They\’re just toys

I saw someone get up in front of a crowd with his new O gauge model trolley, based on a prototype from St. Louis, manufactured by MTH Electric Trains, that he had ordered a couple of years ago and had finally arrived this year.

He proceeded to tell us everything that was wrong with it. It was a long, long list. I started wondering if he regretted buying it.

And I started wondering what difference any of it made anyway, seeing as the biggest detail was already wrong: It runs on non-prototypical track with three rails and the outer rails a 5 scale feet apart!Tom Gatermann and I talked about it last night. He’s had HO-scale layouts since childhood; now he and another friend have pooled their time and money to build a bigger, badder N-scale layout.

They and I are on polar opposites. They like modeling rural settings; I’m trying to build a city. They like scale models; most of my stuff is semi-scale, and at times I’ve been known to clear all that off and run a bunch of toylike Marx trains and prewar stuff from Lionel, American Flyer, and Ives. Aside from scenery, they’re almost exclusively RTR models and kits for buildings; I enjoy scratchbuilding. (Yeah, I’m a strange, strange mix.) They’re runners; and while I run my trains, I’ve got a lot of collector in me too.

The main thing we have in common is that none of us could care less if our model has 133 rivets and the real-world version had 139. Without a magnifying glass and way more time than we’re willing to spend, we’re not going to be able to tell the difference.

I wonder less now whether the person who bought the trolley regrets it. I read in a book that a lot of hobbyists relish finding and pointing out the inaccuracies in their toys. I guess I have something in common with them too. I want to learn as much about something as I can, and so do they. I guess pointing out every detail that was wrong (besides that pesky third rail and wide track) is a way of demonstrating how much you know; much like artists of old painted people in various stages of undress in order to demonstrate how much they knew about anatomy.

Too bad it comes off as stuffy and, well, just plain geeky. This stuff is supposed to be an escape from the real world. It’s supposed to be fun.

And besides, why get so uptight about the realism of the train? I can find all sorts of inaccuracies if I look elsewhere on the table. See that hill on the layout? What’s its real-world prototype? Do you have the right kind of trees on it? Did you count them? What about that road? Is the width right? Why hasn’t that 1946 Ford pickup truck on that road ever moved? The train moves, why don’t the cars? Why do the people look like department store mannequins? Why are there two Walgreen Drug Stores across the street from each other in your town? (Well, actually that last question might have a real-world prototype…)

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