« WSAU Opinion Blog

OPINION - No time for hobbies

by Chris Conley

NEWS BLOG (WSAU) I’ve built model railroads off-and-on since I was 8 years old. (Actually, my first model railroad, on a standard 8 x 4 plywood board that stood on sawhorses, was built by my father. I, um, supervised.)

I am in-between modeling projects now. There are times that I’ve taken out my tape-measure and took the dimensions of a spare room at my house. My ¼-inch grid paper has been taken out. These are the initial steps before a model train fantasy begins to take flight.

Pope’s Hobbyland was helpful to me in my last model-building project. Track for a model railroad is laid with special nails atop specially sized cork. It was handy to drive to Pope’s if I ran out. I remember needing a right-handed number-6 switch… I had three left-handed, and a righty number-4… so down to Pope’s I’d go. Rail joiners, track insulators, and wires too. These were all small things that could have derailed my hobby for a day or two.

But there’s the problem. Fewer people have hobbies these days. That’s unfortunate. X-box and electronics crowd out time that young boys used to spend building model trains. It’s also hard to get kids interested in model railroading when so few of them have been on an actual train. And steam engines, which even I am too young to remember, are more intricate and interesting to model than diesels. Thomas the Tank Engine and the Polar Express are interesting, but they won’t inspire a kid to take up a hobby that requires hundreds of hours of scarce time.

Pope’s isn’t a model train store, it’s a hobby shop. If you flew wooden airplanes or built doll houses or had a rock-tumbler that polished stones they had a shelf or a department for you. But all of those things take time too, which no one seems to have enough of.

So what happens as more of us don’t take up hobbies? Well, a nice, clean store that’s run by friendly, helpful people closes its doors. They’ve done well. But it’s not the kind of business where a new buyer is likely to step forward. The long-term outlook for a hobby shop isn’t great. Stores like that are expensive to run, there are large inventory costs, and almost every supplier offers their stuff on-line at a lower price. The owners are retiring. Their store is being liquidated. The few of us who still have hobbies will be poorer for it.

Chris Conley