Why is the hobby in trouble?

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Wannabe Engineer
As another young'en speaking up, I being only 26 don't think this hobby is in that big of trouble. At the last big show I went to in OKC I saw honestly a mixture of all ages and noticed a lot of guys there my age buying stuff. One thing that everyone has to remember is that us young guys that are just now getting some good income after college are more looking into buying our first place to have some real room but with the way housing is in some towns on new salaries can't afford a whole lot of extra room. I know I won't be able to buy a house for a little while because I want to pay off most of my college debt first.


Not dead yet!

I would bet every generation laments change in what is special to them. Dad always said that rock and roll s_ _ _ would never last! :eek: I myself am trying to get my grandson to sit down and build something with his hands all the time.
Here is an example of what time, patience and $2.00 can create. Tyler got this model for that price at the train show here in town last year. And with only a few pointers on neat glueing is well on his way to his first layout.


Ya got to reel e`m in when there just young! ;)
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New Member
That is a great photo. One of my goals in coming back to the hobby is that I want to be able to share it with my children as my grandfather shared it with me.


Fleeing from Al
Nice model. I wish I could have done that well at his age. :) Unfortunately, I have no grandchildren yet but, when and if I do, I will sure do what I can't get them into the hobby.


This is a fascinating thread to me. I'm 33 years old - not the youngest guy here but near the shallow end of the bell curve - just like my brains...

My warm months hobby is sailing - I've lived aboard, cruised, raced, and sat on the board of directors of the organization that oversees sailboat racing in the Gulf of Maine. Go to most sailing forums (www.sailinganarchy.com - not safe for kids or safe at work but great content) and you will read about how sailing is dying. And it is. I don't know if model railroading is dying, but I suspect that it is.

The biggest problem with model railroading is that its very passive at a time when most younger people are looking for exciting ways to pass the time. I don't buy that its the cost - in the sailing world cost was chalked up as one of the reasons fewer boats make it to the starting line but a real cost analysis demonstrates that the real cost hasn't risen much and in some ways has fallen. I suspect the same is true of model railroading. There have always been people with the money to partake in an activity and those without it. That isn't new. As far as space goes, the reality is that the average American (my apologies to our oversees friends; I don't know enough about the housing market elsewhere to comment) has more space available to him than ever before.

I think there are three problems:

1. Building a model railroad is slow, contemplative work. When the sailing industry did studies about why kids weren't into sailing, they described it as too boring. This is a sport where you are active, outside, moving around, competitive, etc - if sailing is too passive for kids, model railroading is doomed.

2. The geezer factor. I may alienate all of you here but Mtrpls is right: when your average young person walks into a train oriented hobby shop or show he's struck first and foremost by how uncool and old everyone is. I'm not advocating for coolness. I couldn't do cool if you stapled it to my forehead. But as our teens and even tweens are totally into image, which in this case means Brittany Spears and her ilk, we don't stand a change.

3. The geezer factor, redux: Most people in the hobby have been in the hobby a while. They have great, big, fancy, period correct, operating layouts that run so realistically that CSX ought to be taking lessons about keeping their trains running - Which makes building a layout seem unnecessarily difficult and threatening to the newbie. As I went through what seems to be the newbie progression: buy loop of track and train off e-bay; decide I want more; pick Atlas Spaghetti layout; come here and ask for help about how to build it; get good natured advice that Atlas only wants to sell track, 4x8 sucks, operations must be realistic, if you have the wrong dynamic brake grills on your locomotive you are not fit to breath the air John Armstrong did, etc... I learned the following things: my model railroad must be complicated; it must be accurate in all ways; I must not settle for the way things come out of the box, but must be prepared to spend $$$ and time (which for those of us not retired IS money) to build, and modify, and weather, and...

Guys: you're shooting yourselves in the foot. If you came to me and said I'd really like to go sailing, what do you think of this temperate little boat, and I said, no, you'll grow right out of that, what you need is this sixty foot boat! You race it all by yourself, non-stop, around the world every four years, buy that instead - I'm guessing you buy neither. When I came to this forum I also sought out my local clubs and was very excited to build my layout. I had a step by step plan to build a nice 4x6 walk around table, and space for it. I had a plan to lay track and be operating trains by mid-December so that I could play trains with my mother's beau, who is also a Railfan and was coming to visit.

