Probably the best known of these was Harry Houdini, who was a Magician, Illusionist, and Escape Artist. Aside from his stage career, he also was an author, early movie actor, and debunker of fake spirit mediums. There is also evidence that he worked with Scotland Yard and the budding British MI-6 spy organization on his European tours.
Few in the world of magic today can boast such accomplishments. But outside of the realm of magic and the world of spying, there is another and much, much larger group of illusionists: Model Railroaders.
You’re surprised? Don’t be! Isn’t that what we are doing once “playing with trains” extends beyond watching a toy train run in circle around Christmas? When we advance into the area of creating a train layout, we are creating our own little world. From exact scale modelers recreating a true to life section of a real railroad, to folks who put together a miniature world of their own, we are creating an ILLUSION of the real world!
Even the most rabid “rivet counter” must use imagination to believe that those little models are to some extent “real.” It is, after all, just an illusion.
I used to try to build very accurate models, even placing in a couple of train show model contests. But after years of trying to do that in HO, I slowly “burned out” on it. By the time I tried G scale Garden Railroading, I decided that I was not having fun. My modeling was as stressful as the job I was working. After two stress related heart attacks in 1997, both at work, I decided that I’d had enough!
I realized slowly that no matter how hard anyone tries, they cannot recreate the real world! It was all a fake, a sham of reality, an illusion. And then it hit me; It’s like making a movie! Movies are perhaps the ultimate illusion of reality! Many of the buildings are just false fronts, scenery was on a “set,” spectacular action just “special effects.”
From that moment on, I looked at model trains in a completely different way. But it was not until I got into On30 for a second time in 1998 that I found a way to really exercise the “movie set” concept of model railroading. It came about by discovering “Micro Layouts” and Carl Arendt’s Micro Layout website (carendt.us). Here was a REALLY small world of train layouts that were measured in inches instead of feet! People working on them had mastered the concept of creating illusions of a world bigger than it was. I was hooked!
When I returned to S gauge for the third time in my hobby life in 2000, there was no question that I would be a “Hi-Rail” practitioner! Where else could you find the operational reliability of big wheel flanges and couplers, and yet strive to find the realism of “scale” railroading?
I quickly developed my “Hi-Rail Philosophy” that pretty much was to produce the movie set illusion of a scene or layout without worrying about building all the details! As a former “scale” guy and having a library of books and videos of steam era railroading and narrow gauge, I knew what these things were supposed to be like. So “faking it” would be fairly simple.
I have built and dismantled or sold three S Hi-rail display layouts since 2000. These have been to several train shows and every S Spree since 2005. They are illusions, looking “movie set realistic.” And there is no reason that anyone else can’t do something similar on their own layout.
Step back and take a look at what creates the illusion of reality. You’ll quickly discover than many details can’t even be perceived from more than a few inches away, that building interiors are virtually invisible, that under body details on rolling stock can only be seen if you have a spectacular train wreck!
The point is that you need not get bogged down with the details unless that is your specialty! Few people seeing your railroad won’t notice them unless you point them out anyway. But they will be impressed by a nice looking layout with unique items on it. Every loco, every car, every structure creates the special illusion that is yours!
WE’RE ALL ILLUSIONISTS! We’re creating a world that WE imagine, WE build or kit bash, that WE control. This isn’t “rocket science,” this is common sense and having fun with your hobby!
This is escaping the real world for a time, learning new skills, the satisfaction of accomplishment, creating something no one else has because it cannot be purchased at a store or on the Internet!
You and I are “The Illusionists” of S gauge! Welcome to what is, so far, a somewhat exclusive club.