Is the live steam hobby in decline?

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Is the live steam hobby in decline?

Post by shild » Fri Feb 02, 2018 5:12 am

Is live steams popularity stable or is it slowly declining? I guess todays video games are so good that just about everything else is in decline isn't it? When do you think the peak of this hobby was? 1985? 1990?

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Re: Is the live steam hobby in decline?

Post by WJH » Fri Feb 02, 2018 6:00 am

I’ve played video games my entire life, more so in the past than now. In fact I find it hard to sit down in front of a computer to do anything other than Fusion360 these days. They never prevented me from doing other things. What limits people is access to things. Young people need exposure to this stuff to develop an interest.
A friend of mine over at the GGLS stated that membership was in decline. I simply think people are dying quicker than can be replaced by younger people. I am 37 years old, finally making enough money as to where I can start to enjoy the hobby. The same exact talk is going on over at my R/C airplane forum. I had a good talk with John over at Friends Models about this. Asked him what the largest demographic was buying his stuff. He didn’t really know, I think this is a question we all must ask. We all need to do our part to get young people interested.

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Re: Is the live steam hobby in decline?

Post by PRR5406 » Fri Feb 02, 2018 6:26 am

I don't think so. What's in decline is training younger people in the skills to do machine work, carpentry, the satisfaction of working with your hands. Generally, once you've sat behind a locomotive and managed a train by yourself, you're hooked. I've seen it time and again. Even "live Diesel" is an adventure for operators.

Computer driven adventures do not draw the individual into the reality of the moment. There is always the option to restart and walk away without experiencing the sounds, smells, heat, involvement, and true-life control of drawing a heavy load behind a machine that depends on you. VR can take you to to the ocean floor, allow you to walk through the "Titanic", or land on the moon, but that's where it ends.

Real life experience will, almost, always triumph.

-Dick G.
"Always stopping my train, and risking my ankles, with American made, New Balance sneakers."

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Re: Is the live steam hobby in decline?

Post by Atkinson_Railroad » Fri Feb 02, 2018 7:01 am

This topic raises [its] discussion every once in the while. It usually happens in the dead of winter.

The quick, short answer to the question is No. The hobby is not in decline. It's evolving.

One could scour the Internet, tabulate all known tracks, websites devoted to the hobby, and contact all active suppliers and manufacturers of products devoted to the avocation for information on their sales figures over the years and maybe establish a valid guess.

Looking at the long curve based solely on personal observations starting from the 1960’s to today, the hobby has indeed blossomed.
The activity has always lagged behind the smaller “table-top” and garden sized hobby varieties and will always remain this way due
to its separate set(s) of unique and long established attributes.

Ten pages of a somewhat parallel topic devoted to what people are thinking or feel about “modeling” railroad subject matter can be found at the URL below… which some may find interesting to read for further opinions and insight. ... ailroaders

John D. Atkinson

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Re: Is the live steam hobby in decline?

Post by steamingdon » Fri Feb 02, 2018 9:01 am

To say people are dying faster than they can be replaced, is that not a decline. I have been involved in L.S. for over 25 years now and have observed a change in what young people get involved in, Nothing! sums it up. They do not get involved with anything that requires patients and perseverance . The trades are suffering because the training is lacking and again young people are not being pushed to learn a trade. I was part of the Vocational school program and then went on to serve an apprenticeship. That was what you were suppose to do to gain respect from fellow workers in your chosen field. I think "Live Steam" as I once knew it is in a decline. Now all the noitalls will tell you to teach or mentor some young person, I`ve tried with NO good results. So we old pharts must do what we do best, keep on keeping on. ALL clubs or organizations, such as V.F.W. American Legions, Elks, Masonry..ect.. all in decline. One of my friends @ PVLS said last year that if this survives another 20 yrs. he would be very surprised. He will turn 80 this year. Though on a more positive note, I see people stepping up to help with projects around the club and getting involved. This a sign of caring about the club and each other. The situation that this whole country is in took many years to take hold and will take a long while to fix. :shock: :D :D :D :D :D :D :D

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Re: Is the live steam hobby in decline?

Post by Pontiacguy1 » Fri Feb 02, 2018 9:22 am

I believe that the model railroading hobby in general is experiencing a decline. When I was a boy, I absolutely loved trains and pretty much anything to do with trains. That still happens with youth today, but not at the rate it did back in the 1940s through 1960s. Back in those earlier days, the railroad was king. You can see it in the sales of Lionel locomotives and train sets. Lionel boomed in the post-war years, 1945-1960, and after that, slowly fell until they ended up almost going under. Even now, a lot of the collectible old trains have lost some of their value in the past 10 years or so.