What do I have now: nothing! :) I got talked out of my newbie plan, talked into planning something more appropriate and made to see that at this point in time building a layout isn't in my cards.

Be careful of this - the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Just as a person who wants to learn to race a sailboat should be taken sailing on a nice warm non-race day, you need to remove the apparent barriers to entry in this game.

All of this last is aimed at the guy who gets past the first two problems - as I did. The hobby may not compete with the Playstation for kid time but you need not to drive off those who come willingly.

As for me, my model railroading will happen on other people's layouts for now. I found a nice N scale layout locally to run trains on and a local railroad museum is building a great layout I'll contribute to. Otherwise, I'm going to be racing radio controlled cars with my step-son. Couldn't engage him on the trains...

Your mileage may vary,



The Flange Squeal
i am psyched to see so many people in their 30s and 20s into the hobby. i always thought of myself as a minority being 36. this is truly inspirational.


New Member
I do not think this is uncool to the Tween crowd. I just got a small Lionel set at Christmas for my kids (well, ok...for me). They are 10 and 8. They were pysched about the train under the tree and I showed them some ideas for a small ping pong table size layout. My son helped me paint it and put the track together. We haven't done the trees and roads and buildings yet, but my daughter and son both are excited about learning how to do that. I will be learning too!

My son also has lots of legos and wants to make some buildings and cross-overs with them. He has a castle and dragon that he wants to put on the layout. I think the key is to let them do things the way they want to.

His friends were over the other day and they like playing with the train and switches and such. They thought it was pretty cool.

One day, I might have a true depiction of a real layout some place, but right now, I am just going to learn about different ways to do scenery and wire things and have fun with my kids. It may become uncool to them when they are teens, but maybe not when we start doing different wiring schemes. And if it does, at least I will have fun and I bet they come back to it when they have their own families!


My thoughts

I took my 7 year old son and his pal to a model train show. They are both a little short for their age, but none of the displays were short enough for kids to see very well. They both mentioned everything being too tall, and that they were among the few kids. Gentlemen, I understand little fingers touching, but try plexiglass.

If you want to get kids into something, invite them. I would not have even heard about the show had not my wife's grandfather told us about it. If I were a marketing guy at one of the model companies, I would seriously think about kids that age, Thomas is too young for them.

My son now has the itch bad and we are building an HO scale layout. He is on a mission though, he told me "we need to be able to move it, and it needs to be low enough for kids to see". When I asked him why must it be mobile he said "they need some kid layouts at that show, and we'll let kids try the engine before they buy them." This, of course, will complicate my project tremendously, but I have to admire his civic-mindedness.

But I am sure everyone on this forum has a kid that would help him put together a house, or a new coal car, or a tree if asked. It will not be perfect when it is done, but I speak from experience when I say the kid will definitely enjoy it. You all might enjoy it too.


Armchair Engineer
I for one do not believe the hobby is dying. There is more available to the modeller now than ever before. Electronics is progressing very rapidly to make all our lives easier and prices haven't gone up terribly when you look at ads in old train magazines. The membership at my club is at an alltime high. We have a good number of kids as well as young adults and older experienced members. There is a wealth of free information on the net and places like ebay where there are deals to be found. Still though cost is a big factor, especially for young kids trying to get into the hobby. I haven't even started a layout yet and have spent thousands of dollars on equipment. For a young kid this is not even an option to think about. Also most forums on the net are geared for adults. There needs to be more involvement for children, perhaps even a special topic here, just for them, where they can ask the advice of the veterans. Without sparking the interest of the kids this hobby will die. At our club we hold a clinic every meeting for the kids and they love it. So do the members that instruct the clinics. It keeps them interested and they then bring there friends who bring there friends. That is how this hobby will stay alive for generations to come.


