isn't black, polymer, or semi-auto. It's what they grew up with playing video games and watching tv. Much different than those of us baby boomers. We grew up with cowboys, levers, walnut, and blued steel.

I think the same applies to our hobby. Today's youth were raised on technology and gaming. That's where a lot of their focus is.

I started with my first train set in the 1960's and really hadn't done much of anything for the past 20+ years. I decided to get back into it recently because I got burned out competing. Both hobbies are as expensive as you want to make them.
 

wombat457

Well-Known Member
Staff member
Lots of valid points but tell me this ... what would (or could) you guys have NOW if you were only just starting out in the hobby from scratch, with absolutely nothing but a dream, today? In other words, you woke up this morning and said hell, I want to build a model train layout.

If you can answer that question honestly to yourself, then you might also find, or come close to, the reason/s for the hobby being in decline.

Add to that the huge difference in this generations attitude toward things and what they grew up with - technology in the form of video games, so called social media and cell phones their prepared to spend twice as much on than we are (perhaps) a high end engine.

Ironically, there are two "classes" of people (generally speaking) - those who struggle financially from pay check to pay check, if they have one to exist between and can't afford a hobby any hobby; and, the more affluent who can/could afford the hobby BUT would much prefer to spend their money on the technology and current day trends.

Walk up the street and ask a 16 to 25 or 30 year old what they would prefer ... a $300 dollar HO Scale Engine or a $300 cell phone. Better still, ask them what they would do with say $1000 if they had it and tell them for $500 they could have a little oval DC Model Train Layout and see what they say.

It's easy for us to sit back and say there still interest in the hobby because we are in it and associate with others who are also in it. It's easy for us to say that it isn't financially prohibitive because the majority of us already have the bulk of what we want due to years and decades of building and buying. Ask someone who isn't in the hobby why they aren't and see what they have to say, because it is those people we are talking about and making inferences about.
 
N

NP2626

Guest
It's in decline, no its doing fine and actually growing. In the end, I'm certain it will hold out long enough for me to enjoy until I'm gone and that's all any of us can really hope for. I would like for it to carry on; but, if something else supplants it, there is nothing I can do about it, so I'm willing to let it go. In life, there is really so little we have control of! However, I also understand it is fun to speculate! Have fun!!
 

Frank

Active Member
It's easy for us to sit back and say there still interest in the hobby because we are in it and associate with others who are also in it. It's easy for us to say that it isn't financially prohibitive because the majority of us already have the bulk of what we want due to years and decades of building and buying. Ask someone who isn't in the hobby why they aren't and see what they have to say, because it is those people we are talking about and making inferences about.
It's not prohibitively expensive for most people, it just takes a bit of patience. Sure, saving the $130 or so that it takes to buy a beginner set can take some time, but for anybody interested in the hobby they can get there in 6 months saving just $5 a week. And used systems can be less, especially if you can trade other things for one.

IMHO, the bigger issue is exposure to the hobby. If they can see it as something that they can work on a few dollars at a time and enjoy, that makes a huge difference.

Personally, I'm revising my plans in the short term to be a layout in a cheap rifle case because I had to admit that the amount of switches that my other design required was going to take too long to save for, so this way, I should be able to get a working layout done much sooner without having to go into debt for it.

The costs are great, my 3'x2' layout was looking to cost the better part of a grand, but I'll get there eventually.
 

Aerojet

Active Member
My first hand experience - my granddaughter who is now 25 !! Egad where did the time go? Basically isn't interested in anything but gaming / computers, her degree from UW Wisconsin is in computer Science. Try to get her interested in anything else is impossible. I have tried ham radio, and working with electronics but no go. Something as ancient as trains? There are some kids up at Duplainville, but only a few. I highly doubt that they have pikes at home.

With all the distractions today, and the fact that we are talking the basics of the economy, and they know anything about that either - and it's part in making the country's economy go - there is no interest in it.

When I go over to the hobby shop there are not a lot of young people over there, just old timers like me.

I am not going to live forever, and some days I wonder what my daughter is going to do with all the big layout over there and the investment in locos, cars, buildings, scenery, and all. There is no resale value in the hard work it took to make the thing look as good as it does, nor work flawlessly.

In the end, I expect that there will be a revival of the hobby some day. Nostalgia always has a way of creeping into society, and it will swing back in fashion - in what form I do not know as so many brick and mortar hobby shops have gone the way of the do-do.

The Aerojet
 




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