Model Trains and the Secret of Happiness

The world is a foul and meaningless place full of pimps and mutant wolves. And who isn’t fucked up and miserable about that fact? People with hobbies. It’s as though by finding something you love and climbing all up in it until it’s so tight around you...

The world is a foul and meaningless place full of pimps and mutant wolves. And who isn’t fucked up and miserable about that fact? People with hobbies. It’s as though by finding something you love and climbing all up in it until it’s so tight around you that you can barely breathe, the misery can’t squeeze its way in. Maybe I’m oversimplifying it. Or maybe people with hobbies are as morbid as the rest of us but we only ever see their weirdly contented exteriors. To find out, I interviewed some polite and slightly suspicious gentlemen at the Melbourne Model Railway Society.

David, club secretary

VICE: Hey David, what’s the secret to happiness?
David: I guess it’s doing something you like with a group of like-minded people. You get the social interaction.

So why model trains?
That’s what I don’t know. I guess it was in my blood. My great-grandfather was an engine driver. My grandfather also wanted to be a driver, but he was color blind so that was the end of that. So yes, it was in the blood.

There were a lot of grandfathers in that. And I’m not seeing any women here. Why?
I guess the railway world is a male-dominated world. We actually have a female member, but I’ve never met her.

What was the best part of tonight?
The best bit was getting through without any dramas happening. Tonight one of the trains uncoupled a couple of times on my station. I could see that the coupler wasn’t quite right so I took it off the rails and put it aside. If people send me the right train in the right sequence, it’s good. If it gets out of sequence and you don’t know what’s going on, then it’s frustrating. Just running the trains without dramas or collisions, that’s the best bit.

Are you happy?

Reg, club treasurer

Hey Reg, what’s the secret of happiness?
In order to be happy you should, well, you’ve got to have a satisfactory home life for starters. For a married person, they’ve got to have a happy home atmosphere and relationship. They have to be open to more pressures than a single person does.

And what’s the appeal of trains?
I don’t know really. Probably the shape and noise. I always imagined myself driving them.

Can you describe that fantasy?
It was the excitement of the speed and having power over this monster. That you could say “go” and it went, and “stop” and it stopped.

So power makes you happy?
Well no, but maybe that was the thought imperceptibly going through my mind. I think you can also equate power to control. Because you, in your position now, as you progress in your profession you’ll find that you’ll acquire power or control whether you want to or not. Just as I did. It can contribute to happiness if it’s used in the right fashion and in the right manner.

Are you happy?
Yes, absolutely. I would say that the thing about model railways is that it’s an inclusive sort of hobby where you meet other people with the same interest and you can talk about it in an area removed from here. Like I’ll be driving home tonight with one of my colleges here we’ll be talking about it. Where as this (makes movements with his finger like he’s using a smart phone) that’s a very singular, isolated sort of activity. I think that’s where a lot of kids are missing out these days.

So phones don’t make you happy?
No, I don’t think they’re constructive. I got an email the other day of Einstein’s remarks regarding the takeover of the human spirit by automation. The email showed a series of pictures of people having a cup of coffee (pokes at his imaginary phone) people going to dinner (pokes again). They’re all doing it. People traveling on the trains, they’re not looking out the window or reading a book or newspaper, and I think what the hell is going on here? This is ridiculous. That’s where I think these things can be the creators of evil. But you can’t stop it. It’s progress.

Warwick, club president

Hey Warwick, what’s the secret of happiness?
I think if you’ve got your health you’ve got a lot of things. Reasonable financial security too, I suppose. I’ve got enough to live on comfortably and do things that I want to do.

So you need money to be happy?
You need enough to get by.

What about sex?
No, that becomes nonexistent virtually. You can still think about it though.

Earlier in life?
Oh yeah, it’s part of life. Keeps the world going doesn’t it?

Is it important to have a hobby?
Yeah look, I’ve been retired 16 years, which is a pretty good effort. Lots of people don’t get that chance. Some die quickly, and I think it’s those who don’t have another interest, I think they go sooner.

Does the club advertise its health benefits?
No, and anyway, we don’t get many new members. It’s common with all clubs, not just model railway clubs. The memberships are dropping off. Younger ones just aren’t interested in clubs or organisations.

So why are you interested?
I’ve always been interested in mechanical things. Like Reg, I think the power and the noise and the smell and all that was associated with it. Now it’s a bit of nostalgia.

And are you happy?
Yeah, happy as Larry. I feel pretty content with the life I’ve had. When I go I’ll say, well, I won’t get a chance to say it, but I’ve done pretty well. I have little aches and pains sometimes but nothing major. Can’t growl I think.