Why is the hobby in trouble?

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crook

New Member
Quite often on various message boards the subject of the dire straights the hobby is in these days, a lot of pessimism and doom and gloom out there. Why exactly is this? Why is the hobby in trouble?
 

SpaceMouse

Fun Lover
I've only been in the hobby for a year. In that year I've seen a lot of jockeying for position in terms of acquisitions, but that is true in a lot of business today. While it may be in a slump, that fact that there seems to be a market and certainly money for R&D, it seems that the hobby is not destined for extinction in the next decade.

However, MR seems to be a hobby that caters to Gen Xers and older and for that reason may fizzle out as they die off. But that can be said for a lot of hobbies like cowboy action shooting.
 

tenwheeler

Member
I'm with Chip. The young folks today are computer oriented, and as close as they get to a "model" hobby is with radio controlled cars and planes. Sure, there are exceptions, but the numbers just are not there for the future of model railroading. "Operations" sort of catches their attention, but not for long.

In MHO, the industry "missed it" (big time) last Christmas, when the Polar Express was released. It looked like Lionel only produced a token amount of Polar Express train sets, with little or no marketing involved.

I wish I knew the answer....

Bob
 

jacon12

Member
Like Bob, I wish I knew the answer also. If you divide hobbies into 'inside' and 'outside' types with model railroading falling into the former, of course... it is hard for it to compete with the computer. Especially games. It's hard for anything to compete with it for that matter.
Other factors are cost and space but you all know about those already. As for myself, the engines I'm interested in are dcc with sound and the amount of space taken up by my layout is far beyound the 4x8 foot piece of plywood.
Jarrell
 

RCH

Been Nothin' Since Frisco
I'm not so sure the hobby is in trouble. There have been more products released in the past few years than in decades past. The products run the gamut from high end RTR brass to low end RTR plastic, from $50 caboose and rolling stock kits to $9 shake-the-box kits. From DCC, Sound, Computer driven programming and operations to the old reliable rheostat controller and hand-thrown turnouts, from code 100 snap track to Central Valley turnout kits and Micro Engineering flextrack to handlaying templates to prefabricated handlaid track to Proto87 finescale, it's all still available and more available than ever before.

And the quality of the products... far better than we ever had it before. Today we can argue over which SD40-2 model has a higher level of prototype fidelity than the other. 20 years ago, you were happy to have the Athearn SD40-2 or the GSB SD40-2! Couplers are better, wheels are better, electronics are better and smoother and more reliable. Rolling stock is designed to connect to other cars to form more train than comes in the set.

Most of the old brick and mortar hobby shops are disappearing around here, and I suspect elsewhere, too, but the ones that are still around are selling at prices you could only get through mail order just ten years ago. And they are also taking advantage of new markets like ebay, which is the equivalent of a well-lit display case in a 24 hour, 7 day a week store that's located on every street corner in the world. And that brings me to the most important piece of evidence that the hobby is not in decline: the internet.

When I had trouble with broken couplers or a locomotive that was wired backwards (I reassembled an Athearn F7 the wrong way once as a kid and didn't know what the problem was), the only person I could turn to was my Grandpa. I got through the growing pains and became an experienced modeler. Not everyone can get through that stage without giving up, especially if they don't have a ready source of knowledgable help. So, in the 80s if you tried HO railroading with a Tyco or Bachmann set and there was a problem, you either bought more stuff or repaired what you had or stored it away not to try it again.

Today, when a beginner has a problem in model railroading, they do what anyone else who has a problem does: they Google it. And Googling it brings them here, to the trains.com or Atlas forums and they get their questions answered. They also get encouragement, they get inspiration, they get knowledge, they get experience, and all of it comes free of charge. They can learn at whatever pace they choose.

