Why Model?

Why Model Railroad?

As with any hobby, the obvious answer is because it's fun!

If you've made it this far, you're probably already interested in building a model railroad for some reason. But maybe you're still on the fence. After all, a model railroad requires an investment in time, money, and energy.

Family Oriented

We are constantly looking for things to do together, "as a family"

.Above: "Pop", age 88, sharing his layout room with two of his grandsons and three of his many great grandchildren.

Above: "Pop", age 88, sharing his layout room with two of his grandsons and three of his many great grandchildren.

Building a model railroad is a great family-oriented hobby. Everyone can get involved and everyone can participate "together".

Every member of the family can be working on some part of things. Mom can be building this part, dad working on that, while the kids are working on something else.

As seen in the picture above, it is also a hobby that can last a life-time. Many people in the hobby started when they were kids and it stayed with them.

Model Railroading is Educational

You probably don't want to tell your kids, but Model Railroading can be very educational. You can learn a whole range of things:


  • Railroads reflect the times they operated in, and vice versa.
  • Building a model railroad leads to learning about prototype railroads, their times and their settings.
  • Railroads were, and are, equally important in the histories of other countries.

Basic Carpentry and Electrical Skills

  • If you've never sawed wood or stripped some wire, You will!
  • Building a model railroad requires these skills.
  • You might think that they are "hard" -- they aren't, you just need to start down the path.
  • You'll be surprised how easy it is to pick them up!


  • Railroads are economic entities.
  • They move raw materials and manufactured goods from place to place.
  • The patterns of these movements are all driven by economics.

Model building

  • This is pretty straight forward! After all, we are building a Model Railroad.
  • There are a whole range of skills that you'll develop over time.

Artistic Techniques

  • Building scenery and weathering cars, among others, all require a bit of an artistic touch. We can learn that "less is more" (for instance, sometimes just a bit of weathering on a car is all that's really needed).
  • We can learn that we don't always need a perfect rendition of something, sometimes all we really need is to give the impression.

Did someone say Artistic Techniques?  Where does the scenery stop and the backdrop start in this scene on Tim Kerkhoff's HO scale Overland Green River Basin RR?

How To Research

  • As you get more interested in model railroading, you might decide to build more accurate models or replicate specific scenes on a particular prototype railroad.
  • To do this you will need to research "the real things".
  • Conducting research about a railroad, a piece of motive power or rolling stock, or a structure is an interesting facet of the hobby.  The Internet, railroad historical societies, and print publications are all good resources for research.  And don't forget the extensive collection of photographs that the NMRA has here on the website.

Logical Thought and Planning

  • From novice model railroader to Master Model Railroader (MMR), logical thought and planning are important.
  • Everything from figuring out the right steps for building a kit to designing a layout to developing an operating plan for your railroad all require logical thought and planning.

3D and Spatial Visualization

  • When you decide to take on scratch-building and kit-bashing, you'll quickly learn some of these skills. We often have to visualize how things will finally look, or how they will go together, long before they are done.

Develops Manual Skills

  • This is pretty self-evident.
  • To build a model railroad requires some manual dexterity and skills.
  • You can't be "all thumbs" to build one.
  • And if you think you are all-thumbs, you'll quickly discover that you are not all thumbs.

Basic Engineering

  • Model Railroads themselves require a bit of engineering to construct.
  • We don't want the benchwork to collapse or the electrical wiring to burst into flames! This is self-evident.
  • But we can also learn a bit of engineering by studying the prototypes for the models we are building;
  • Why are bridges build this way and not that?
  • Why did the railroad go this way instead of that way?
  • How does an engine work?


  • Railroads don't exist in a vacuum.
  • They go through the landscape.
  • There are mountains and plains, forests and rivers, towns and cities.
  • Model railroading can develop basic understandings of all of these geographic features.
  • Furthermore, if you decided to research and model a specific real railroad you can learn a lot about the specific geographic regions where that railroad operated.

The Internet and The Web

  • You can even learn a lot about The Internet and how to make and run web sites. After all, we put together this web site!

But the best part of it all is that you are not forced to learn much. You can derive as much, or as little, education from the hobby as you want. After all, sometimes we just want to have fun!

Social Aspects

  • Model Railroading can be a very social hobby.
  • It's a great way to meet new people.
  • There are clubs and associations (such as the NMRA) that you can join. These clubs run the whole range, from swapping stories to teaching skills to each other, to actually building and running a permanent model railroad.
  • There are model building contests.
  • It's also a great excuse to travel! You can go on rail-fanning trips, go to conventions and shows, or to visit people you've met.
  • Model railroading appeals to people in all walks of life. If you find a group of model railroaders, you'll find doctors and lawyers, engineers, shop keepers, business people, military folks, mechanics, carpenters, artists, athletes, and politicians. Young and old, rich and poor. And it is fun.

It Takes Time

One of the big concerns today is that we're a culture of "instant gratification". Model Railroading is anything but instant gratification. You can get things up and running quickly, as we hope to show you in these pages.

But you can also then go back and work on things some more, spend more time. You can perfect your skills over the course of years. And as you perfect your skills, you go back and look at the things you did in the past and say "it was good then, but I know I can do better now"; what was great two years ago is barely acceptable last year, and this year it's sub-standard.

Model railroading is an activity of constant improvement and learning. From that, we often learn that the true gratification is not in attaining the goal, but the journey we take to get there.

Model Railroading Is Not Just For Men!

Some folks think that model-railroading is a "guy thing". Perhaps a long time ago it was. But this is the twenty-first century and those stereotypes are pretty much gone. Or at least they should be!

One NMRA division holds a "build a kit" clinic at its yearly show. This clinic is aimed at young children and their parents. The idea is to show them that "it's not hard". Someplace between 1/3 and 1/3 of the attendees are girls, mothers, or grandmothers. So it's obvious that you don't have to be male to be interested in model railroading!

The NMRA has a Master Model Railroader (MMR) program. It takes dedication and a lot of hard work to become an MMR. To become an MMR requires demonstrating skills across the entire spectrum of the hobby. There are 4 women MMRs (here's an interview with Mary Miller, one of the NMRA's MMR's).

Model Railroading is not just for Geeks

Finally, some people may be a bit uncomfortable about "adults playing with toy trains" or may be worried about what their friends and relatives might say. Who cares what they think? But just to set your mind at ease, there are many celebrities who are (or were) also model railroaders, such as:

  • Winston Churchill
  • Tom Brokaw
  • Phil Collins
  • Joe DiMaggio
  • Walt Disney
  • Michael Gross, the actor
  • Ed Dougherty, the professional golfer
  • Merle Haggard
  • Tom Hanks
  • Elton John
  • Michael Jordan
  • Ricardo Patrese, the Formula-1 race car driver
  • Frank Sinatra
  • Joe Regalbutto, the actor
  • Bruce Springsteen
  • Rod Stewart
  • Donald Sutherland
  • Mel Torme
  • Neil Young, the rock star. He's also a part-owner of Lionel...

It's Fun!

In case you missed it, it's fun!

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Page last updated January 9, 2015