Carl Nordberg Interview: National N-Scale Convention, June 2016

Carl Nordberg Interview: National N-Scale Convention, June 2016

We here at Model Trains for Beginners want to bring you – our subscribers, our fans, our community – the best information we can. One way of doing this is by interviewing influential members of the model railroad community, giving you their thoughts on model railroading, the state of the hobby, upcoming events, and more. In our inaugural interview, I’m talking with Carl Nordberg, the Media Coordinator for the National N-Scale Convention, put on annually by N Scale Enthusiast.

Robert: How many years has the National N-Scale Convention been around?
Carl: This is our 24th annual convention.

R: What’s special about this year in Kansas City?
C: We rotate around the country from east to west (e.g. Roanoke 2014, Sacramento 2015, Kansas City 2016, and back to Pittsburgh [the east] in 2018).

R: You’ve got several clinics available this year. Can you highlight two or three of them for us?
C: Jeremy Jantzen is doing a clinic on weathering with pan pastels.  He has done this clinic several times at national conventions and is very good in his presentation.  Joe Ludley is doing a clinic on T-Trak which is also a very good clinic.

R: You’ve got a UP Museum tour [in Council Bluffs, IA] and a railfanning tour on the schedule. Tell us a little about them.
C: Our conventions always include museum visits and railfanning.  Those are elements that go into the selection of the cities we use for the convention site.  We will also be visiting the Kansas City Union Station.

R: There’s more home layout tours planned than we could list in this interview, but can you highlight a couple of them for us?
C: Unfortunately, I don’t know a lot about this year’s home layout tours.  All I can tell you is that these tours are always a big hit with our attendees.  Modelers are always doing things on their layouts and always looking for new ideas.

R: What can you tell us about the layouts at the hotel, and will there be operating sessions available for those layouts?
C: The hotel layouts range for N-trak and T-trak to fremo-N.  We don’t publicize bringing trains to run because these layouts are open to the public for viewing, but if a convention attendee wanted to run his trains, I feel certain that person would be accommodated.

R: About how many people attend the annual convention? Where do they come from?
C: We get about 600 attendees at our conventions and many of them come with their families. Because we rotate our conventions throughout the country we do tend to get a heavier attendance from the area around that year’s convention location but we have a lot of fervent members who attend our conventions no matter where they are.

R: Is model railroading as popular now as it has always been? What is the state of the hobby these days, especially concerning N-scale modeling?
C: We do feel that N-scale as a size within the hobby is growing, but it is a sad, sad reality that the hobby in general is declining.

R: A recent article in the Wall Street Journal suggested that model railroading is an aging hobby, with the average modeler being a retiree. They suggested that fewer and fewer younger folks are getting involved in the hobby. We did an informal poll on our Facebook group and found that 78% of those who responded were 46 years old or older, and 25% were 61 or older. Less than 25% were under age 46 and only 10% were under 31 years of age. What are your thoughts on model railroading being an aging hobby?
C: I think the situation is that we got involved in the hobby in our younger years. As we grew up a bit school, careers, marriage, children, etc. claimed all of our attention and time.  Then, as those parts of our life changed, it afforded us the time to re-devote to the hobby.  I think if you asked our membership as a whole, that would be the majority answer.

R: When I first started in the hobby, I was a kid in the mid-1970s. A series of moves and housing with limited space took me out of the hobby for several years. As I got back into it in recent years, I found that retail prices had greatly increased (I model in HO scale and I am not as conscious of N scale pricing). Do you think the cost of model railroading might be one thing keeping younger people from getting into the hobby?
C: Depends on the age of these children.  How much are the parents involved in the hobby?  Is the young person really into the hobby and mowing lawns to buy a new engine?  I think this might almost be more relevant with us older, primarily retired, folks who are on a fixed income and want to spend a bunch on our trains.

R: Something else I noticed when I came back to the hobby a few years ago was that the quality of just about everything has improved dramatically, for all scales. On a personal level, I think this improved quality justifies the increased retail prices. What are your thoughts on the quality today vs. the quality 30 or more years ago?
C: No comparison.  In N-scale’s infancy most of the models were coming from Europe.  They were European models with American paint schemes.  As time has gone on the hobby has expanded and US companies are now the industry leaders.  Although these US companies may not be doing all their manufacturing here in the US, the quality standards they set for their products reflect North American quality demands.

R: Now for some personal questions. How long have you been model railroading?
C: I started as a 9- or 10-year-old.  I quit during many years of adulthood and I re-entered the world of model railroading about five years ago.  But I have jumped back in hook, line, and sinker.  Ask my wife.

R: I’m guessing that you prefer N scale. Do you model in other scales as well, or have you in the past?
C: I started out in S gauge (American Flyer stuff) as a kid but knew all along that if I ever got back into the hobby it would be in N-scale.  I like what I can accomplish in the smaller amount of space (or more stuff in bigger spaces – again, ask my wife).

R: Do you do prototype or proto-freelance modeling? Tell us about your model railroad.
C: My home layout is in the transitional period but I buy what I think will make interesting looking trains from any period to run on club and train show layouts.

R: What was it that got you into the hobby?
C: Travel was always fascinating to me and my first experience with “real” travel was on a train.  I was hooked.  Then I found a gal to settle down with and retired.  I’ve always wanted to get back into the hobby.

R: What advice would you have for someone – of any age – wanting to get into the hobby today?
C: Find someone who is already in the hobby to talk with.  And keep looking for people until you find some that genuinely care about your development.

Thanks to Carl Nordberg for that great interview.

If you are an N-scale modeler or are interested in becoming an N-scale modeler, the National N-Scale Convention begins in four weeks, on June 29, 2016. You can find more information, including how to register, on their website. Next month, Carl will be back for a post-convention follow up along with photos from the convention.

*Logo usage courtesy the National N-Scale Convention
* Union Pacific Railroad Museum photo by poster, used under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike License

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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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