Frequently Asked Questions

Periodically, I plan to share some of the questions, and answers I get from members about the AP program. Someone once told me to do what the requirements asked and not to read anymore into them. If it says "demonstrate" then give evidence of having done it. If it says "document" then make a record of what you did. If it says "make a list" then make a list. Keep it simple, but meet the requirements.

If you have questions about the AP program contact me by email [at] (()) or send your questions to Frank J. Koch, NMRA AP Manager, 4769 Silverwood Drive, Batavia, OH 45103.

General Question

"What is the status of my SOQ?"

Answer: We frequently get member questions on the status of various submissions. I can answer the questions when the submissions are in my (National's) hands, but not when the Division or Region AP managers still have them. I generally tell folks to expect a one to two month interval for the SOQ to work its way from the Division to the Region to National where it is approved and all are reported once a month.  There are no carry-overs from month to month unles there are issues to resolve.  Each certificate is printed within 1-2 days, and then mailed back to the Region, then the Division, and then to you. Some of the Region AP Managers process and mail completed SOQs to me as they receive them and others send a packet to me during the middle part of each month. I process everything I have on the 21st of every month, prepare a report, and send it electronically to the Region AP managers the same day I finish compiling the report. The certificates are printed within  0-2 days and mailed back to the Region AP managers as soon as practical (within 1-2 days). 

MMR plaques take a bit longer as the special plaques have to ordered and then printed by an outside vendor.  The plaques are also ordered on the 21st of every month, received within 10-14 days, and then mailed within 1-2 days of receipt.

SOQ Content Question

"Why is the expiration date required on the SOQ?" and "Where do I get copies of the SOQs?" and "Are the SOQs on the web site up to date?"

Answer: Several years ago, the requirements and forms were adjusted to include the membership expiration date when submitting SOQs to ensure memberships were current. I believe all the current forms include a space for it. If the forms you are using do not have a space, then please note the expiration date on the SOQ or enclose a copy of your current membership card. This also applies to the requirements and judging forms -- I still occasionally see the old judging forms that are very outdated and not acceptable when used for current judging. Recording membership numbers and expiration dates saves time and work during the approval process. Copies of SOQs are available from the NMRA web site, from your Division or Region AP managers, or from me if all else fails. (Please note that many of the forms have 2006 dates on them.  They are still current.  The dates will be changed as the forms are reformatted.)

"What is the purpose of the Record & Validation form, and is it really required?"

Answer: In the days before computers, many members found it useful to have a special form to keep tack of those items that required multiple entries over time (Structures, Cars, Dispatcher, Author, Volunteer, etc.) and the R&V form was developed to help in record keeping.  Today, it is optional as most of the information is contained in the SOQ.  For some certificates (Volunteer, Dipsatcher, and Author), it might still prove useful, but is not necessary if the information is provided in some other fashion.

"My model has some commercial parts.  Can it still be considered scratchbuilt?"

Answer:  The AP definition (see the 'Definition' section) is that 90+% of the individual parts by count (excluding any exempted parts) are made from basic materials.  So, if the commercial parts account for fewer than 10% of the total parts by count, then the model is considered scratchbuilt for AP.

There are three parts to the "scratchbuilt" question for AP.  The first is an objective numeric pass/fail assessment.  AP Scratchbuilt is defined as above: 90+% of the individual non-exempt parts by count must be made by the modeler from basic materials.  The second is that specific parts of motive power must be scratchbuilt (see teh definitions).  The third element is the evaluation score for scratchbuilding which is a reflection of the quality/complexity/quantity of scratchbuilt parts (see the matrix).

"I used a laser cutter/3-D printer/CNC mill to make some original parts.  Are they considered scratchbuilt?"

Answer: All three devices are considered tools, and if you generated the specific file that was used to make hte parts, then they are considered scratchbuilt.  You do not have to operate the machine as long as ONLY your code is used to make the parts.  If someone else modifies your code so it will work, then you have not done the work yourself and the parts are no longer scratchbuilt.  The same holds for various jigs and templates...they are tools.


"What constitutes the frame of a locomotive?"

Answer:  The requirements for Motive Power specify those parts that must be scratchbuilt and one of those parts is the "frame".  Simplistically, the frame is the element that everything else is fastened to and is generally located between the power truck and the body.  The truck fastens to the frame and the body fastens to the frame. For diesels, it is fairly straightforward as the power trucks (only the sideframes have to be scratchbuilt) are generally separate parts and fasten to a frame in some fashion.  Some steam engines follow this same construction, but many have drive and wheel elements that are integral to the frame.  In these cases, the frame must be scratchbuilt *as must the driving/side rods".  A "SPUD" of any sort is a great way to power a locomotive (still have to build sideframes) as it must be fastened to a frame and then a body is also attached to the same frame.  If in doubt, consult with your Division or Region AP Manager.  If they have questions, they will escalate them to National.


