Okay, so I fly airplanes for a living. I actually think that is why I have such an appreciation for rail transport. On the one hand, I understand things like the railway labor act (which applies to us airline folk as well), seniority-based schedules that operate without regard to weekends or holidays, 2-hour callouts at all hours of the day or night, and that kind of thing. On the other hand, there are enough differences that I still get the romantic feeling of something gigantic and powerful pulling an amazingly heavy load along a double iron ribbon. I also still think that rail is an inherently civilized way to travel. There area lot of airlines that will take you where you need to go, and some do a great job of making the process actually pleasant, but they all suffer from travelling over the land, rather than meandering through it. A trip by rail is about the getting there, more than the arrival.
Even if you’re not riding the train, watching one go by, enormous and heavy beyond imagining, shattering the quiet of the woods, or clanking its way past a passenger depot, can show how our world can evolve while still maintaining a strong attachment to its history. Some people like to hunt and fish. For many of them, the joy is in the quiet, the waiting, and the enjoyment of Mother Nature’s wonder. This is how I look at watching trains.
Small trains make a similar offer, but, of course, in a different way (actually, a great part of the appeal is in the sheer number of ways). Depending on the choice of subject, there can be a tremendously rich history, ripe for research and and re-creation. There may also be a tremendouns opportunity to invent something completely novel, and create a railroad from scratch. In either case, there is plenty to do in the areas of model building, planning, research, electronics, computer control, railroad operations and procedures, or just the plain joy of watching your baby enthralled by seeing a toy train go ’round and ’round. One can involve themselves in as many or as few of these as he or she desires, and to any extent. From commissioning a full-blown layout to hand-laying every inch of track, there can be as much to do or as little as anyone could want. For me, I love that the road that I model still has tracks that are within a short drive of my house, though the road has been gone for as long as I have been alive. There are just enough ready-made models of my road to keep me from feeling like I have to build everything, but I do get to build a few special pieces. In any case, at any given time, there are a couple thousand small, 15-minute projects to keep me busy, and a few big ones that I can set out somewhere on the horizon.