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Thread: The decline in the number of model railroaders?

  1. Default The decline in the number of model railroaders?

    In a different thread, but still here in the General Discussion group, there is a thread discussing the varying amount of participation on this (and other) forums. But "hidden" in that is something I've never considered, and it ties into the header of this thread: "The decline in the number of model railroaders?"...

    Selector made a comment that (in my opinion) has a very astute observation, and one that I've never considered -- until now:

    "As a population, we are losing ground to the years. My guess is the typical rail forum has a mean age of around 65, whereas it would have been closer to 50 fifteen years ago. Just as steam is losing ground over time, the age of the hobbyist is getting older, and the electronic devices and media favoured to pass time with our youth are of a different nature. Trains don't figure largely so much in people's lives, unless they are blocking traffic somewhere or burning tank cars. Or steering into young high schoolers walking along the tracks with their ear buds firmly planted."

    To me, that is somewhat of a revealation -- "Trains don't figure largely so much in people's lives".

    I grew up in the late '50s and '60s, when airlines were still kind of a novelty and trains were how one traveled long distances -- and short distances, when there were enough people to justifiy it. And trucking had not reached it's current prominence, so many business were located along or near railrosd tracks. I grew up in a small town (pop. 950) in the midwest. Trains were a major part of my life; my grandfather had worked for the railroad, and encouraged my interest in trains. Our house was located on a spur that had an LP gas facility, two grain mills, a very active hardware store, a lumber yard, and a coal yard -- so there was a little bit of traffic almost every day. And they guys on the train almost always waved back at us kids as we watched them work, so there was a bit of human interaction there.

    But now... kids and younger-than-us adults don't interact with trains. Trains seem to haul "bulk amounts" of cargo from one unseen yard into another unseen yard, and the "local" seems to be a thing of the past. As Selector pointed out (and I'm not direct quoting here), the only interaction that most people have with trains nowadays is when the trains are blocking a street crossing. Rather negative way to see trains, for most people.

    I apologize for the length of ths post -- but Selector's words seem to have really opened my eyes, and given me a perspective on one reason why that (seemingly) most of the folks in our hobby are older folks -- myself included, I'm 63 years old.

    Regards to all,
    Tom Stockton
    "If I only had a train!"

  2. Default

    Yes, the hobby has taken a hit over the last few years. Yes, we have manufacturers putting out some tremendous items at a very high cost. And that is all well and good, but our numbers are still falling. I'm 78 and have been working hard over the last 11 years trying to interest people in MRing to no avail. I certainly do wish someone a lot of luck! :-)
    Roger Hensley

    East Central Indiana HO RR & Railroads of Madison County
    - -

  3. #3


    The numbers were in slow decline until around 9/11, and shortly thereafter, when Homeland Security began seeing anybody near a railroad track as a potential terrorist or saboteur. By actively discouraging people from interacting with trains, the numbers have begun to fall faster, now that fewer and fewer people want to have anything to do with trains.
    Meddle not in the affairs of dragons, for you are crunchy, and taste good with ketchup.


  4. #4
    Join Date
    Aug 2016
    Central Minnesota, Park Rapids area.


    Without a method to quantify the statement: "Trains don't figure largely so much in people's lives", The statement is really just a theory. If modern diesels are becoming more and more popular and steam less and less so, who is it that is changing the demographics? I think I see just about the same amount of trains that I did back in the 1950s and 1960s when growing up. I think the impetus for modeling trains is somewhat based on nostalgia for what we knew as kids. I should think this to be part and partial for the increased interest in diesels. However this then becomes just theory, also!

    Model Railroader Magazine used to publish data on who was involved and what they where involved with. This would be an interesting pole today. All of us old farts consider the world to be going to "hell in a hand basket"! Without hard data, what is going on, is simply speculation! I don't doubt that Selector's theory is probably correct. We just really have little to base it on.
    Mark D.

    Opinions given are my own and not meant to ruffle any feathers.
    Northern Pacific, really terrific!

  5. #5


    While I have always had an interest in Model Railroading, dating to the early 1960s. Trains have always figured in my life. I grew up in a declining" industrial neighborhood, where from my front porch, I could watch crews from the PRR and Reading switch cars and industries from dawn to dusk. I could also sit there and watch large cargo ships and warships repaired, refitted, or scrapped. There were also numerous commercial, (and military), aircraft passing overhead about a minute apart. I was more interested in the railroad operation, while my brother was more into ships. There was no way, that Lionel
    could fulfill my need to replicate the real life theater I watched every day. Plus an Athearn or Roundhouse kit was $1.98, vs. the $6.00 - $10.00 Lionel box car. I spent a lot of time watching trains. I ended up working on the railroad, 42 years worth, so I always had an interest in trains. At the same time, my brother never developed an interest in trains, beyond the Lionel around the tree tradition. He did work for the ship yard, until they went under.

    Fast forward to now. I'm retired, and have the time and money, to build and buy what I want. I still follow the industry. My current build, replicates the railroad lines I grew up watching. Meanwhile, the rail line is still there, truncated by Conrail, most industries are gone, the Ship yard, replaced by a race track - casino, the auto parts manufacturer replaced by a prison, and the residential buildings, long demolished. Where I now live, there is but one rail line, with a train every Thursday, some five miles away. yet, there are still younger fans chasing what rail activity there is. Most of them are not active modelers, their jobs and families get in the way, but there is still an interest in mechanical stuff and electronics, that modern model railroading fulfills.

    When I hired on the railroad, back in 1967, there were old heads who told me the railroad was not what it was, and that it was not a good career path. Sometimes I believed they were right, especially as the Penn Central era evolved. But they were wrong. The railroad industry has changed, there are fewer people working there, fewer railroads and fewer lines, and more automation. Our whole country has changed, and change is difficult. But there is still a vast need for rail services, and still an interest in rail.