Sure, the internet has its faults: there are curmudgeons, show-offs :)o pot, kettle, black...), know-it-alls, gurus, newbies, foamers, and even the occasional troll, but even with all that, I'm not sure my level of participation would be near as high without the internet. I am positive it would not be as fulfilling, and I am positive I wouldn't have met some really good friends.

But, these games and their subcultures are exactly the same thing, so it's impossible to say one is better than the other as far as the internet/social world is concerned. I do know this about XBOX and computer games: I can only kill so many aliens or race so many European sports cars before I'm bored and mentally exhausted. On the other hand, model railroading, with its many facets, is something I can dive into or retreat to. One facet can provide relaxation from another facet or simply relaxation from the "real" world.

In summary, I don't know how long the hobby will be a viable business enterprise for companies like Atlas or Lionel or Red Caboose or Branchline, but with the quality products I've purchased over the years, it will be with me for the rest of my life.
 

CBCNSfan

Registered Member
Staff member
I believe Ryan has summed it up pretty good. Model Rail like just about everything else is some what cyclic in that it has it's peaks and valleys in participation and product manufacturing. At present we are seeing an increase in more accurate and detailed models with electronics added, all adding to the prices. We have this because that is where the market is at present. People who are already involved with the hobby are fueling this market with a need to improve the realism of layouts. The downside of it all is the decline in the low cost models and equipment which is mostly where the beginner starts out, therefore we will see a decline in in the numbers of new people entering the hobby. This effect is only temporary as someone will realize there is a niche in the low end that can be profitable, and the cycle will start again. Anyway that's the way I see it :D

Cheers Willis
 
Trouble?
Too many 'Limited Runs. Too much HIgh Priced R-T-R and too few $2.00 to $5.00 kits. DCC is great, but not cheap. I can afford the controllers but not the locos. If I wasn't already in the hobby, I wouldn't be in it at these prices. I couldn't afford it.

Irv Athearn, where are you when we need you....
 
I haven't seen it, my LHS is even booming! They got a new building a few years back, and within a few years of that they were losing aisle space to more products! Earlier this year, they went through a major renovation, with a great bnoxcar on the fron!
Trouble? Where!
 
I just read the news today that the oldest (42yrs) LHS here is closing its doors Saturday. The owner states there isn't any younger traffic, all the kids want is to go to Toys-r-U, Wally World etc and open the box, turn the knob and go. It's getting rather sad the in a city this size you are almost forced to buy on line. We Mom and Pop stores of all kinds back!
 

Russian

Saskatoon railfan
I sure hope this is a temporary problem as Willis mentioned. I myself don't think so. It's be intersting to see an age breakdown in our hobby. I think it would be an upside down triangle with most elderly people and few young kids.
 

RCH

Been Nothin' Since Frisco
Russian said:
I think it would be an upside down triangle with most elderly people and few young kids.
I think you're right, Roman, but the same could be said of golf, stamp collecting, and maybe even classic car restoration. That's not necessarily a bad thing - older folks have more disposable income.
 

mtrpls

Ignorance is Patriotic
I'm 25 years old, and consider myself the 'future' of the hobby. I grew up around trains, being exposed to them every Christmas when we set up the Lionels around the Christmas tree. It was something to look forward to every year.

Today, I model a modern-day interpretation of the New York Central in HO scale, and consider my craftsmanship top-quality. Not to brag or anything. Being in my mid-twenties, I believe I can offer some insight into why this hobby is dying (YES, it IS dying, don't fool yourself).

1. Foamers. I'm sorry, I'm sure you're all great people, but you're just not something younger people want to model themselves after (no pun intended). I've been to enough train shows, exhibitions, and hobby stores to see this in action. Every foamer I've run into either has a gut that hangs three feet out over his belt, looks like he escaped from the nursing home, or is mentally retarded and "likes trains". *Creepy* Have you seen how the younger kids look at all the older guys in the hobby shop? They're like, "Oh, so NOT cool".

