State of the Hobby 2017

State of the Hobby 2017

NOTE: The opinions expressed within are entirely the opinion of the author. They are not presented as definitive fact and your opinions may vary.

A little over a year ago, the Wall Street Journal ran an article titled, “End of the Line for Model Trains? Aging Hobbyists Trundle On.” The article posited that the average age of a model railroader is retirement age and that younger folk are not picking up the hobby. I ran a poll on our Facebook group to see the spectrum of ages among the group members and determined that the majority were over the age of 46, with a significant number over the age of 61. Only eighteen members were under the age of 45 and only one was under 18. Our hobby is getting older as we get older.

But unlike the Journal article, I don’t believe that our hobby is dying. We are getting older, yes, but there are still younger folks in the hobby and they are doing a great job of keeping the hobby alive and pushing it forward. I have several friends in their 20s and 30s who are model railroaders and I’ve watched numerous YouTube videos made by enthusiasts who are under the age of 45. The hobby may be aging, it might be slowing down, but it isn’t dying.

Another way to get a feel for the pulse of the hobby is by looking at what is going on within the model railroading industry. Older companies like Athearn, Atlas, Bachmann, Lionel, LGB, and others are still doing well and still producing quality models for our purchase and enjoyment. New companies such as Scale Trains,  Fox Valley Models, and others have also come along in the last decade or so, producing smaller runs of high quality models. These companies could not come into being and survive to produce in demand products if the hobby were actually dying.

YouTube has become a major source of information in the hobby. Numerous model railroaders post how-to videos on that website, from how to build your table/bench, to how to paint, weather, and repair you model train cars and engines. More and more model railroaders of all ages are entering the modern era this way. The video below is a great how-to on benchwork, and presented by a young college student named Cam.

YouTube Preview Image

The rise and popularity of DCC over the last couple of decades is more proof that the hobby will continue. While some still balk at switching over from analog to DCC, invariably those that make the switch talk about how amazing it is and how they would never go back to DC. They also do their best to get their reluctant friends on board to make the switch. And even as DCC continues to gain popularity, newer methods, like Bachmann’s E-Z App have come along in the last couple of years. With E-Z App and other similar control methods, you can now use your smart phone or tablet to control your model trains.

Model railroading may be aging, but it is not dying. Younger folks still come to the hobby, companies continue to produce quality models, and control methods have entered the modern age of apps and smartphones. I foresee the hobby persisting for many, many years. As long as there are children (of any age!) that love trains, there will be model railroaders.

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Robert Thomson

Robert W. Thomson is a life-long railfan, the son of a former L&N Railroad B&B gang foreman, and an amateur photographer. He was born and raised in southeast Tennessee but now lives in Butte, Montana with his wife, Connie and cat, Charlie. Robert has worked as a park ranger, underground mine tour guide, freelance roleplaying game writer, and ran his own roleplaying game publishing company until selling it in 2012.

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