Railways – The Multifaceted Hobby

If you are looking to invest in a new hobby, then railways are the way to go! It’s a hobby that caters for everyone and it entails many aspects, many of which meld together sometimes. The main aspects – as I see them – are:

– Model Building and/or Running
– Photography
– Camping/Traveling
– History/Volunteering
– Writing/Social Media
– Friends and Good Times

Model Building and/or Running

This aspect is for those who want to use their artistic or technical skills. In it’s most basic form, one can buy a kit in a variety of scales and build their favourite rolling stock or building or indeed ready made and put it on display.

In extreme forms (The best form if I might say so myself), one can build a working model railway system where you imitate the day to day operations of a railway – real or fictional.

When I was part of FNG (Friday Night Group) which became GLOW (Gauteng Layouts Out West) we had a few members who had model railways encompassing different themes or geographical locations. On four of the members layouts (Two South African Theme, one US and one German), we operated trains to a working time table using sped up time (By changing the clocks gears, you could simulate a 12 hour day in 3 hours – this also helps to make it seem trains travel further as one rarely has enough space to even model a section between two Metro Stations). We were so strict that we even used proper period operating rules such as no Tank Wagons directly behind the locomotives, shorties (4 Wheel Wagons) must run in pairs at least and empty wagons to run at the rear. We even had a mini waybill system in place and working signals.

Another section under this aspect is to build a working miniature locomotive and or rolling stock that people can actually ride on. There are also different scales and because the steam locomotives have working boilers, they need to be certified.

Most people don’t have space in their gardens for even a simple loop, so the only option one has is to join a club which usually has one or two circuits in a park or sometimes put down a temporary track at shows/events. The circuits normally feature a false tunnel and a few bridges adding to the realism – though these are out of scale so that people can fit through or over them!


Using model trains as an example, perhaps you want to build a replica of a certain building or rolling stock. One would normally get your gear together – anything from your cell phone to a standard digital camera to the most high-tech cameras and set ups available – pack the car and dash out, alone or with friends. Perhaps you just want to capture the majesty of a train thundering by or record – for history sake – a video of a specific locomotive speeding by. Perhaps you just like taking photos composed of railway themes but no trains themselves, such as a lowly signal standing tall and bright on a snowy day. Often I would travel with Jimmy and his father to different locations and we would capture various trains on film in different locations around South Africa.

I learnt about taking good photographs from field trips with Jimmy, his father and famous local railway photographer – Jean Dulez.

One could also gather with friends and watch slides, videos or DVDs and enjoy some finger snacks!


This brings us to camping and traveling. Depending on how serious you are about actually camping you can pack the car with a tent, sleeping bag and supplies or stay over in a motel/Bed and Breakfast. You most certainly are going to wait line-side for a few hours so it’s a great social time – that is until you hear the sound of a distant horn/whistle blowing or the rails singing or even see smoke or the train itself in the distance. Everything goes flying so that you get into position which you’ve checked 100s of times before this moment to take the ‘perfect shot’.


If you’re a lover of history, besides using resources such as your computer and the internet to read interesting history, one can volunteer at your local Museum or Preservation Society – there is a richness of memorabilia and GREAT stories from those that used to or still do work on the railways. It is a living history!

An added benefit of working at museums or preservation societies is that you gain valuable experience and expertise. Though not a guarantee, it can help you if you want a career on the railways. Certain procedures may be different, but because some of these are working railways (in terms of carrying passengers), they are subject to the same stringent rules as your everyday working railways and fall under the watch of Rail Safety Regulators.

If you were never able to have, or don’t want, a full time career in the railway this is the perfect place to cure ‘the itch’. Of course, if you are already from the railway you can contribute your expertise to the cause by giving advise, training up new talent or helping with the more menial tasks.

Bearing in mind, that in order for the museum/society to run successfully, most of the time, one of the rules of being a member is to actually come lend a hand for however many hours a month stipulated in the contract – the minimum is usually quite a small amount.

Writing/Social Media

You may enjoy writing about a simple subject in the industry or you may even send contributions to an Industry Magazine or Museum/Society Newsletter. This might even entail running the social media side of things or writing your own blog such as I have done.

You may be part of groups or pages on Facebook that share stories, videos and pictures. I’m part of many but I’m an Admin on a few:

Railways of the World
Travel by Train Photos and Stories
Global Fellowship of Railway Staff
South African Railways

Social Media certainly is one of my favourite aspects, I have made many friends home and abroad and have also met a lot of them in real life!

Friends and Good Times!

This brings me to my last point – also one of my favourites.

In all the above settings, people are normally involved and even an introvert such as myself can make friends easily. Great stories, great times can be had. Of course, being a railway fan is a society of its own so is filled with opinions and politics which can lead to the odd argument but in general we are great people!

One thing I learnt from young is that food plays a huge roll in all of these aspects and railways as a whole!

I fondly remember how – at a certain preservation club – we were trying to fit the smoke box ‘face plate'(?) and door. Tea time came and so we just left it hanging in the air and promptly made tea – this being one of the instances that Jimmy and I had to make tea as mentioned in previous blog posts! At another club, after a hard days work – there’s railway stew waiting for you and a great time is had discussing the days work or just general stuff like life or sports. Of course there are the odd braai’s (for my overseas friends, this is the South African name for a BBQ/Grill).

As you can see there are many aspects of interest under railways, and you can focus on a specific aspect or amalgamate all of them to make a super hobby. If you really want something different and you want to be around great people – railway people – I suggest taking up Railways as a hobby!


One thought on “Railways – The Multifaceted Hobby

  1. Pingback: Railway Photography | Jade's Railway Dream

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