2. Mega mergers have sucked all the character out of America's railroads. Give me the days when our nation had dozens of major railroads in their respective regions of the country; today we're down to a handful of Class 1's. BORING. Today's railroads: Union Pacific, BNSF, CSX, NS are basically Wal-Mart on rails. No character, no charm, no individuality. Just a mega-corporation whose primary mission is to build shareholder value. BNSF, your new logo sucks, your entire railroad sucks. Give me back BN and SF!!!

3. Today's railroads are seen as "dead" or a "dying industry". It's true. The rail networks have lost so much market share to the trucking industry that some towns barely see a train per day. Most people correctly figure that America's railroads' glory days are over; they built the west, were mega industries vital to the flow of goods in our nation in the early 20th century, but now they've been relegated to the history books. Intermodal is a start, but the railroads need to make much more progress in taking back the transport of global freight.

4. Trains are seen as TOYS. Something to set up at Christmas. Cheap plastic crap that you run around on a boring circle of track, and they always derail and uncouple! What the hell?! Give me the video game console, please.

5. No marketing to kids. How many of you have watched childrens' daytime TV or the Cartoon Network? Prime time for kids, from 2PM to 6PM when they are sitting in front of the TV as a captive audience. Where are the commercials for train sets? Why isn't Athearn or Walthers advertising their RTR train sets? Maybe show the trains in an exciting, super-active environment (like commercials for GI Joe, Power Rangers, and other action figures) where the kids are having a BLAST with the trains.


So, these are my top five reasons for why this hobby is dying. It seems as though all of the products are geared to old farts. And, quite frankly and with no offense, that is how the people in this hobby are viewed: old creepy guys who like trains.

No offense to anybody here if they found my words to be harsh, but I am merely speaking my mind from a youthful perspective. Maybe you should listen to the younger people, design and market your products to them, and not allow your selfishness to force this hobby to die with your generation.
 

modelbob

Administrator
You know, I've been in this hobby and subscribed to Model Railroader for over 30 years now.

During that time, I've heard that model railroads are dying. Here's a few of the reasons.

Slot cars (talk about dying hobbies)
r/c cars or planes
television
videogames
computers
skateboards

The death of steam locomotives
The death of passenger trains
The death of the caboose

Other reasons:
Poor quality models
Too expensive models
Lack of competition
Lack of interest in scratchbuilding or kits
 

modelbob

Administrator
> Today's railroads are seen as "dead" or a "dying industry". It's true.

Where were you in the '70's? You want to talk dying railroads? Check out what the industry looked like in that decade! While I was studying hard to get into the railroad engineering field most folks thought I might as well have been studying dinosaur wrangling.... Compared to that, today's railroads look so healthy it's unbelievable.

Railroads are definitely not a dying industry. Compare today's volume to that of 20 years ago. Take a look at the expansion projects under way and also look at the number of commuter rail systems. Railroads are back and doing just fine, thank you very much.

> Mega mergers have sucked all the character out of America's railroads.

Nah, that happened when they got rid of (Pick one: )

Steam locomotives
Passenger trains
Pullman Cars
Railway Express Agency/Railway Post Office
The Caboose
Way Freights
Station Agents

Granted, they're sure a lot less friendly than they were, but it's been a gradual and evolving process.
 
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modelbob

Administrator
So, what's my opinion?

I think model railroads are coming back, though they'll never be as strong as they were back in the 40's and 50's.

Here's the big trends I see that are responsible for the comeback.

DCC and sound systems, that's by far the most important thing, also
Great looking and great running ready to run models at decent prices
Good kits and pre-assembled structures at decent prices
Ready to run models with Kadee style coouplers
 

IronBeltKen

Lazy Daydreamer
Whether anybody says this hobby is "dying" or not, it's very much alive TODAY, so I'll keep on building layouts and running trains as long as I'm breathing and have full use of my eyes and hands. And I'm sure there will always be people glad to make a living selling stuff to me and my fellow modelers, and if not, I'll learn to build my own like I did before.

