If you Google “model trains” you may come across articles telling you the hobby is in decline. These writers will harp about how the glory days if model train sets are long gone and millennials, with their social media and electronics, are all but interested in the hobby. There is a grain of truth to that statement, but only that.
The golden era of models trains is indeed in a decline. The popularity the model sets once had will likely never be reached again. The days of everybody in the west wanting to add to their build may be gone, but the hobby will likely remain.
The golden era of model trains and its impact on the culture
It safe to say the first model trains popped up around 1840. They were crude however and weren’t nearly as detailed or complex as the golden era’s were. The golden era of model trains is projected to have been between the 1940s to 1960s.
This was when the hobby was at its peak. Fathers and sons both enjoyed the hobby and it was even part of western culture to an extent. But, like all things, nothing last forever.
The next generation of fathers wasn’t able to see the same interest in their children, but the hobby persisted. There are massive collections and builds by individuals in their 50s to 70s.
These builds took a ton of time and attention to the detail. The type only retirees could usually afford.
The modern era, millennials and how tech is affecting the hobby
You might be wondering “if the hobby is in decline, the generation after the golden era wasn’t interested and millennials are all that’s left, isn’t the hobby done for?” The answer is no.
While the generation is charged with being far more into tech than working with their hands and being too impatient for older arts that require detail, this couldn’t be further from the truth. The hobby is in decline as those from the last era pass on, but millennials have this thing we call “subcultures.”
This generation has a thing for crafts. Pinterest and Etsy exist simply because of that fact. Those that take up the model will like take the same attention to detail their peers do it’s crafting, so the love will still be there.
Those that craft are part of a subculture. Those in the subculture may not be the same type of person. But, we’re all linked by a love for something.
The internet and a true love for the hobby
The advent of the internet is a powerful thing. At this point, taking communicating and spreading information about things that inspire is second nature to this generation. Model trains are one Instagram away from creating a major community.
Smaller communities already exist. Message boards have dedicated builders that are passionate about the craft. The very individualistic nature of this generation is what draws people to model trains. They don’t do it because their parents introduced them. They went out and tried things until they found what they loved.
Some things may change, but craftsmanship will always be just that
With shared living becoming more popular and apartments becoming smaller, the sprawling mega builds will likely become a thing of the past. The older models that saw major popularity may not be a part of as many sets. This doesn’t necessarily affect the hobby.
The models of today aren’t necessarily in garages that have had multiple extensions. Sometimes there may be an extra bedroom dedicated to a build. More modern trains and landscapes may be used. The culture has become compact, so its art may imitate life.
The truth is, this generation will never be interested in model trains wholesale. But, no one is interested in anything but smartphones wholesale. People love what they do and they love it with a passion.
Social media and artistic expression are letting this generation find what they love and show the world how great it is. Those that do love trains will pass the torch forward.
If you’re looking for a place to get started, check out the Toy Train Center – The Ultimate Train Toy, Set and Model Guide.