Are we real model railroaders?

When I woke this morning I had planned to write an article about a very different subject. But upon opening my Facebook feed I was greeted with a post I made on my wall 5 years ago, concerning the topic of “Are LEGO® Trains considered real model trains?” The post was spurred by a Eurobricks discussion going on at that time. Bellow is my entire post on the subject from January 2012 (excuse the typos). I found it very interesting to see what my thoughts on the LEGO train hobby were back then, compared to where we are now.

Are LEGO Trains considered Real model trains? That question has been a hot topic of discussion on the Eurobricks recently and has proven to be a tough one to answer. It’s one I’ve given a lot of thought to recently as I’ve strived to push my hobby ever further.

I guess it really depends on what your definition of a real model train is. Is a real model train one that must be as hyper accurate and perfectly scaled as possible? A model where every rivet is in perfect scale and every one is accounted for? If that’s the case then no, LEGO trains are not real model trains. LEGO will never reach that level, it’s just not in the DNA of LEGO. There will always be compromises in the world of bricks that keep us from fully reaching that goal.

However I don’t think that is the answer. So what really is a real model train? I think one of the things being confused in all the discussion is the distinction between model trains and model railroads. A model train is just that, a model of a train. It can be a single locomotive, or car, or a full rake, but the emphasis is on a singular model. It can be made out of what ever materials the modeler wants to use at any scale they wish. I believe best model trains should adhere to scale and authenticity as much as possible within their given medium and in that regard I think LEGO Trains can hold their own pretty well. Sure the stock sets LEGO sells are more toys than true models. How ever that’s not true modeling, that’s just collecting. It’s the MOCs, the custom models, that are the true models and there are certainly some absolutely great LEGO train models out there. So yes, LEGO trains in my opinion can be classified as real model trains.

Now when you start talking model railroads, that’s a tougher row to hoe. A model railroad is made up of the sum of many different parts and model trains are only one small part in the equation. Truthfully model railroads are not very realistic. The modeler always has to make compromises based on space, and budget, and time. There is no way a modeler will ever be able to accurately model the true scale of a real railroad with it’s sometimes hundreds miles of main lines and vast operations. The curves will always be sharper the main lines shorter and the faculties compressed to fit the space. The modeler must choose his battles and take artistic license when designing the RR empire. With this in mind I don’t believe a model railroad is really a model at all, at least not in the classic modeling sense. I believe that at it’s heart and at it’s best model railroading is an art. It’s an art relief that combines the train model, scenery, structures, details, and and the model railroaders passion to create something that captures a moment in time, and place. To freeze a a little slice of the real and interpret it for it’s viewers. Model railroads such as Howard Zane’s Piermont Division or George Sellios’ Franklin & South Manchester do just that and are two of my biggest inspirations.

There have been a few LEGO train layouts out there that I would consider true model railroads by my definition. But they are few and are so far the exception. I don’t even consider my own clubs PennLUG layouts to be a true model railroad. At least not yet. But that is all part of growing the hobby, and growing in the hobby. We all must start some where as greatness is not achieved with out hard work and dedication. I believe that PennLUG will get there. I’m proud of how far we’ve come and I’m continuing to drag the rest of the club kicking and screaming toward my nefarious goals. And I believe the rest of the LEGO train hobby will get there to. Can LEGO be a serious model railroad? Yes, I think it can and I’m looking forward to proving it.

So I think a lot has changed in 5 years in our hobby, but my thoughts on whether LEGO trains can be considered real model trains or real model railroading remain much the same. I stand by those thoughts and will continue to do so. But what has changed is that our Hobby has collectively stepped up, and has pushed the idea that LEGO trains are real model trains, and that a LEGO model RR can be just as legitimate as one in any other model RR scale. Here on Brick Model Railroader, in the month we’ve been live, we’ve already seen some great efforts at LEGO model railroading that strive to prove that notion. Elroy Davis’ Matson’s Landing, and Vinnie Fusca’s Lewiston Branch both set out to build complete model railroads in LEGO form. Possibly one of the biggest inspirations to the LEGO model railroad movement in the last 5 years,  Ararat 1972, by Timothy Gould and Mike Pianta has graced our front page to remind us again of its impact. And my own club’s train layout, The PennLUG Lines, has come quite a way from where we we’re at in 2012. I didn’t feel we we’re quite at the true model railroad level yet back then, but today I would put our layout against any that the more traditional model railroad scales have to offer.

PennLUG’s train layout from Brickworld 2012. A nice looking layout, but still missing some elements to make it a true model railroad.
A scene from PennLUGs train layout at Brickworld 2016. We’ve come a long way and can say that we are a true model railroad.

I’m very happy to see that our LEGO train hobby has grown and matured in the last 5 years. More people and groups than ever are embracing the ideas of model railroading and adapting them to LEGO. I think we are just as legitimate as any other model RR scale and we are proving it. Model railroads such as or George Sellios’ Franklin & South Manchester, and Howard Zane’s Piermont Division, are still some of my favorite inspirations, and some of the very best that model railroading has to offer. But we are proving that we can be just as good, just as detailed, and just as inspiring. One day hobbyists will look back on the work we are doing and draw inspiration from us.

I want to leave off with one final thought though. Much has been made in this post, and others on BMR, about “scale LEGO trains” and “LEGO model railroading”. It’s easy to get wrapped up in these concepts and forget the most important aspect of the hobby. The LEGO train hobby is about enjoyment. It’s about having fun with trains, it’s about doing something that brings you fulfillment, it’s about sharing your love of trains with others, and it’s about celebrating what we love about trains in LEGO form. We here at BMR may be biased sometimes to the more scale side of the hobby, but that isn’t the only way to enjoy it. Remember, as long as you are having fun, and you are happy with your path in the hobby, you’re doing it right. Now let’s see where we can take this hobby in the next 5 years.

2 thoughts on “Are we real model railroaders?”

  1. Cale, I couldn’t agree more. I don’t recall seeing your original post, but it’s as relevant today as it was then. Really well written, too. Give it time and this blog play a big part in dragging the world “kicking and screaming towards your nefarious goals”. 😉

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