To H*** with all the gloom-and-doom, I come to places like this to be inspired, NOT filled with despair!:mad:
 

mtrpls

Ignorance is Patriotic
modelbob said:
The death of steam locomotives
The death of passenger trains
The death of the caboose
Younger people could care less about steam locomotives, they're 'nostalgic' at best...something to run past the ceramic 18th-century Christmas village set up under the Christmas tree.

modelbob said:
Where were you in the '70's? You want to talk dying railroads? Check out what the industry looked like in that decade! While I was studying hard to get into the railroad engineering field most folks thought I might as well have been studying dinosaur wrangling.... Compared to that, today's railroads look so healthy it's unbelievable.

Railroads are definitely not a dying industry. Compare today's volume to that of 20 years ago. Take a look at the expansion projects under way and also look at the number of commuter rail systems. Railroads are back and doing just fine, thank you very much.
I am very well aware of the 1970s, and today the railroads are doing much better. Agreed. But this is a tidbit that only people close to the industry or the hobby would know, somebody like you or me.

What about the common people, particularly younger people whom we are trying to attract to keep this hobby strong? Most of them, if not all of them, aren't intimately knowledgable about the railroads or their history. Most people I talk to, particularly the thousands of young people I have gotten to know, are under the impression that railroads are a 'has been' industry, a fallen flag, having fallen from their glory. The troubles with AMTRAK only further solidify this notion. Not to mention the hundreds of thousands of big-rigs on the highway as opposed to the occassional train.

Lastly, are you suggesting that railroads have fully recovered from their slump and have regained their former glory and prominence in American industry? I'm not so sure about that, I think there's a long way to go and a LOT MORE FREIGHT that the railroads can win back from truckers.
 

mtrpls

Ignorance is Patriotic
CSX_road_slug said:
Whether anybody says this hobby is "dying" or not, it's very much alive TODAY, so I'll keep on building layouts and running trains as long as I'm breathing and have full use of my eyes and hands. And I'm sure there will always be people glad to make a living selling stuff to me and my fellow modelers, and if not, I'll learn to build my own like I did before.

To H*** with all the gloom-and-doom, I come to places like this to be inspired, NOT filled with despair!:mad:
I agree, perhaps "dying" or anticipating an all-out death is a bit extreme. It's not a black-or-white issue. Most certainly, in my opinion, this hobby will enter a recession after the older MRR's exit the hobby without a sufficient supply of younger MRR's to replace them.
 

Russian

Saskatoon railfan
I got to agree with mtrpls. I've met lots of people trackside though and not all are really old. Some are even in their 30s!

I guess what drives my modelling isn't that modelling appears to me, but trains do in general. So modelling sort of comes from there.

Old people is what you think of when you think of people in the hobby. Even trackside I remember railfans setting up with many lenses with fency tripods waiting for the perfect shot, while I ran around rather frantically with my snap and shoot camera, then getting on a bike so that I could get around faster. Have taken a few pictures while on the bike too. I've been on a bike for as long as I can remember though, so don't recommend that.

I have a lot of respect though for those I've met trackside and personally. It's always good to know that there are crazy people out there who love trains as much as you do, no matter what their age is. And when they get together crazy things happen.:p
 

IronBeltKen

Lazy Daydreamer
CSX_road_slug said:
To H*** with all the gloom-and-doom, I come to places like this to be inspired, NOT filled with despair!:mad:
:eek: That must have been my evil twin ranting like that...!:eek:

mtrpls said:
I agree, perhaps "dying" or anticipating an all-out death is a bit extreme. It's not a black-or-white issue. Most certainly, in my opinion, this hobby will enter a recession after the older MRR's exit the hobby without a sufficient supply of younger MRR's to replace them.
Yeah, the numbers will probably shrink, and the overall 'character' of the hobby will be different from what is currently is. I'll adapt some way, I'm hoping...
 




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