The Many Life Skills Model Railroading Can Teach

by Arthur Limes

While browsing around in the model railroading community on forums and sites like Twitter I have noticed many adult males ask a particular question. Is model railroading a nerdy activity that is mostly aimed at children? To answer this simply, model railroading is a hobby that is suitable for all ages and can actually teach you many life skills. There are certain aspects of this hobby that most children or even teenagers just could not do as they require time and dedication to learn such as wiring up the tracks or designing a locomotive from scratch.

Designing and building a layout can be straightforward or a very creative and complicated process depending on what approach you use. The 3 main approaches you could use in increasing difficulty are:

  1. An "all in one" kit that is ready to run out of the box. This means that all the components such as locomotives, rolling stock, scenery and tracks are already constructed. All you need to do is link the components together on a layout.
  2. A "shake the box" kit where all the components are included in an easy to assemble form.
  3. The last one is either craftsman kits or raw materials that you use to build the whole layout from scratch.
The more experienced you become the more you will want to challenge yourself. Choosing number 3 from the list above can involve woodcarving, painting, electrical skills, machinist skills and possibly a few others. Learning these skills can be a lot of fun when in the context of model railroading. Not only can you increase your ability to customize your layouts, but also learn things that are useful for other areas of your life. Read on to find out how learning additional skills would be beneficial to you.

I bet you never thought your History classes would come in handy

The more enthusiastic model railroaders like to build layouts that are historically accurate such as the .World War 2. era or the steam train era. Getting the details factually correct can take a lot of research and attention to detail. This is not only limited to the locomotives and rolling stock, but to scenery also. In fact when showing off your completed work to non model railroaders it is usually the scenery that will explain to people what your layout is about.

When researching for the layouts you will also learn some cool train history lessons along the way. However a more important benefit is that your research skills will improve and this skill can be transferred over to other parts of your life.

Ever thought of painting your own model trains?

While the mechanical features of your locomotives and rolling stock are important, it is the visual impact that they are able to exert that is most important in order to impress people checking out your layout. Learning how to paint the train models gives you a lot of control over the design. This higher level of control is beneficial because it allows you to customize your layout to whatever your imagination is limited by. This creative aspect of model railroading can keep people making new models and layouts for many years.

Typically there are two main approaches to painting your train models which are using spray or a brush. Spray painting more of a mechanical process whereas using a brush allows for a much higher level of detail and customizability. However using a brush requires a greater level of skill and takes longer to learn. Learning this type of painting has other benefits such as doing DIY work on your kitchen furniture among other things.

Create your scenery using woodcarving

Being able to create your own scenery components without any limitation using wood carving techniques is not only a very rewarding process, but also allows you to create impressive layouts. Using wood you can make figurines, buildings and even the whole landscape. Then using your painting skills you can adapt the scenery components to fit your particular theme. Wood carving skills learnt during time spent on model railroading can be transferred over to many other useful projects such as carving out a toy to give to a child as a birthday present.

Learn how to wire up a layout

Wiring up a model railroad layout is a more technical aspect of the hobby as opposed to the creative sides such as choosing a locomotive or arranging scenery components. At first it might seem too much of a chore to learn the electrical skills. However when building your own layout it is a vital skill to learn in order to ensure that your trains run smoothly, fire effects work, switches switch, light go on and off, signals change, smoke blows and whistle effects work. Even if you choose to get an .all in one. kit to build your layout there will often be problems of an electrical nature. Knowing what to do in such cases will make your model railroading experience much smoother.

Electrical skills learnt whilst building and maintaining your railroad layout can come in handy in a large number of situations. Such as fixing an electrical appliance in your home or doing some car maintenance that requires wiring of some type.

Consider building your locomotives from scratch

The high quality locomotives and rolling stock that are manufactured by reputable brands such as Bachmann and Lionel primarily use metal. Learning machinist skills will give you the ability to create models from scratch. It will not be easy to master such a skill to the point where you can build high quality model trains. However for the more enthusiastic model railroader this is a skill worth investing a lot of time and effort into. Learning machinist skills gives you the added benefit of being able to do a high number of DIY activities such as repairing a car.

For those of you not interested in completely mastering machinist skills, you could make an effort to learn some aspects of it as this will allow you to do some important repair or maintenance work on train models that you might buy.

Selling model trains to fund your hobby

Now that you roughly know what it takes to build your own models and layouts from scratch you can consider doing it for the purpose of selling them. The money earned can be reinvested into model railroading in any way you see fit. This will give you even more freedom to build bigger and better layouts. Before searching for a venue to sell of your goods do the following:
  1. Clean the items you wish to sell. Nobody will appreciate buying a set of dirty model trains.
  2. Next inspect all your items for any damage and repair to the best of your ability. Any damage greatly reduces the price.
  3. Take many pictures, this will increase the sales price because it will allow people to see what they are buying clearly.
  4. Do some research at places like Amazon and eBay to give you a better idea of what your stuff is actually worth.
The best places on the Internet to sell stuff in a very quick and safe manner are eBay and Craigslist. Offline alternatives include auction houses, gadget shops, toy shops and model type shops.

Making the decision to invest in skills For most people this decision will be based on what it is that they get out of model railroading. The people that only enjoy looking at the finished layout in full working order hardly need much investment of additional skills. Instead buying an .all in one. kit will be the fastest and simplest way of achieving what they want. Whereas the model railroaders that enjoy the building and customizability aspect of model railroading will gain a lot from investing in the skills mentioned in this article. In closing I would like to say that what you usually get out of a hobby is what you put into it in terms of effort and enthusiasm.

For additional information check out Model Railway Layouts where you can download a free e-book called 7 model train mistakes to avoid.

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