Model Citizens

Synopsis: Somewhere in the world right now--much closer than you think--people are playing with trains. You might not see them at first, but they're there. In basements. In garages. In converted Army barracks. They're among the world's most compelling underground communities. To the outside world, model railroading may seem a strange obsession. But who cares about the outside world when you can make your own world? Just ask a model railroader. Some say they're playing with trains. Others say they're staying engaged and staying alive. Either way, there's more to model railroading than meets the eye. Too many people grow up and grow out of what they loved as kids. Model railroaders are different. They're doing exactly what they want to do--and they don't need to explain themselves. But in Model Citizens, several do. Their stories and motivations may surprise you. You may even learn a thing or two. To all the free spirits out there . . . and the rest left grasping at freedom: The message is simple.
Genre: Documentary
Director(s): Sara Kelly
70 min

(upbeat music)

- [Voiceover] It

wasn't so long ago

that trains were

part of everyday life

in America and the

developed world.

- [Voiceover] Here, there's

something for every taste.

From Dad's favorite,

the electric trains,

to the latest design

in space rockets.

Still, even the comparatively

old-fashioned train sets

have innovations that keep

them abreast of the times.

For example, two trains

on the same track,

yet individually controlled.

- [Voiceover] And

then things changed.

We thought we had to say

goodbye to childish things.

But no one knows why.

Of course, no one would

call this a childish thing.

Maybe a little

explaining is in order.

- I don't think the public

understands the distinction

between model railroading

and toy trains.

But I think they would

enjoy both of them

if they did understand

that distinction.

And I think the people who

use one or the other as a hobby

would also appreciate everybody

understanding the distinction.

It would actually make

their hobby more fun.

- [Voiceover] This is

scale-model railroading.

It's pretty serious business.

(folksy music)

This is scale-model railroading.

And so is this.

(train chugging)

This too.

This is not.

Neither is this.

Nor this.


Not scale.

- The advantage

of three railers,

particularly with

younger children,

is that they're virtually

indestructible toys.

And I say that knowing that

I have several locomotives

that have survived

a four-foot drop off

the table and still run.

- Notice the construction here.

Very solid metal.

(metallic tapping)

That's not plastic.

So that's the way they

used to build them.

I remember my Lionel set.


you see a lot of

sparks and stuff.

They had electrical pick

up for that middle rail.


my brother and I, we

both had Lionel trains.

What we used to do is,

I'm ashamed to admit this,

but we used to run the

trains into each other.

Stage these elaborate

train wrecks.

- Model railroading

isn't a toy, per se.

It's cute, I admit that

it's cute, can be cute.

It's more that it is


interpretation of life.

In miniature.

Sometimes a good interpretation,

sometimes not so good,

sometimes abstract art.

But it's somebody's


And it moves and it runs.

And if it's done right, it

can be a thing of beauty.

There is a lot of

misperception about

model railroading out there.


And bless their hearts,

as they say in the south.

Usually they say

that when they're

about to say something

bad about somebody,

but bless their hearts.

That misperception

is based upon a

misunderstanding of what

model railroading is.

We look at model railroading,

and the NMRA is primarily

what we call a scale

model railroading

operation, which is what,

scale means the

relationship between

the real thing and a model.

So if you have a 40-foot boxcar,

and you have a scale of

one inch to the foot,

well that boxcar's

gonna be so big.

That's scale-model railroading.

Toy trains, or tin plate,

which most the public thinks

model railroading is, Lionel.

Normally not scaled.

In other words, that

40-foot boxcar may be

actually shorter or

long, actually shorter.

Because it's a toy and

they're trying to fit it

within a packaging unit.

Or they're trying to

make it a certain way.

And they don't really care that

it's not absolutely to scale.

- [Voiceover] Okay.

But there's room for

everyone in this hobby.


- Thank you.

- [Voiceover] Describing

model railroading

and the people who do

it can be contentious.

It's not hard to

offend in a community

with such loyalties

and passions.

But there is one thing all

model railroaders can agree on,

model railroading

is good for you.

- I lose myself in this hobby.

No matter what's

going on in my life,

it's very relaxing

just to sit out there

and work at the work bench.

- For a lot of people, it's a,

stress relief.

To some people, it

would drive 'em nuts,

but to a certain

group of people,

working with that train,

working with your hands,

it's something that

kinda calms you down.

- There are two things that

are very important to me,

one is the ability to calm down,

chill out and soothe my head,

by watching a train go around.

I don't know why,

some psychologist can

explain that to me,

but all I know is if I do,

if I have a train on

the track that I like

and it's running well, and

it goes around and around

and around, I get calmer

and calmer with each lap.

- A long time ago I had a

psychiatrist come in here

and he explained to

me how he himself

had built a model railroad,

in part for his own use,

but it was a way him getting

away from his day-to-day life.

- I think model railroading,

I think a lot of

people could hide.

Here in the northeast,

it's in the basement.

And I know a lot of...

Wives that probably

wish their husbands

didn't spend quite so much

time in their basement.

So I don't know if they're

hiding from their lives or

hiding from the

pressures of life.

They just go downstairs

and play with their trains.

When I first roll into my

train room and look around...

It's a feeling of calm,

until I notice a spider web

or a piece of dust.

And then I notice another

one and then another one.

And then I realize how much

work I have ahead of me.

And I tape a little

paintbrush on my hand

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Submitted on August 05, 2018

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    "Model Citizens" STANDS4 LLC, 2024. Web. 18 Jun 2024. <>.

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