Coal Shoveler
Well, I turned 50 last year. Like many, I had a Lionel set when I was a kid. I got a fair amount of use out of it, and even today, I remember what I liked about it and what I didn't like about it.

I also remember being a kid in the '60s, and what kinds of toys I had. I also recall the '90s, when I said "I never had these kinds of toys when I was a kid."

Today, I think the demographics have changed. Many of us were exposed to model RR as kids, but we inevitably drifted away when other things came to be. Some stayed, but most didn't. Today, we see many coming back.

There is a lot more things out there today for kids to do than when I was a kid. Lot more distractions inside the home. For me, my distractions were going outside; I didn't have Nintendos and the Internet.

I think introducing kids to model RR today, even though we know they probably won't stick with it, will lay a foundation for the future. The market really isn't geared towards the teens and 20s, it's down the road, in the 30s and 40s. I got back into it because I wanted a hobby that will take me through the retirement years; serious paintball (the previous hobby) wasn't going to cut it. Not to mention I can afford it now on a regular salary income.

This is not to say that we shouldn't welcome the younger folks into the hobby. What I am saying is that it's not necessary to predict doom and gloom because we've not made much headway into that demographic.



New Member
The future is just that! Don't sweat the small stuff. I have no memories of Grandpa or Dad working on model railroading. I started in the hobby due to a Christmas gift from my lovely wife. I remember it well; talking to her and mentioning that we grew up on a military income and always wanted to have a train set. That same year she made my dreams a reality and had all pieces for me to get up and running with an Atlas basic set of True-track. My railroad memories are of those GP 38-2's running along the track next to our rented house. Childhood memories I will always treasure! My son is now 5 and shows much love for the model trains. I let him help as much as possible not to get him to be a modeler one day but to share father and son time. To me the problem is just simply no interaction with our children!!!!!!!!!!! If he breaks it I'll fix it and keep on loving him! Try having family night and it doesn't have to be model railroading (but it sure is fun). I enjoy this site for the ideas and talk --- thanks for all the posts and help.


The Sarcastic Jedi
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.
I think this is a large part of it too. I remember as a kid watching Saturday Morning and afterschool cartoons during every group of commercials you always saw commercials for GI Joe, Nintendo, and Transformers for the boys along with Barbie, Cabbage Patch Kids, and My Little Pony for the girls. Tyco still made model train stuff at the time (80s to early 90s) but the only products they advertised were their RC cars and you never saw commercials for trainsets or any model railroad equipment. If you were in scouts you saw articles about model railroad projects but no ads for Model Railroad equipment in Boys Life.

So you have at least my generation and maybe the one or two after who their only initial exposure to model railroading is minimal and usually limited to either toy train sets at Christmas or a layout set up somewhere like a local museum.


New Member
Take a look at many of today's kids: their span of attention is not much longer than a cartoon between two commercial break, and many feel that they're entitled to being entertained without participating. It's sort of a passive Generation, and model railroading is an active hobby.

Add to this that many families don't have the money at hand they used to anymore, and hobby allowances are among the first items that get slashed.
Not much left to say from whats already been said. The core problem is while todays models are very nicely detailed and quality has improved, well depending on whom you talk to that is. The price of admission into the hobby while may be cheap on some avenues, its not generally cheap if you look at it. Nor is it cheap to expand your roster of rolling stock and locomotives. Thats where the beauty of shake the box kits and locomotives like the BB Athearns came in for so many years. You could ad to your collection without much cash outlay and not many had to have the highest quality stuff when all you needed was to make your trains bigger. Now days you just cant do that easily anymore. Although, that may be more of the markets fault then the manufactures that make the products. They make what sells and if cheap cars dont sell, no point in continuing production. Its not much of a win/win situation. But its a shame none of the less.


Long Haired David
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!
I own a model shop in Ipswich, UK - what you would calla Mom and Pop shop given that I run it with my wife. We specialise in scale plastic kits but see the same problems as the US, I guess. Within our town, we have three model shops! One is a large general store that really specialises in Radio Control; one is a pure model railway shop and then us. The other two shops are really stand along in the town except that the owner of the model railway shop does attend a lot of shows so he has a secondary outlet.

