Model Railroading is (supposed to be) fun

Model Railroading is (supposed to be) fun

Or, you can’t always be serious

By Ernest H. Robl

Sometimes we take our hobby too seriously. Everything has to be perfect — or as perfect as we can get it.

Okay, I try to stick to certain principles — within reason. I make compromises, but, when I do, I am aware of what I am doing. There just isn’t enough space, time, and money to do all the things that I would like to do on my layout.

But, sometimes it helps to intentionally inject a bit of incongruity. After all, so many weird things happen in the construction and operation of a layout, that it’s sometimes fun to intentionally inject something weird.


This railcar is an HO model of an Austrian auto carrier, used in auto-carrying passenger trains. The model is made by Kleinbahn of Austria, a small Austrian manufacturer that has, nevertheless, been around for 70 years now. The model of the DDm car (note that this classification groups the car with passenger train cars, and not as a freight car) is substantially compressed in length, but that fits in fine with my 1:100 Roco passenger cars. Did you spot the joke? (Not even after clicking on the image and viewing the larger version?) If not, read on below.

Even the famous

Even the most famous model railroaders have done that. Legendary American model railroader John Allen began with the name of his layout, the Gorre and Daphetid Railroad — pronounced “Gory and Defeated,” of course.

And though his layout, sadly now long gone, was noted for its spectacular scenery and great attention to detail, visitors who looked closely also found a few small strange items, including in a small quarry, a scale dinosaur pulling a mine cart.

Model railroader magazine once published plans for building a model or a railroad set on the surface of the moon (in an April issue).

About that picture

If you still haven’t figured out what’s odd about the above image, here’s a clue: That front auto on the top deck may disappear when the train goes over 130 km/h. Yes, that front auto model is, of course, of a DeLorean, complete with flux capacitor — that mobile time machine from the movie series Back to the Future.

I’m not naturally a funny person, though about once a year or so, I say something — intentionally or unintentionally — that’s good for a real laugh.

But, when I saw that the small European manufacturer NPE offered not one, but several HO versions (there’s even a motorized one that runs on rails!) of that famous DeLorean DMC 12, I found that it would add just the right touch of humor — even if not everyone spotted it immediately.

NPE says these models are appropriate for all eras, from 1-6!

What’s in a name?

Probably the most common attempt at humor on a model train layout comes with the names of towns, businesses, or other entities. This works best if you don’t go overboard with these names. Instead, having just one or two such names will make them much more effective.

Most of the names on my layout will be rather mundane — Mittelstadt, Kleinbach, Stein am Berg (more about that in a later Blog), and so on.

But, in the town of Mittelstadt, near the station, there will be a Kibri structure that is called “Hotel Ernst.” Ernst, of course, is the German version of Ernest — and can also mean serious, as in earnest. As part of that complex, there will also be a “Kaffee-Konditorei Lustig.” Lustig, in German. can mean amusing or funny — but, it’s also a family name.

Figuratively speaking

One great way to have a little fun is with scale figures. Preiser (and other manufacturers) makes a huge range of scale figures, Depending on how you place them, they, too, can offer some small funny elements.

I have a Preiser HO Santa Claus figure that I acquired years ago with the idea of doing a scale scene that I could use on a Christmas card. I never got around to that project, but I’m sure I’ll find a spot for that figure somewhere on my layout — even if he’s only waiting on a platform to board a train.


I hope the above has given you a few ideas about how to lighten up a model railroad project. Remember, these little efforts at small jokes are fine, even if you’re the only one who smiles whenever you look at a particular scene.


As always, comments are welcome.


One Response to Model Railroading is (supposed to be) fun

  1. Gordon says:

    Yes, this is part of the fun of creating a layout. I have many such scenes, and 3 “Treasure Hunt” cards on the spectator rails to urge people to look more closely. Not everyone bothers, but enough people at Train Shows do make the effort to find the two dozen hidden scenarios to keep me encouraged. Good article again, Ernest!

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