I have always thought it was about having fun, and something to enjoy, and that everyone could do that in their own way given the diversity of options and possibilities that O Scale provides.
Perhaps this O Scale Central can pause a bit and think about answering my question: What is this hobby about?
Martin - a great question indeed. Hobbies are supposed to be fun, otherwise they are work. So fun has to top the list of why we do this. But what I love about model railroading as opposed to other hobbies are the following:
1) The different skills I am challenged to learn and use: design, carpentry, wiring, electronics, model / scratch building, painting, scenery. You develop a well rounded set of skills that are useful in everyday life (such as home maintenance). As technology grows in the hobby, I am continually challenged to step outside of my comfort zone and master new technologies (I have yet to install a DCC decoder!!!).
2) The people you meet. As I have been away from the hobby for many years, I do not have too many immediate friends in the hobby. I have connected with others through some of my online purchasing (believe it or not, selling and buying stuff is not just a business transaction) and I look for forums like this to help me grow my network. Networks help you learn and help you improve.
3) Railroad history and operations. I am designing a layout on which I will replicate a real life railroad (The Belt Railway of Chicago) and so I am spending time learning about the Belt and its operations. I want to replicate plausible and realistic operations. Knowing an industry and how it operates demonstrates a skill and talent that is applicable to every day life i.e., your profession.
4) Creativity and Imagination. Although I want to replicate the Belt, I am also building up my imaginary Sledgehammer Industrial Park Railway consist. Color schemes, logos, context and location are all the work of my imagination. I can make my railroad what I want it to be without the constraints of reality.
I have tried and loved other hobbies - military modelling for example. While it requires many of the same skills as model railroading, its generally static nature (e.g., dioramas) is not as compelling to me as the mechanics involved in model railroading.
I like your response and thoughts, Gord.
I think however that some folks need to have them tattooed to the inner eyelids.