Covid-19 and the model railroading hobby

March 14, 2020

This is an unprecedented time in our human existence. Most of us have never experienced what we are about to endure. I know this sounds alarmist, and I will forgo the medical/scientific rationale for my beliefs. You can do your own research online and draw your own conclusions about the future.

However, one thing is undeniable, with most of North America and Europe on lockdown, almost all non-essential travel and events cancelled, and with people practising ‘social distancing’… we have a lot more free time on our hands. Free time that we may not have had in the past.

Thankfully we share a wonderful hobby. Did you know that spending time on an activity that you enjoy can improve your mental health and wellbeing? Something that I think we all need or will need soon.

Research shows that people with hobbies are less likely to suffer from stress, low mood, and depression. Hobbies have also been shown to improve self-confidence and improve memory. Hobbies make you feel happier and more relaxed.

Here are some of my thoughts as it relates to our hobby:

1. While I am not much in the mood to go downstairs to the layout right now; it’s important to do so. We need positive distractions now more than ever. I find myself turning to the news and social media for end-of-the-world updates way too frequently. Model RR is a great stress-reliever that provides a healthy mental break from my addictive negative habits and allows my mind to focus on other and more creative endeavours.

2. Passion. We are lucky. Model railroading is much more than a distraction as it gives us something to look forward to. Its an escape but it’s also a joy. It’s great to have a passion. And passionate people not only inspire me but tend to be more interesting people in general.

3. Connections. We are a social species and the model railroad community is just that… a community. There are fine folk that I have virtually ‘met’ and interact with in Facebook Groups and have never actually met. I also first discovered people online that have gone on to become real friends whose houses I go to for operating sessions and dinner parties. I hope that in this time, and as we transition to more virtual than physical relationships that it is these connections that will satisfy and enrich us all.

4. Entertainment. There is only so much Netflix and Amazon Prime that one can watch. I love watching YouTube videos and seeing the amazing work that others have posted online. These are not only entertaining but inspiring and motivating. Perhaps it’s a time for a top 10 list of who/what to watch… any suggestions?

5. Explore and develop new skills. I like challenging myself and learning new things. I often joke that the layout is my anti-Alzheimer’s aging strategy. This hobby has taught me things I never thought that I’d be good at and introduced me to the worlds of drones and 3D printing. I am going to use some of this time to try to learn 3D modelling with Fusion 360. What are you planning to do?

6. Get outside. My understanding is that we need to avoid other people (for now). We can and should still go outside….and railfan! Standing by the tracks, camera in hand sounds like a healthy pursuit. If you see me out there, just remember keep 6 feet away is the recommended distance.

If you’re like me, this is a time of some stress. Hopefully with family, friends, faith and the ‘world’s greatest hobby’ it will be a little less stressful. Please let me know what the hobby means to you and how you are planning to use your time.

Now if I could only get my kids interested in the layout.

Stay safe.


  1. Eric Gagnon

    Great thoughts, Bernard. Though I think we have more chance of making social distancing work than getting our kids involved in this crazy, passionate hobby. They are passionately involved in their devices and social media, it seems. I guess they learned that from us. We have the best of both worlds – modelling AND using social media i.e. Youtube to make our modelling more enjoyable.

  2. William PAUL Hurly

    Nice, positive spin, Bernard. Thank you. I too suggested to our NMRA division superintendent, as he lamented at how quiet March, April and May will be as cancellations rolled in starting Friday morning, now is a great time to focus on all the hobby projects not finished and skills to be honed. I have my list. Plus I’m proceeding for now with two small group operating sessions.

    One message and lesson we all should reinforce: personal hygiene has been and will be the major contributor to the spread and the defeat of epidemics and pandemics. Two weeks ago, at the Princess of Wales theatre I watched two males leave the washroom without washing their hands. Many men still just shake their hands under the water. Seriously!!! Most of us just don’t get it!

    I do take exception to your “unprecedented time in our human existence” opening. Just consider this. In 14th century Europe, 1 in 3 humans died from the Black Death (the Plague) during a four-year period. The death toll reached about 30 million people. Many scholars believe the toll was higher. Yet Wikipedia lists The Plague as only “the second worst pandemic” in human history. BTW, that pandemic gave us the practice and term “quarantine” (ironically, from an Italian word), social distancing and other measures to defeat unseen viruses. The idea of villages walled off from the outside popularized in all forms of entertainment from ‘The Walking Dead’ on back, was widespread in the 14th century for real.

    Closer to home and more recently, I remember as a child seeing a lot of b&w TV shows of children stricken with polio in iron lungs. My father-in-law was affected by polio. By 1952, at its height, polio had killed more than 3,000 Canadians and Americans.

    Twenty years ago, my wife and I, who both worked in healthcare, watched as flights to Toronto stopped, people stopped going to theatres and cinemas, and many people and some hospitals were quarantined due to SARS. Toronto’s economy was hit so hard the Rolling Stones, Rush, ACDC and others held a ‘we’re open again for business’ free concert. Yet one month afterward, passengers on our flight to Italy were screened by officials in bio-hazard suits to ensure Canadians were not bringing SARS to their country.

    Ironically, in 2002, an expert at a healthcare conference predicted that human society would see an uptick in viral epidemics as the protections afforded by antibiotics wore compromised. How prophetic. Since then I have worked through SARS and MERS (I have been in Saudi Arabia and the ME for 13 years), and now COVID-19. All are of the coronavirus family of viruses.

    So today’s health events are not unprecedented. And many of us and our families have been touched by past similar occurrences.

    Here’s a link for more info to put current events into perspective: . I’ve always believed in the power of this quote: People who don’t know their history are doomed to repeat it.



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