I recently read a post in the Trains.com forum blaming so-called “rivet counters” for making the model railroading hobby too expensive and “out of reach” for the common man. It was a very bitter post written by someone who was obviously frustrated and looking to assign blame (after all, doesn’t blaming someone else always feel better?). I took exception to that view… but other, more acrimonious posters that followed assured the thread was locked quickly. But the message is important; there’s still this stereotype of the mythical “rivet counter” who goes around putting other model railroaders down and demanding perfection from the manufacturers, driving up the price. That no one can cite an example of these people is irrelevant; the myth is enough to incite hatred of all things prototypical.
Once upon a time they were also called “nit pickers.” The nit-picker was someone who put the work of others down because it wasn’t what he would have done. Usually nit-picking was accompanied by a dissertation of the nit-picker’s vast knowledge of the subject matter. – EDIT: Read the comments section to learn were the term “rivet counter” comes from! – Oddly enough, when I was in Civil War reenacting, these same beasts were called “stitch counters.” But then, most of us (in either hobby) took them in stride; we recognized their zeal to improve the standards of the hobby but dismissed their lack of people skills as the price.
But now there’s this “guilt by association” whereby any of use who are interested in making our small trains look more like the big ones are labeled “rivet counters.” That would be fine if that term didn’t have such negative baggage. In a perfect world, rivet counters are people who want to assure the maximum prototype fidelity for their models. For example, when I built the 90F175 tender for this PRR class M1 4-8-2 in N scale from a pair of K4 tenders, I had to re-rivet the sides using a pin-vise, and I actually counted rivets:
Believe it or not, such behavior is sometimes viewed as “uptight” and “mean” by some in the mainstream hobby. I mean, after all, who would know it if I got it wrong?
…I would. And I model for me, not for anyone else. I can accept compromises (such as the driver diameter and valve gear for the M1 above; I couldn’t get an eight-coupled mechanism with the correct 72″ drivers and valve gear in N scale), but that’s a personal choice for me. I don’t force it on others, and neither have I seen other so-called “rivet counters” force their standards on the mainstream. Those of us who are deeply into prototype correctness tend to hang together in clumps where we can support and critique one another.
But where I make an adamant stand is the idea that “rivet counting” has made the hobby out of reach for many. Quite the contrary. Demanding more correct paint schemes and details from the manufacturers has resulted in the broadest and most correct range of products ever before offered. The cost rises for many reasons, and I doubt you can ascribe more of the rise to prototype fidelity than to, say, the cost of oil to manufacture (plastic is an oil product) and transport (it’s all made in China) the stuff to the US. Perhaps there are those who would rather the hobby were still mainly Tyco almost-Alcos (see below) and generic 40-foot Athearn boxcars…
…but for the rest of us who love trains and want our models to look just like them, we are grateful to the rivet counters who work hand-in-hand (in most cases) with the manufacturers to get it right. After all, there’s so much info available for free on the internet from blueprints to hundreds of thousands of prototype photos, that for a manufacturer to commit a major error on a model of a specific prototype is almost harder than getting it right. Many prototype railroads have technical and historical societies that will work with the manufacturer for free to ensure the new models are correct, including the rivets.
I’m a rivet-counter, and I’m proud of it. My choice of modeling style is just as valid as laying EZ-track on a grassmat and does not impinge upon anyone else’s enjoyment of the hobby. There’s something very, very satisfying about watching a locomotive you built run past with a string of hopper cars, all with the right number of rivets!
EDIT 2: I don’t profess all of my models to be exact to the prototype. That most are made slightly closer to prototype than when they first came out of the box is what’s important to me. This is only because of my deep, abiding love for the prototype (i.e., the real thing) and the resultant desire to better represent it on my model railroad, and not as a means to separate myself from the mainstream or assign myself some self-delusional elevated status among hobbyists.