I am sorry if this offends, but I do not give a shit about trains. I appreciate that they are an affordable and relatively quick way to get about the city, but if you ever catch me memorising the model numbers of specific trains, I urge you to kick me down a flight of stairs, for I have surely been replaced by a clone. I am not tantalised by switching mechanisms, I am not thrilled by rail gauges, and I simply do not have time to discuss track gradients with you. You seem lovely, but I will not do it. Sorry.
I will, however, quite happily watch hundreds of hours of model railroad videos on YouTube, almost to the exclusion of all other things. I do not know the difference between HO and N scale models (and would maybe punch in the mouth anyone who tried to explain it to me), and yet I could not think of a better thing to do than smoke a joint the size and shape of Andre the Giant’s little finger, sit on my couch, and allow a model railroad enthusiast to tell me how to construct a beautiful model railroad diorama.
Take, for example, this 27-minute gem on “creating an awesome looking bridge that is sure to draw a lot of interest” from Boulder Creek Railroad. I find the claim that it will draw a lot of interest dubious at best, but I will never be able to test it, as I will never, ever build a miniature railroad bridge. The fact that I will never use the skills I am supposedly being taught did not stop me from watching that video, much like it has not stopped me from watching every other video that Boulder Creek Railroad has done.
Boulder Creek Railroad is a one-man operation, all done by a Cairns-based professional pilot named Luke Towan. Luke is wonderfully representative of the type of people that host the types of videos that I love. He is undeniably capable at doing the job — the editing is slick, the camera work professional, the narration efficient, well-recorded, and structured well for conveying information — but he also comes across as the single most uninteresting person alive. This may sound mean but I definitely don’t mean it that way. He’s wonderful. His professionalism runs so deep that the videos are almost entirely devoid of the things that usually give character to a video like this — mistakes, personal asides, jokes.
There are no dynamics to the videos. Thanks to the nature of the subject matter (model trains), the stakes do not change. There is no arc or distinct segments. It is just 45 minutes of even, spotlessly delivered instructional content on how to use various resins to make convincing river surfaces. Somehow, this complete lack of anything that would make the videos compelling paradoxically makes them extraordinarily compelling to watch, almost to the point of being hypnotic. The videos are a series of perfectly executed steps delivered with the precise, repetitive timing of machine gunfire, which is, apparently, the only thing my brain craves.
This is not strictly limited to railroad content. It turns out that the parts of my brain that light up like a fucking pachinko parlour listening to Luke describe how he built his own static grass applicator are similarly ignited by the work of a man I know only as ‘the BareMetalHW guy’. BareMetalHW is a YouTube channel in which a nameless, thoroughly professional man either restores vintage Hot Wheels cars back to mint condition, or turns Hot Wheels cars into absurd Mad Max-style wasteland vehicles.
In the nicest way possible, this man is an absolute freak. He should not be able to do what he does. He can do things to a car the size of your thumb with a level of detail that would surprise even Ant-Man. The man is a craftsman — an artisan. For every job he has the perfect tool and the perfect technique. Every step you are shown is executed with the cold, effortless efficiency of a veteran Soviet sniper putting a round through the eye of Nazi commando.
As far as narration goes, the mysterious gentleman behind BareMetalHW is somehow even less charismatic than Luke is. He will allow himself precisely one joke per episode, and his willingness to dive into the specificities and history of Hot Wheels could, if you were in a bind, be put to use as an elephant tranquilliser. His voice is so free from variation in pitch or volume that it could be mistaken for a low electrical hum if you weren’t paying attention. Again, this sounds horribly mean, but I love this about him. I am crazy about it. How can this be the case and yet also make a 10-minute tutorial on fashioning lifted suspension for a Hot Wheels car out of paperclips a riveting watch? This is not a rhetorical question — I would very much like you to tell me.
Military modelling, as well, is something that this phenomenon apparently encompasses for me. Again, this is a hobby I have no interest in; if I ever gain even a passing familiarity with WW2 aircraft, it would be a sign that something had gone horrendously wrong in my life. Nevertheless, I happy as shit to watch Czech modeller David Damek spend half an hour painstakingly reconstruct a slice of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone in which to place a similarly painstakingly reconstructed Soviet truck.
Compared to the other two modellers I previously mentioned, Damek is a laugh and a half, allowing himself up to as many as three jokes per episode, all of them spoken with a thick, confusing European accent that I at first believed was being done for comedy purposes. But it is not for the charmingly quaint way he declares that he threw a model in the bin for not being perfect enough that I keep watching his videos, it is the satanic compulsion that drives him to continue adding details well after I have already begun to believe it could be a photograph.
Deriving joy from watching someone be good at something is not a particularly novel concept (there’s a subreddit dedicated to this exact thing) but there’s something specifically comforting I find in these sorts of videos. These aren’t just people who are skilled at doing a particular thing — over the course of each video, they are the absolute master of a domain that you are invited into. You are watching the construction of a miniature world, a world in which the creator never makes a mistake and, without fail, puts everything in its right place. Calmly and without ego, something beautiful is brought into existence before you, arising from nothing, but done so in accordance with an unimpeachable, infallible plan. It’s like watching God create the Earth, except none of these guys would have fucked up the whole Garden of Eden thing.
I could watch literally anything in my spare time. There are easily dozens of TV shows and movies in existence (don’t have the exact number at hand sorry), but I don’t want that. I want to watch a deeply strange person tell me, at length, about how they arrived at using hairspray as a water-soluble layer beneath a coat of paint to facilitate realistic paint chipping. I want to marvel at a time-lapse of a man individually cutting out hundreds of microscopic paving stones by hand because he feels that buying a pre-made street would be cheating. I want to be lulled into a perfect state of relaxation by a tremendous nerd applying a light wash to some train tracks.