Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Hyperreality and Scale Model Trains

I never really talk about this subject, but I'm going to today. Modeling, as in making models, is a big part of my day-to-day life. In particular, designing things for 3D printing is a big part of my day-to-day life. To showcase what is possible with 3D printing, I built a little model train layout several years ago (it no longer exists). A photo of that layout featuring a 3D printed bridge was put in the 2019 Model Railroader Calendar. You might recognize the name of the person listed below me: musician Rod Stewart.

Most people interested in the model train hobby, including famous people, only talk about it with other people within the hobby. Because people outside the hobby mostly don't get it. But it never ceases to amaze me how many well known talented people have a private interest in trains and modeling. Besides Stewart, there are a number of other rockers who are into the hobby, like Neil Young, Roger Daltrey, Springsteen, Clapton, Phil Collins, and Ringo to name a few.

Beyond rockers. there are a lot of other well known people who are into trains and modeling (here is a partial list). But most of those people aren't serious enough that they showcase their modeling accomplishments. Like, for instance, NBA great Michael Jordan supposedly built a layout at one point after he became rich and famous, but I've never seen any photos of it. Many well known people just collect models or pay others to make model train stuff for them. For instance, Warren Buffet likes trains so much he did the ultimate thing and bought a railroad, BNSF. And although Walt Disney is long dead, he was big into model trains; Disneyland/world is essentially Walt's vision of a full scale model railroad.

Also, model trains have an important history in the computer revolution. The original "hackers" were people in the MIT "Tech Model Railroad Club." For whatever reason, trains and modeling appeal to certain types of minds, and those types of minds are mostly male minds. That's why the fictional theoretical physicist genius Sheldon Cooper on the show The Big Bang Theory was designed to have an interest in trains and model trains (although I've consistently found the grasp of the train world by the writers/actors for that show lacking and error prone).

I like creative modeling in general and not just trains. For instance, The Universe Is Virtual is a model of how the universe works. As another example, when I make paintings or drawings, those are 2D models of both physical things and ideas. And the words I weave are models too: symbols of symbols. Nonetheless, trains have long provided a rich outlet for my creativity; I've been defaulting back to model trains as a creative outlet from time to time ever since I was seven years old. To do model trains right requires developing a range of skills: design, carpentry, electronics, art, and historical knowledge. People who get the train bug by getting a simple train set as a kid often evolve and develop all those skills as they grow into adults. So, it is a hobby that often grows and evolves with people from childhood to adulthood.

Although I was born creative with a drive to model and even lived a block away from the tracks of the Seaboard Coast Line railroad until I was 6, trains as a creative outlet didn't start to develop in me until I was seven. That year I took an Amtrak trip and in turn got my first train set. As a kid, I didn't have the knowledge or skill set to make what I imagined I wanted; if I had the internet as it exists today back then, I probably would have, but I didn't. As a kid, what I really wanted to model was the train, DeLorean, and town Hill Valley from Back to the Future 3. I wanted the layout to transition from 1885 to 1985 at the bridge. As I got older, the train bug hit me every now and then. In the last decade the train bug has been more persistent, particularly since I have developed all the necessary skills of design, carpentry, electronics, art, and historical knowledge to make some grade A models.

One thing that from the beginning has always triggered the train bug in me is a Publix Supermarket commercial that played every Christmas in Florida from the late 80s to the late 90s. That commercial still works magic on me. (The song in the commercial is "Last Train Home" by Pat Metheny Group)

Trips to Disney World (or Universal Studios) have also long been a trigger for me, but Disney trips trigger more the modeling bug in general and not just trains (I'd make a good Disney Imagineer). If I cared enough or had the luck to have the money, I'd live in a house that would be straight out of Disney World (a glimpse of that home is shown in Revelations from the Holy Planet). Disney World was described by the philosopher Baudrillard as the hyperreal. I enjoy the hyperreal because it is a more heavenly simulation of the so-called actual real. For instance, real pirates are not too great but the idealized fictional motif of pirates is great. The hyperreal is like a simulation of the world free of the hidden darkness...unconscious guilt. Even the dark, scary Haunted Mansion is heavenly when you know it is unreal and just for fun. The awareness of the unreality removes the unconscious guilt.

The hyperreality of model trains is a big part of their appeal to me. And my interest in making worlds for model trains reflects my desire for heaven/the divine rather than the world/the profane...order rather than chaos. There is an episode of the show American Dad where Stan builds a model railroad and shrinks himself down so he can live in it in order to escape the chaos of the world. Although that episode exaggerates the concept, I agree that modeling does have a therapeutic influence to combat chaos.

The objective of a model railroad is multifaceted. First off, you want it to look cool. Second, you want it to be realistic; yet you really want it to be hyperreal and so better than realistic, which often entails capturing a certain time and place in an ideal form. (My interest is in Florida railroad history and that's what I model, mostly in tiny 1/160 N scale.) And third, you want the model railroad to operate. Operation gives the model a function; it's a kind of game where you perform real railroad tasks such as set cars out at certain industries and shuffle cars to be rerouted to different trains. I've personally never gotten into the operation aspect, but eventually I'll probably make something designed for operation.

Anyway, I thought it was due time I explicitly shared my lifelong interest in modeling in general and model trains in particular with everyone. My range of interests seem to never overlap with other people lol. My interests include ACIM, models/miniatures, railroad history, free market economics, investing, voluntaryism/anarchism, baroque music, punk and classic rock, art, design, illustration, 3D modeling/printing, the paranormal, engineering, digital physics, cartooning, psychology, philosophy, growing food, playing music, weather/climatology, geology, understanding how things work so I can fix them, and the list goes on. I imagine there are at least a few people with an interest in trains and ACIM, but maybe not.

If interested, explore all the links in this post including the videos below. Maybe you'll get the train bug or at least expand your knowledge. And you might want to pick up the Model Railroader 2019 Calendar; it is readily available, especially online.

The scene I made that is in the calendar photo. It is protected behind Plexiglas.