What does that have to do with Riding Scale railroads? Well, most of us started out with some type of electric train set, and then got involved in Large scale at a later time in our lives. The kids dreaming about electric train sets in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s were the people who were joining clubs and building tracks in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. That generation is slowly passing into history. The generations behind them, mine and younger, don't have as many people with the history and background of train enthusiasm as before. Thus, I think it inevitable that as a hobby we will experience some type of decline in the coming years.

Do I think it will kill the hobby? No, I do not. I do, however, think that there will be fewer people who will be working on track, building locomotives, etc... I believe the peak was around 1995-2005, somewhere along in that time frame. There seemed, to me at least, to be a lot more activity and energy in the hobby back during that stretch than it is now. Maybe that's just a personal thing, having had kids in the last 12 years has taken a lot of my focus and energy off the hobby.

But, hey, this hobby has grown very much in the last 40 years. It's likely that we will experience some sort of contraction at some point. There are now more tracks out there than there have ever been. Some have gone away, others have been built. Overall, I think we are doing OK. Other hobbies and interests are experiencing declines now as a lot of the younger generation just doesn't care about some of the same things with the passion of earlier generations. Some examples: Hot Rodding and Car Customizing, Model airplanes, model railroading, shooting sports, etc... A lot of the younger generation can hardly do anything with their hands. That's a problem. And some of it isn't just that they've never been exposed... it's also partly because they just don't want to. Our local school district put back in a metalworking class and bought a lathe and a milling machine and some other equipment to learn to do stuff with. Only had about 6 or 7 kids sign up for the class. They ended up busing kids from the other high school in the county so that they would have about 12 in the class. You can't justify having a teacher and a lot of expensive equipment for that few a kids who are interested in signing up.

Can we do anything? Yes. #1, is we need to stop bragging that our locomotives took 3500 hours to build and are machined within a ten-thousandth of an inch tolerance. That tends to scare people away. I know you worked hard on it and you are an expert and a mechanical genius and want to brag about it, but for the newcomer it makes it seem like an impossible learning curve. #2, We need to encourage people to build something, anything, and get it up and running. Even if it doesn't look like much, praise someone for their work and encourage them. I don't care if it looks like a skateboard with trucks under it, it if it will work with the track and other trains and can be used safely, then great! Success has many fathers. #3, Get people hooked on these things by letting the newby run your locomotive a little bit, with proper instructions and training and all. Keep that enthusiasm going by letting them re-set the hook from time-to-time. #4 (and I'm talking to myself here too) Get your kids away from the phone, away from the games, and out into the shop for some instruction. If you are a hobbyist, and your 10 year old doesn't know what a tap is, do something about it! #5, it will become well-known that you are a 'train person' in your circle of friends, workplace, or church. Take the time to talk with other people's kids when they express an interest. Share information, pictures, etc... Just to show kids what is possible. Invite them to the next club meet. Don't just dismiss some 5 year old kid outright. That kid may grow up to be one of your club's builders, cheerleaders, or an officer one day.

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Re: Is the live steam hobby in decline?

Post by Pontiacguy1 » Fri Feb 02, 2018 9:29 am

One ENCOURAGING sign I failed to mention... the price of and demand for used metalworking tools seems to me to be rising. 5 or 6 years ago it seemed like a used Bridgeport style manual mill in fair to poor shape wouldn't bring jack squat. Now, the prices have gone up quite a bit in the past 1 to 2 years. I don't know if the supply happens to be that much lower or if there really is higher demand for them, but for whatever reason, buying a used mill will cost you more now.

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Re: Is the live steam hobby in decline?

Post by Brunswick Carshops » Fri Feb 02, 2018 12:03 pm

The hobby isn't declining; it's evolving. The millennials (kids) are just getting to the point they can start to enjoy the fruits of their labors. Many of them are educated, and, with enough will and YouTube videos, can figure it out. Attracting this crowd is tough because for many, the debts of higher education trump spending on hobbies. They budget and scrimp and save and for many, buying new is out of reach.

From what I see, the Home Shop will make a resurgence and the hobby will continue to evolve. Socially, many millennials seem to keep a smaller group of close friends than their predecessors; despite what we see on the news about the Faceplace and the Tweeter. That may impact the hobby more than we realize.

Where I see the most gains in the hobby in the next ten years is from Gen X'ers (born 1969-1981) who are reaching full financial maturity. At the same time, their generation has different social needs than mine does, and I have not done enough research to fully comment on it.

FWIW, I've been in the hobby quite a long time. My grandfather would bring me to Wednesday's at the club (retiree's day) to fully annoy the retirees. Twenty-ish years later and not much has changed, except I work Wednesday's. I'm a 30 year old millennial PITA, working on a Master's degree, restoring a steam engine, and trying to maintain some sort of social life.

