When we discuss the concept of Model Railroading as family entertainment, there is sure to be a picture in most people’s minds of Dad sitting in the basement, tenderly adding a new piece to his masterpiece, Son and maybe Daughter watching in rapt fascination, or at least trying to be in on every move so as not to feel left out. If they’re lucky, they might get to apply a brushstroke of paint or hold something as the glue dries. This tableau is fine, but it excludes an important dynamic.


Dad and Son enjoy Model Railroading in the Good Old Days
photo from Flickr Creative Commons by Phil_Parker

In my experience building model railroad layouts for people from Miami to Seattle, and all points in between, Mom, the wife, whatever you choose to call this vital member of the nuclear family is a key component in tying the whole thing together. Her support and cooperation may come in several ways. As a supportive and loving spouse, she wants her husband to be happy, so she accepts and supports her husband’s hobby. She travels with her spouse to enjoy rail related destinations. Finally, as an equal in the family, she wants to make her own contribution to the miniature world being built.

Although marriage is commonly looked at as a two-way street, it is not a given that everything the husband likes will be equally embraced by his spouse. Not every wife will get up at 5 AM to go fishing and not every husband will gleefully spend a leisurely Sunday afternoon shopping for shoes. Part of the balancing act is tolerating, if not loving the interests of the other member of the team. Most of the wives we’ve dealt with have been very receptive and encouraging of their husband’s train hobby (you may read that as obsession, if you like). They will patiently watch as hubby explains every detail of a new signal system he has just installed or a new structure he has just completed on the workbench. After all, the side benefit of this hobby is that the wife will usually have a pretty good idea of where her husband is! If he’s not in the basement or attic, he’s probably thumbing through dusty boxes at his favorite hobby shop seeking unexpected treasure. The wife will also recognize that modeling is a great way to escape the pressures of daily life and let off a little steam (figuratively and literally). Several wives of our clients here at SMARTT  have sent us grateful letters thanking us for the enjoyment we have brought to their husbands. Some of our customers have even asked for help in choosing and customizing just the right gift for their train-fixated hubby.

A second way for the wives out there to take part in the model railroading experience is through travel. Because the core of model railroading is recreating the word in miniature, there are many great travel destinations that couples can share as they visit the prototype world that their layout interests are built on. Special rail fanning excursions abound across the globe, from rides through Pennsylvania’s Horseshoe Curve, travel through Colorado’s majestic beauty, or on trips through Britain and continental Europe’s great rail destinations. Unlike America, Europe, the birthplace of Model Railroading back in the 19th century continues to place quite a premium on travel by rail, even now in the 21st century. Spouses can share tea on a steamer traveling through England’s storied countryside or, even more intriguing, nap in a real sleeper on the Orient Express! In addition to real world destinations, couples can travel to conventions and museums across the world, like this year’s NMRA National Convention in Sacramento, CA.

For the really fortunate Model Railroad loving husband, there is the true treasure of a wife, one who wants to get whole-heartedly involved in the creation of a layout. On several occasions, we have had the good fortune of working with a couple that is cooperating on building their world together. From choosing which stores will honor each of their kids or grandkids or which name will commemorate a favorite uncle, to deciding to have us recreate the sentimental site of a first romantic rendezvous or other significant event. These hobby intrigued wives and moms will roll up their sleeves and get involved in choosing colors of house trim, names of restaurants and everything in between. And the couples that we’ve worked with in this manner do so in a strikingly harmonious way. I guess it was their good fortune to find someone whose mind ran so parallel and in sync with their own.



This SMARTT Main Street was the product of a Husband and Wife
team deciding together on stores and window adverts.

So pull up another chair to the railroad workbench and make the family experience complete. Encourage wife and/or mom to become a vital part of the model railroading adventure. Whether it’s taking her to see the great travel destinations that spurred the creation of the miniature world, having her help choose the elements that make up your tiny towns and cities, or just basking in her indulgent gaze, put the family in family entertainment and everybody wins.

—Raymond G. Potter

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