We could not exist if we just lived off the walk in trade. . We have a great bunch of regulars who enjoy a coffee in the shop on a Saturday and, thank goodness, they are keen and eager for all the new kits that are released. Since a TV program which covered making a full sized plastic kit of a Spitfire aircraft, we have seen an up-tick in parents with children wanting to have a go, which has cheered us up and made us restock on some of the more basic kits available. However, there is not enough business in a town of 250,000 people to give us a living.

Through advertising in national magazines, we have built up a good business in mail order sales - no, not internet - mail order. As the demographic of most hobbies is rising, we find that a lot of our customers don't have a computer, don't want a computer and quite a lot don't even want to use credit cards. We compete with both discount and non-discount mail order/internet sites but find that most of our customers appreciate, given that they don't have a LHS, someone who knows the hobby, is IN the hobby and can give a wide range of advice.

We do have an internet shop but it is about half the business of the telephone and quite a large percentage of that is overseas buyers who have the same problem of LHS availability as in the US. We did try EBay and it was quite successful - not for kits but for the 'nuts and bolts' of the hobby - glues, paints, tools, etc. However, we found the some EBay customers were excessively demanding and the process very time consuming so we dropped out.

We did go into the DCC market for about 18 months but found, again, that the demands of the customers for support was rather more than we could manage on a day to day basis. We aren't set up for 30 minute instruction on how to reset the controller or install a decoder. We also found that installing decoders was a quick way to lose all of our spare time in the evenings and weekends for very little profit.

Our business is starting to grow again having slowed over the last 18 months so maybe things are getting back to normal.

Just our view from the other side of the pond.

BTW, I have an HO shortline in the garden shed and a portable N switching layout which I put up in the kitchen. Check out http://www.gmrblog.co.uk



From where we stand, I don't see a problem.

We just returned from the Barrie-Allandale Model Railway show, while attendance was similar to last year, sales were way up.

As for our shop, sales, both in the shop and online are up. We ship world wide and it seems the only area were sales are flat is the USA.

The USA seems to be still way down and with their banking system and governmental procedure, world experts think it will take a much longer time for the USA to rebound. Some say they will never return to their position of dominance.

I know for us, our sales Canada wide, to Australia, New Zealand, Britain, Europe and South Africa are on the rise. While we have had zero to the US. A weak US dollar combined with a strong Canadian dollar is probably the reason.


I know for us, our sales Canada wide, to Australia, New Zealand, Britain, Europe and South Africa are on the rise. While we have had zero to the US. A weak US dollar combined with a strong Canadian dollar is probably the reason.
Maybe with all the shops in the US, people in the US don't think to shop at Canadian stores unless they are looking for something that a Canadian store would specialize in.

But I don't know what your historical customer base looks like, so that's just a guess...


Actually Beachbum, before the US economy melted down we were shipping tho the USA, several customers were buying the two Canadian lines, Osborn Models and Juneco Scale Models.

But since the American collapse, nothing much, less than 25% now. While the rest of the wolrd market has almost doubled.

From an outsiders point of view, the USA is in very bad shape, worst than American news is willing to report.

vato loco

Just a Foolish Saint!
My 2 cents worth...

As a Husband, Dad of a 13 year old son and being a 42 year old grown up going on 13:p, I'll grow old but I refuse to grow up! I agree with some the youth of today have way more choices of hobbies and sport than us older generations did! As a big kid myself, I will not think twice about trying other hobbies, sports, and even video Gaming. You only get one chance at this life and damn it i want to try as much of it as I can with my son before I die!!!:) Why envy a generation for having something you don't......:confused: If ya got the funds and time I say try it. ya might like it:D

I've been in and out of MRRing many times in my 42 years to try other hobbies...Tropical Fish Keeping, RC Planes, Boats, Cars and Trucks, Static Modeling and Model rocketry. Sports...I've done Fishing, Raced Mountain Bikes and now Me and My son are trying Airsofting. All of which compete with my limited funds. But the great thing about hobbies is that you can come and go at will.

In short All hobbies and sports have their ups and downs......Live with it!

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