I beg, borrow, and steal shop time and help from my close friends to undertake these shenanigans, and I whole-heartedly appreciate the help I've received (I know they are going to read this). I hope I can help them as much as they help me. I can't commit the same time or cash to this hobby as others in this hobby. My annual dues are always paid and I help where I can. Isn't that enough?

This hobby is like the "Field of Dreams"; build it and they will come! (Just don't build another Six Flags; we don't need that sort of attention)
~ John Sommer ~

Whats' the fastest way to make a million dollars in racing? Start with two!- Frank Rio

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Re: Is the live steam hobby in decline?

Post by FKreider » Fri Feb 02, 2018 11:38 pm

Brunswick Carshops wrote:
Fri Feb 02, 2018 12:03 pm
The hobby isn't declining; it's evolving. The millennials (kids) are just getting to the point they can start to enjoy the fruits of their labors. Many of them are educated, and, with enough will and YouTube videos, can figure it out. Attracting this crowd is tough because for many, the debts of higher education trump spending on hobbies. They budget and scrimp and save and for many, buying new is out of reach.
I think this is extremely true, I am 27 and I have been looking at steam engine stuff on the internet and in magazines for the past 10 years or so. About a year and a half ago I bought my first house with a detached garage which is my first real shop. Since then I have been very lucky to buy a mill at auction and a lathe in ok shape off craigslist. As mentioned above the budget is very tight for hobby stuff due to school loans and living expenses, I think this applies to most people around my age.
-Frank K.

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Re: Is the live steam hobby in decline?

Post by stickfigure » Sat Feb 03, 2018 3:10 am

GenX'er here. At 44 I'm finally moving to the country and building a RR. That wasn't going to happen while I was excited about city life.

I don't have much perspective on what the hobby was like before (riding LALS as a kid doesn't count), but I've been reading old books in preparation for this new chapter in my life. Today's rail seems to be less expensive than the figures I'm reading; you now can get pre-gauged plastic ties that last forever; there are zillions of youtube videos on machining techniques. 20 years ago I would have had no idea how to get started. Now I binge-watch "Keith videos" (Appleton, Rucker) while babysitting.

Decline or not, I'm glad I'm entering the hobby now and not earlier.

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Re: Is the live steam hobby in decline?

Post by jlakes85 » Sat Feb 03, 2018 6:48 am

Don't forget Keith Fenner. I think he was one of the first to go on YT as a professional (after tubal Cain was practically the first machinist on YT to begin with), using no-nonsense equipment. Seeing up close for the first time what can be done with carbide insert tooling and a geared head 7.5 HP lathe changes your perspective completely

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Re: Is the live steam hobby in decline?

Post by OddDuck » Sat Feb 03, 2018 9:09 am

Since I'm hitting the half century mark this year I suppose that makes me a gen-xer, although I've never thought of myself as one. I kind of swerved into this hobby by accident by answering a craigslist ad, and found out it was one of those things I always wanted to do but never knew I wanted to do it. I love the plethora of things I have to do and the universe of things I have to learn for this hobby.
My take on this is that all things are cyclical, they ebb and flow over decades. I was an Odd Fellow about a decade or so ago and at the time we were lucky to get 5 or 6 guys to a meeting. I hear that they currently have a dozen or more at each meeting. Younger people, too, not just guys my age. When I had to stop going (new job...) there was speculation as to the future of that organization as well. I had a lengthy conversation with my father in law about this just last week. He's been an Odd Fellow in the same lodge for longer than I've been alive and said he's seen it come and go several times in multiple lodges in the area. So, not just this hobby.
As far as I'm concerned, it is in a resurgence in my neck of the woods. By the end of this year there will be a 100% increase in tracks in the State o' Maine (we'll get 'er done for a full loop this year, Dick!) with another in the early planning stages (at least in my head). There is also a local supplier of 1/8th scale stuff (me again...), so a definate improvement.
Where the younger generations are concerned, don't discount the impact of shows that were very popular over the last twenty years or so like Thomas the Tank engine or Chuggington. Both less than realistic but I can gaurantee you the seed has been sown in thousands of impressionable lil' skulls full of mush.
I am also guardedly optimistic to the abilities of future generations to do things with their hands. It's just going to be different. Look at the explosion of capability and popularity of 3d printing, to me this at least expresses a desire and need to create something, to move something from your imagination into reality. It may even lead to a resurgence of small foundries when the material limits of the printed parts has been reached. Who knows?
In short, it will come back, differently. The old guys will be grumping about lost tracks and builders and the way they are building them wrong now, and the younger crowd will be out on the track ramming around triple heading their steamers built with printed parts, and the hand- built equipment of past decades will be lovingly maintained and oohed and aahed over by those who really appreciate the craftsmanship that went into them.
Ebb? Yes. Change? Yes. It's not going to die any time soon.
"If you took the bones out they wouldn't be crunchy!" -Monty Python's Flying Circus

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