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Social Networking in the Basement
Today, just about everybody is into social networking online through MySpace or Facebook, but there is an ever growing group of people who prefer to do their social networking in the comfort of their own basements. I know that you have seen television shows about guys building man caves in an unused room in the corner of the basement, but what about those who dedicate the entire space below their homes to a single hobby, one that involves social interaction and networking? I am talking about Model Railroad Operations, and there are a lot more people doing this than you might imagine.
What is it?
Model Railroad Operations is a lot more than just a bunch of overgrown kids playing with toy trains in the basement. In fact, many of my friends would be appalled that I even likened it to that. Operating a model railroad involves much more than setting up a train on a 4×8 piece of plywood and watching it run around in circles. There is a lot of planning, research, paperwork, construction, maintenance, and even social networking involved to make the dream come true. Is it worth it? I personally know several hundred people who would say yes without even thinking.
Building a model railroad that is designed to keep a dozen or more operators occupied for a three or four hour period is the goal, and model railroaders across the country have stepped up to the challenge. Planning a railroad to meet this challenge includes much more than “where do I put the bench-work” and “how many trains will I be able to run”. Creature comforts such as proximity to the short hood (railroad speak for restroom), places to take a break, heating and cooling, and of course space for operators to occupy when on duty are important aspects of the design.
Add to this that most operators appreciate realism in the game, so researching how the prototype railroad built yards and industrial areas, how they operated their trains, and what types of trains were common becomes important. Turning this research data into a workable plan on a miniature version of the prototype takes months and even years to perfect, and many never stop making changes. However, this can be where the first part of the social networking helps a new railroad owner. It is important to remember that someone, somewhere, has likely already done what you are doing. Finding that person and extrapolating the data can be an interesting and rewarding task.
Actually building the railroad, making it operate, maintaining it, and finding people willing to come down and bring the railroad to life is the biggest challenge of all. Too often, the first parts of this are done behind the scenes before anyone else gets a chance to take a look. However, collaboration on design, construction, and maintenance brings a whole new dimension of social networking to model railroading. Everyone involved can share ideas, learn new things, and swap stories. Collaborating on a model railroad is nothing new of course, clubs have done this for many years, but round-robin groups building railroads in individuals basements leads to more operating railroads and more social networking.
Finding people to run the railroad is a challenge that usually results in new friendships, new opportunities, and some times even another railroad to operate. I have been active in the RiverRail Operations Group in the La Crosse, WI and surrounding area for 10 years now. I have strayed from the area a few times, but the fellowship and camaraderie that is common during an operating session always brings me back.
An operating session can, and should, be more than just grabbing a throttle and moving your train from point A to point B. You might learn some new ideas for switching a difficult industry or hear about a new model that will work perfectly on your railroad. If you are lucky, you will get a chance to sit and enjoy a meal with the rest of the crew (a key feature at RiverRail sessions). Bottom line here is that if you just want to run trains, you are going to miss out on a lot of the social aspect of operations.
So what does all of this researching, building, networking, and of course money bring you in the end? Well, hopefully it results in a place to share your love of model railroading with others. One thing to remember is that no matter what stage in the game you are in today, social networking can and will enhance your enjoyment as well as build your knowledge of the hobby.