A&Y Dave in MD
At 10:33 PM 11/23/2014, you wrote:
Here is a sad reality check - most Historical Societies are losing all of their former employee members. Members who worked side by side on the real railroad for decades - they joined the societies almost as a retirement club to preserve bonds and fellowship they had before they joined the society, and those members have provided all of us a very valuable service by preserving and disseminating important railroad history....SNIP...
If you want something better, volunteer to help the society produce a better product.
I am one of those historians/modelers without a direct history with a given railroad who joined an historical society and found that it was mostly former railroaders with a considerable clique'ishness that made me feel like an outsider. I stayed a member because there were a few friendly faces and I still learned a lot about history. Of great importance, that particular society has never put out anything decal or model wise that wasn't very accurate (to the point that many modelers with less historical bent than me complained about the lack of models and/or complained that the accurate ones made weren't fit for their particular time frame or region of interest, so they didn't buy them). The society put out historical documents in fairly great number, but not much for modelers unless they considered it scratchbuilding plans. The only problem with your argument above, is this particular society is absolutely NOT happy to provide the prototype information required for someone else to develop an accurate model and sell it themselves. This society paid dearly for the prototype information (for acquisition, storage, and now for indexing it) and, it seems to me at least, that they want to make money off that prototype information to underwrite all the expenses they've incurred to date. I know they WILL share with existing manufacturers if they know a manufacturer is going to produce a model and they want to ensure (as best they can) that the model will be accurate. But, for the most part, they will not provide that prototype information to an individual modeler interested in scratchbuilding, kitbashing, or attempting to learn how hard/expensive it is to become a manufacturer of commercial kits. They will claim the info is in the archive if you can afford the time and travel to visit the archive when it is open. While that seems only fair, it is not a way to generate interest beyond the brotherhood of former railroaders and the few wealthy or retired historians with sufficient resources and curiousity to come to them. To me, it would seem a reasonable survival strategy to spread correct info as far and wide as you can, hoping you get a sufficiently high number of people interested to carry on.
You are right that somewhere there has to be a balance, because the number of living railroaders retired from fallen flag railroads is dwindling, and soon memberships in the historical societies will be made up mostly of those people who never experienced the railroad firsthand if the historical societies for fallen flags wish to continue as separate organizations. In order to keep membership at a reasonable level, the organizations might have to merge as the prototypes did. Or they might have to start reaching out and being more dependent upon the modelers and interested historians.
No matter where it goes, as the number of firsthand observers dwindles, it seems like the concern would be to have the most correct information out there. Because there will be fewer and fewer people who can say for certain that a steam era freight car model is a foobie if there is a lot of bad secondary evidence out there. I would think a patch or a photo collection, or a clearly marked reproduction artifact--something other than a foobie model--would be a better money-maker and interest generator.
Whatever a society's plan for the future, I would think it should be focused on accurate information, and at least warn the modeler, AND the future historian, how to tell the real from the foobie. I think that is all that can be asked for no matter your strategy: provide enough info so that it's not caveat emptor for the next generation.