    One final point. There was minimal organized interest in model railroading, when I was growing up. We were surrounded by railroads, but they all blended into the background with the rest of the industrial dirt and grime. Here in a more pristine environment, with little rail activity, other than the hourly push pull shuttles, there are several organized railroad clubs and a somewhat active NMRA chapter, although they have taken a hit, with the demise of Bell Labs, and the closing of Ft. Monmouth. Seems like the biggest attraction is (and was) from folks with a background in engineering or architecture. and design. As long as these people exist, model railroad will continue to exist.
    No Whimpering!

  6. #6


    I would probably agree. I am 71 and have been working on my layout for years. Also growing up in the 50's and 60's, we did ride trains a lot. As mentioned, airlines were sort of a novelty (and expensive) and the highway system was not what it is now. I had relatives wotking on both the Milwaukee Road and the Northern Pacific and we were fortunate enough to be able to ride first class on wither the Hiawatha ot North Coast Limited to Chicago. I loved train trips. I probably enjoyed riding on the trains as much as getting to the destination.

    The younger generations did not have the opportunity to ride the rails as us older folks did. Travel today is either by air or by car on the interstate systems and rail travel is not on their minds. Also, so many of the younger kids now are immersed in their electronic games and not many have interest in the hobby.

    At the club I belong to, we have open house for visitors every Thursday and Saturday during operating sessions and the younge kids are amazed at watching the trains operate. We even have a few younger members in the club, but that may be because of the location of the club is in Livingston, MT, the home of Montana Rail Link and on one of the main routes to the west coast.
    ................................ Chet

    Video - Switching in Churchill -
    VIDEO Tour of the layout -
    New cab ride -

  7. Default

    I'm sure someone will prove me wrong. I've seen a few indicators that imply it's not all gloom-and-doom.

    1. The train show at Timonium Fair Grounds always has a healthy draw this time of year. Ownership of the shows switched a few years back and it's been revitalized. There is always a line to get in!
    2. Historic railroads such as Wilmington and Western as well as Strasburg do a very brisk business. I think the W&WRR Santa trains sold out quickly.
    3. I took my oldest daughter to a local art museum that had breakfast with the trains event. Two such events sold out. It was for kids and adults.
    4. When Carstens Publications closed, it didn't just close. It was purchased by White Water Productions.
    5. Businesses such as Woodland Scenics are producing pre-made buildings, which I'm assuming are aimed at the instant gratification generation, known as the "Snowflakes".

    These indicators may not sound like much, but the important part is that kids are riding trains, which gives them memories, which will hopefully carry through and give the railroad and model railroad industries a future.

  8. Default

    To add to what Railrunner 130 posted. I attended the recent train show in Plano TX, put on by the North Texas Council of Railroad Clubs in November. It was wall-to-wall people, more than I had ever seen at that show or its sister show in January. I had to park on the grass alongside the adjoining alley. 70% of the show visitors seem to be younger than I am.
    "Trains don't figure largely so much in people's lives" does seem to be true though. And there are certainly less younger folks posting on forums, but that may be because of the time involved in posting! I'm retired so spending a couple of hours a day on forums doesn't bother me too much, except it takes time away from modeling. The younger crowd are busy "texting", and in many cases pursuing a job and raising a family. Many, like me, could not really afford extensive modeling until the kids "flew the coop".


  9. #9


    I see a lot of military models and dioramas built by younger people and the workmanship is spectacular! Too bad they can't be introduced to model railroading instead of static type modeling.

    My 2 cents worth.

    The Chicago, Milwaukee and Northern

    Transporters of Wood, Coal, Ore and Anything Else

    Est. 1983

    HO Scale

    __________________________________________________ ___________

    Where the SOO, Milwaukee Road, C&NW and Wisconsin Central Meet

    Charter Member of the Fallen Flags Model Railroad Club

  10. Default

    This is just my opinion and no offense intended.

    I've stated in another thread that this hobby is NOT dying. Unfortunately, what is dying is the older generation. A generation that was part of forums. Today's generation are all about social media. They are not interested in writing in forums were it takes an eternity to get an answer or only 1 or 2 replies and not knowing if the answers are right. With social media, especially Facebook, people get a message about a post and they can reply right away. Just like the younger generation are not interested in forums, the older generation are not interested in social media.

    I once asked a question about a two prong led, the answers I got were all over the map. It included, others ways of doing things and even an answer on a three prong led. The question was so simple but not the answers. Now I know where to post my questions and get a fast and reliable answers. Because there's so many groups in social media, you have to ask your question in the right group.

    I'm 60 years old, when I started in this hobby 3 years ago, I joined 3 forums and yes the best one was this one. Did I find it a pain having to wait almost a month to get the right answer, YES, that is why I joined lots of Facebook groups, Yahoo groups and YouTube. The best one is a live hangout group and that is because I get my answers right of way and they come from experience modelers, such as Miles Hayes. (if you don't know him, do a search)

    This hangout group is mainly composed of a group in it's late 30's and 40's and 60 and over (a few kids). Last Saturday we were 21 in two different rooms sharing train model stuff live. Another group of mine, we're about 52 and I'm one of the oldest and none are part of forums.

    Another reason why people are posting less and less on forums is that most members are older and just like in clubs, they have their own ways. Nothing wrong with that because most already have their layout complete, but they won't be able to answer questions on things like JMRI, Arduino and DCC++.

    If you want to see how this hobby is growing, look elsewhere than forums. If all I wanted to do is join a coffee thread, than I would come to this forum.

    PS. I'll be going to my first big show which is held in Springfield MA. which is the Amherst show. This year they added a fifth building and if this is not indicative of the growth of the hobby, than I'm wrong, sorry.

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