NEB&W Guide to Period Modeling - Historical Modeling Cliches

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Modelers often fall into the trap of "scaler-than-thou". A freight car model is deemed better if it has full working brake gear. The perfect model is an illusion. A freight car model may often be built of styrene rather than basswood, but of course even basswood is not prototype, it should be made of pine, oak and maple.

Even making a model of the identical prototype materials may not get you closer to "real". The strength of each board does not scale out, as the physics doesn't scale down. Nor does the grain, because of course the molecules of a model material are still full-size.

So what! A freight car model can be built of styrene such that within our realm of perceptions, it is a one-to-one match. Whether or not the doors work matters only if 1) you try to open them or 2) it says they do on the contest entry form. The faithfulness of the model depends on the viewer’s perception. Whether the molecules are to scale matters not to the viewer because we can’t see molecules. If the molecules were in scale, the interaction of light would change, so that the "scale" colors would be shifted, and the car would look less like the prototype than if the molecules are left full sized.

I have often seen buildings where the modeler has added a white wash of "mortar". Close-up, the model looks convincing, but because the lines on most brick material are wider than the prototype, overall the building may look too white. The degree to which the modeler labored is not always an indication of how successful the model is. A very important but overlooked aspect of modeling is the ability to prioritize the components.

Don’t make the concept of scale a religion. There is an underlying assumption that linear scaling is meaningful in the space-time continuum. The only reason it has any meaning to us is because of how humans perceive the world. To a cat, an N scale box car is not perceived as related to a real box car, it is related to a mouse. It might be more convincing to tabby if it smelled like a box car. While adding scale rivets to the model would add nothing to a cat's appreciation of it as a scale model, putting it on a string and dragging it across the floor would further interest the cat.

For that matter, adding scale-sized rivets wouldn't add much to the general public's appreciation, certainly not as much as it adds to the appreciation for the knowledgeable modeler. Yet even when we rejoice that a kit has got true scale rivets, we are relatively content with the far-greater out of scale (twice-sized) Kadee couplers and the twice-sized RP-25 wheel flange. We have been relatively desensitized to these flaws.

Consider the absolute of scale for sound waves. Logic might say we could scale down a Beethoven symphony in equal proportion if we played a 33-1/3 recording of it at 78 rpm. (This relates to records, which could be played at several speeds.) Since this is a convenient way to do it, we could declare 33-1/3 divided by 78 as LP scale. (I guess I have to explain this analogy to some of you who may never have played a record. The earliest ones were set for 78 rpm's. As technology improved, longer playing - "LP's" - were set at 33 rpm's.)

The only reason we see a relationship in linear scaling is because of how our brain evolved. We recognize an object as the same even though as we walk toward it, it gets bigger in our field of view. When our ancestors looked over a ridge and saw a herd of woolly mammoths "in miniature," they recognized dinner on the hoof and didn’t confuse what they were seeing with ants they could step on. (Those who did confuse faraway game with ants didn’t survive to pass on their genes.) These ancestors also perceived the paintings they made on the cave walls as having a relationship to the real animals. (For humans, it is sight that is the sense of overwhelming consideration - for most mammals, it is smell.)

Our layouts evoke in us the feelings of something that we are seeing at a distance, something we could approach and walk down the street and board. Even linear scaling is not complete. LGB evokes the sense of bulk more than does HO, so the models can foreshortened and still 'work". Part of this is also related to perception. As you approach a passenger car in real life, it looms up in your field of view and the effects of perspective become more pronounced. As you board at one end, the true overall length is contracted by perspective. It would be hard at that point to know if the car was 60, 70, or 80 feet long.

Alternatively you could scale down a symphony by turning down the volume. Visually, it would be analogous to toning down all the colors of a scene proportionately. When we speak of modeling something, we don't scale down the colors.

Speaking of colors, modelers are always looking for THE answer for a particular railroad color, such as Rutland green. There is a feeling that if only one could find an actual paint chip, the color would be "perfect". Unfortunately, color varies under different lighting, including the difference between the intense lighting of sunlight and the dim interior lights. The perception of color also varies between a wall of color, as say when you stand next to a real engine, and a tiny bit, as seen on a model. Or if it is glossary or dull. And the perception of color varies in the context of the adjacent colors.

One can build a freight car to exacting scale, but if it sits on a contest table or mantelpiece, it is out of context. Including it in a scene involves drastic stomach-wrenching compromises of distances, including tiny flat background hills and sky to model the scene, so that the exactness of the detail on the freight car is diluted by its inclusion in a scene. (How many times have we seen a prize-winning freight car posed on a track with bare lichen alongside the right-of-way?)

Modelers seem to think that copying specific scenes is cut-and-dry, lots of labor but little creativity. I believe that modeling a specific prototype scene isn't as straightforward as one might think. Several people could each try to model the same scene, yet the interpretation would not be identical, somewhat akin to the seven blindfolded men encountering an elephant. Because our perceptions are so subjective, modeling a specific scene is very creative and individualistic, in a different way than freelancing.