Prototype Model Question

"How should I interpret the requirements for Prototype Models?"

Answer: Let me be real simple, the actual requirements spell out exactly what is expected. Prototype Models really boils down to two sets of documented photographs, videos, or similar evidence -- one of the prototype scene and one of the model scene that has earned a Merit Award. The casual observer or judge should readily conclude that the two sets of photographs are of the same scene. There have been two submissions in the past year that required a bit more than casual study to tell apart - they were that excellent! I use a simple three step review process -- what is the scene the modeler purports to be modeling and what is the documentation for that scene, what are the models and scenery that duplicate the prototype, and how well was it accomplished. You've heard anecdotal stories of photographs or slides of models being incorrectly (by the Clerk) put in the prototype category because they were that realistic.

The models have always been excellent and of high individual quality, but Prototype Models has the specific added requirement that a specific documented prototype scene is faithfully reproduced with the model. Review requirement B: "You must prepare two sets of photographs (or VHS video tapes), one of the prototype and one of the model, and a written description that clearly describes the intended setting of the model railroad." The notes go on to say: "You must demonstrate that you have modeled from a specific prototype, by submitting plans and/or photographs. If at all possible try and take pictures of your model that are from the same angle as pictures you have of the prototype. That way you can have side by side pictures showing how well you have created the scene you are modeling."

Judging Conformity Question

"I notice that the SOQ and requirements say that you can earn points for drawing your own plans. What does this mean and how many points can be earned?"

Answer: The points would come as part of the "conformity" category judging (0-25 points) and is part of the documentation that establishes the "prototype" for the model and the adherence to the prototype - be it actual prototype or mixed prototype or fictional. Doing the drawings yourself rather than using available plans for the same prototype earns no extra points - but your own drawings may be the only documentation available.

If there is no documentation provided, the judges are under no obligation to make assessments as to prototypical practices, although most will provide some points. However, the number of points is limited to 15 if no or limited documentation is provided. Whether they be commercial drawings or your own drawings or sketches, the points should be the same for the same model for equal documentation and the degree to which the model matches described prototype. By the way, "my parents recall that this is the way it looked" is NOT acceptable has to be actual physical documentation of some sort.

As an example, I have one photo of two sides of a company store that I plan to model. I'll make elevation drawings and sketches showing key architectural elements (windows, corbels, trim treatment) to scale and then use them as my construction plans. I've got multiple interior photos of similar stores, but no floor plans, so I'll pull the key elements from the photos and generate a floor plan that is logical and representative. I've established the actual exterior prototype via the photos and established the dimensions and details via the drawings. The judges can assess how well I've duplicated the prototype and award points accordingly. I could do the same thing with published plans if they existed. In the example, there are no published plans, so my photos and drawings must provide the degree of documentation.

Review the evaluation guidelines section on the NMRA web site for additional explanation. This is true across all the judged categories. As for the model's role in this - how well does it match the documentation that was established? Now, you be the judge in two real life extreme examples I've encountered over the years. (1) The photos are for an outside braced wooden boxcar and the model is a welded steel boxcar. (2) The depot is photographed (historical and current) from all sides and field sketches are supplemented by railroad construction plans. The small depot is built from scale stripwood that was cut from documented actual boards recovered from the depot (this last point is more scratch building, but could be a tie breaker in a very close contest). See the difference? Thought you might!

Author & Prototype Railroad Articles Question

"Can an article about the prototype railroad be used to satisfy the requirements for Author? I've been told that the only articles allowed are those that are about model railroading."

Answer: The answer is "probably yes, and rarely no." If the modeler can glean modeling information from the article/photographs/maps, then there can be credit for original work on the prototype. At the other extreme, if the article is a biography about railroad personalities, then the answer might be no. Or, if the publication consists of reprinting railroad archives, there is no credit (remember - original work by the author). I pulled an economic analysis on railroads from an old industry journal (for kicks), and it was tough, but I used it to develop a credible story outline for a model railroad - equipment types, industries served, general condition, etc.

The requirements actually address this directly: "Prepare and submit material on any of the following subjects: Model Railroading; Prototype Railroading, applicable to Modeling; NMRA Administration."

There are three equally acceptable types of material - all valid submissions. The key for me is that there does need to be a more direct link to modeling - more so than my earlier mentioned economic treatise. I look at the books put out by the historical societies. I believe that many would qualify, as the application to modeling is apparent. Importantly, it does not have to say "...and the application to modeling is...". One of my favorite local examples is the book "Railroad with Three Gauges" by David McNeil, a historian who wrote about the railroads of SW Ohio. Every detail of every siding and industry and topographical element was covered from a historian's view. Mr. McNeil is not a modeler or a railfan, but he is a rail buff historian. I've learned local facts that were unknown to long-time locals, even some who grew up not knowing their houses were right on long-ago branches. There are modeling inferences on virtually every page. If in doubt, ask an AP manager for their perspective. You may just be surprised at the answer.