13 January 2013
First and foremost, I'm gradually losing my modeling capabilities. Health is taking its toll on my ability to manipulate—or even just to hold—tiny parts or do fine work. At one time I embraced this challenge, even in the face of diminishing eyesight; little did I know at the time that my vision would be the least of my concerns. I'm now facing the one-two punch of arthritis in my hands and sarcoidosis that's spreading from my lungs to my muscles, resulting in chronic pain and fatigue. And those are just the conditions that directly affect my work; I'm also dealing with celiac's, RLS, hypertension, four collapsing discs, and nerve damage from a botched arthroscopy, among other issues.
A secondary but still significant factor is a general souring toward the scale. This is courtesy of now being a manufacturer; I've been granted an "insider's look" at the industry, and without going into detail, it's not a pretty picture, not one bit. There have been some deeply troubling events along the way, some directly affecting me, others impacting friends. It's left me in a state I'd not anticipated when I started my business, and frankly it's not how I'd prefer to be, but alas it's entirely unavoidable: I'm contemptuous. In a serious way. And while I'm not announcing that I'll be ending all Z Scale manufacturing myself, there will be cutbacks; more on this another time.
Another serious blow to my Z Scale adventure was the destruction of the James River Branch at the hands of UPS. It had just been shown at the National Z Scale Convention in Denver, where it took Best of Show. While it appeared 100% cosmetically complete, there were still many things I'd planned to change or add. But that opportunity was denied to me. Consequently I lost interest in my Geordie & Daphne, and needing room for a new layout, I decommissioned it. My seemingly casual attitude about this rankled a few fans of the layout, but it was, after all, mine to dispose.
So I've returned to N Scale. I'm still challenging myself as a modeler, but in ways I can better manage under the circumstances. N Scale offers far more in the way of raw materials with which to work; not to mention that it's all bigger. After my years in Z, I will confess that it's actually "too small" from the standpoint that there are many things which are simply impractical, if not impossible, to make. For example: while I wouldn't claim that an accurate, fully-articulated Z Scale Shay is entirely out of the question, it's undoubtedly a challenge suited exclusively for a tiny handful of the world's most skilled craftsmen. Furthermore, I'll positively assert that it would be entirely impractical to mass-produce a Z Scale Shay. An N Scale Shay has been difficult enough—just ask Atlas why their second run was cancelled.
It's not as if I'm leaving the planet; I still take the time to answer Z Scalers' questions, help with track planning, and so forth. But people will need to look to others for fresh new projects and ideas. A part of me is sad to go, but a larger part is very much looking forward to a return to the more familiar—and comfortable—surroundings afforded by N Scale. Farewell!
11 October 2012
But alas there's no un-seeing what's been seen. Consequently, a number of suggestions were offered as alternatives to simply throwing it away (as if that made any difference, since the deed was done). Donate it to a museum. Really? Which one is willing to put a little Z scale layout on display? How will it be maintained? Very few people know what's required to keep a layout in good shape, and far fewer would be able to keep it running, so even if it did wind up in public view, I fear it would be left to deteriorate.
Why not sell it? Many reasons. For one, it wasn't fully functional; all of the switches had failed, and I'm not about to sell defective merchandise. For another, how many would be willing to pay a fair price? What is a fair price? And what would be the fate of the layout once sold? Would the new owner take it around and display it, or squirrel it away in a private room, never to be seen in public again? If the latter, it would be no different than tossing it.
I'm sorry if I upset people with my decision, but honestly, I looked at the situation from many angles, and there were no other satisfactory solutions. Anyway, I'm all about building, not owning, and so the G&D had served its purpose; it was otherwise simply occupying precious workspace. Having been carefully documented, it will live on as a learning tool for others for as long as Google maintains its Blogger software.
Anyway, to answer the titular question, I assert that model railroading is indeed art. Far stranger things are done in the name of art, and I believe it satisfies any number of prerequisites to be considered such. That it may not necessarily be appreciated universally is certainly not a valid counterargument, as this is true of many, if not most, other forms, even the most traditional.
I'm flattered that my layouts are held in such high regard as to be considered art by some, but that was neither my desire nor my intention; the only value my work holds for me may be measured by the enjoyment of the learning experience in making it. Once done, the personal value drops to zero. I'm sorry, but this is the way of the temperamental artist. Deal.
26 August 2012
About ten years later, I broke my personal record by more than half with my 1:35,200 model layout, and once again I was urged by well-intentioned modelers to get it in the record books. I thought about it—for, oh, maybe five seconds, until I recalled the application form, and then all interest drained away.
Fast forward again to just last month, and something quite remarkable popped up in my email in-box: a letter from a representative of the Guinness Book of Records asking if I would please submit an application for my 1:35,200 model layout. It was quite the turnabout—now the record book was pursuing me, rather than the reverse.
It was tempting. I figured that, with a representative helping me, the application might not be quite as onerous. But the temptation was short-lived, for I then thought about what company I'd be keeping within the record book—it has, unfortunately, morphed over the years. At one time, Guinness was a terrific resource, full of useful facts—it could settle bets, win arguments, educate and entertain all at once. But in order to remain "relevant," the book had to win the attention of younger people, who have little interest in the longest bridge or tallest building; they're caught up in the extremes of absurdity: how many spoons someone can balance on their face, how long a person can survive locked in a cage with tarantulas, and how far one can squirt milk from their eye.
Now, before anyone accuses me of embellishment, I drew all of these "records" from their own website. It was there I found ample justification to tell their representative, "thanks, but no thanks." With such scintillating topics as "most times hit by a car in two minutes" or "most people blowing a chewing gum bubble simultaneously," why would anyone be possibly interested in my silly little model?
It was a sad conclusion: the Guinness Book of Records has become a freak show, plain and simple. And my brief visit to their website convinced me there was nothing to gain by participating, other than bragging rights—and since I've never been one to be concerned about bragging rights, it was quite easy for me to bring the process to an end before it even started.
Incidentally, this isn't the first time "fame" has come chasing after me courtesy of the YouTube video of my little layout; a couple of years ago, a Japanese television company contacted me, asking if they could interview me and shoot my layout for a television series—essentially an Eastern video version of Ripley's Believe It or Not. They were all set to send down a film crew from their Manhattan branch office; I had to tell them "no" two or three times before they stopped pestering me.
One may question my reluctance to be "famous." Well, my achievements really are meaningful only to me, so public acknowledgment isn't something I crave. Besides, if I'm to be acknowledged for my achievement, please make it an appropriate venue, as opposed to some variation on a human freak show.