What make a great issue of a magazine? In this web age magazines are having a tough time. It’s easy to gripe so now I’ll do the hard part. What works? What makes a great magazine issue that I’ll put post-its into the pages and come back to 30 years later?

Here are some examples I find flipping through all the marked articles I tagged for this series of blog postings.

Great layout building series. I’ve mentioned the bad ones. Here are the good ones I remember from the last 40 years.

  • Brandywine Transit series by Walter R Olsen — a traction / trolley layout from the mid 70’s. I’m sure some of the techniques are a bit dated but I think this would still be a reference point for starting an HO traction layout.
  • Jerome & Southwestern by John Olson – I still look at the book collection of these articles.
  • San Juan Central by Malcolm Fulrow – obviously I liked this since I based my layout on this one.

What was good about these was that they were visually inspiring (or at least technically inspiring in the case of Brandywine) and you really got the idea you could do it yourself.

Great model building techniques. These could be in the form of how-to articles, cover photos (discussed in this post), or simply drawings.

Here are some examples:

August 1966: From Timber to Tidewater by James Sabol. A great article describing operations on logging railroads.

August 1976: The transofrmation of a caboose by Merk Hobson. How to scratchbuild in wood. Timeless good techniques.

August 1982: Building your first wood structure kit by Bob Hayden. I read over this article every time I start a wood craftsman kit.

August 1998: The HO scale Lilliput Logger by Iain Rice. I don’t hate ALL 4×8 articles. I love Iain’s work and his track plans are inspiring. I have all his track plan books too.

August 2005: Painting and weathering plaster by Bob Mitchell. This is a simple article but I know I’ll want to review it before working on my next plaster kit.

Other good articles:
An article series from another magazine is currently saving by butt as I’m building my turnouts are Didrik Voss’s articles on measuring and adjusting turnouts in the September and October Scale Rails.

40 Years of August in Model Railroader – Part 1

40 Years of August in Model Railroader – Part 2

40 Years of August in Model Railroader – Part 3

40 Years of August in Model Railroader – Part 4

40 Years of August in Model Railroader – Part 5

40 Years of August in Model Railroader – Part 5½

40 Years of August in Model Railroader – Part 6

40 Years of August in Model Railroader – Part 7

40 Years of August in Model Railroader – Part 8

40 Years of August in Model Railroader – Part 9

7 Responses to “40 Years of August in Model Railroader – Part 8”

  1. nick Says:

    Interesting observations of the changes in MR.
    MR started as a zine for railroaders to trade ideas sniping cardstock and tin cans into model trains. Over time it became the main publication of a large industry of produced models. Where it goes now is anybody’s guess. It is a good generic railroading mag, but it cannot be as specific as some of the smaller mags. I’m a little nonplussed by articles that begin with “buy this $300 model and a $200 tool”. I have a set of late 50′s MR’s and they
    are chock full of inspiration using cardstock, styrene, and some elbow grease.

    I bet MR could make a small growth in their publishing by posting those 50′s articles on the web to get at a percentage of new generation who wants to step away from these infernal computers and get their hands dirty, cut, burnt, painted, and electrocuted.

  2. Daniel Swearingen Says:

    I’m trying to think about what the good web-magazine tie in is too. I’m wondering if maybe new MR issues should tie in the fact that there are years of issues behind them and list other significant articles in the past that relate to a current article.

  3. Dick Bradley Says:

    I found your blog last night and have enjoyed catching up with your postings.

    I started reading MR in 1945 and still subscribe. But I stopped saving issues in 1996 – I felt there was little of lasting interest in them. I’ll go to the sixteen pages of solid information in the bridge article of the June, 1954 issue rather than the six pages of color bridge photos in the October, 2006 issue.

    It is the ads in MR which keep me informed about current offerings. That yellow background ad by the DCC sellers has more product information than the monthly DCC column.

    And MR in trying to appeal to a wide audience, rather than one closely focused on a single topic (historical society publications are good examples) every so often brings to light a topic or idea which broadens my model railroading concepts.

  4. Daniel Swearingen Says:

    Despite my overall negative tone in my MR comments, I’m trying to get a handle on what could be done differently at MR to “get it back.”

    I agree that the ads have always been something I like in MR (and other modeling magazines). The only exception has been in the very rare case that a non-modeling oriented ad gets into the magazine. This has been extremely rare in MR.

    It may very well be the case that the world has changed: fewer people do-it-themselves, the Internet, etc., and MR may be doing all it can and the changes I do not like are demanded by the market.

  5. David Henderson Says:

    I hope you are going to send your observations to the MR editors. I think they could benefit from them. It has to be a tough job these days. The “video game” generation rarely sees a train, and thinks of them as some kind of still moving dinosaur that contributes to global warming!
    Or, is on the news because it ran off the tracks and is leaking dangerous chemicals.

    I am a 50 something and I can see that the world has changed so much since I became interested in model railroading. When gas is $3 a gallon the cost of any hobby becomes suspect! Maybe we should be grateful that MR has been able to survive. But they do need to find that magic ‘something’ that will enable them to inspire the next generation. That and a better web-site! But maybe that’s the same thing?

    I wonder how Model Railroad Craftsman is doing by comparison. I rarely see their magazine at news stands these days.

    Thanks for reading.

  6. Nicholas Kalis Says:

    Two pet peeves of MR. They generally fail to mention any other of their competitor magazines. As the leading magazine in the hobby, it would be a magnanimous, if not simply useful to their readers, to mention articles that appeared in “competitor” magazines. Of course, I don’t see the various model railroad mags as competitors — I see them as complimentary.

  7. Jeff Hunter Says:

    The decline in Model Railroader’s circulation began when the internet’s popularity began in the mid 90s. I’m not currently a subscriber ( I buy issues at Barnes & Noble). I see on MR’s web site that subscribers have access to web content that non-subsribers don’t have access to. How useful is subscriber web content? What I wish they would include on their web site are online copies of all their back issues at a reasonable price.

    I agree that internet popularity is proving to be a challenge for magazine publishers. The day will come when today’s magazines will be accessed on wireless electronic readers that will download an issue for reading. Thus, today’s magazines may one day exist exclusively as web accessed content. The magazine rack will some day no longer exist!