For most people the thought of research is like cutting lawns: it has to be done but other activities get a higher priority. I worry about the lawns when the police helicopter is called in to find the kids in the back yard. Probably for many people, "how" to research is the least understood with some already involved gathering data and photos via friends, club members and magazines. Is there more than that?

What is it?

Research is the endeavour to find out information about a certain topic. For the particular interest of modeling, the information can be broken into three parts

In combination the three can provide a comprehensive story. One interesting point is the difference between modeling and historical focus. The modeler wants diagrams, construction and lettering data, generally for a specific era. The historian is more concerned with the total history of the class or vehicle with overviews of traffic, construction and scrapping.

Personal Resources

To conduct this type of activity the hunter / gatherer has the following resources:

Working through the above points will assist in determining your chances of success for your goal. Plenty of money with no time means you can take short cuts and copy lots of material. Plenty of time and no money means research can be a bit more relaxed.

Research Resources

Ultimately the material can be sourced from:


The following influences can change the rolling stock 'scene':  

Life cycle

Like all things mechanical, rolling stock has a life cycle. This can be laid out as:

Research Data

With the research, data and scraps of information will be collected. Ultimately and hopefully it will all be stored, sourced and easy to find. That's the plan anyway. From any source, the information must be accepted at face value. The information chain can be sketched as:

This sketch attempts to graphically show the 'layers' of information where:

I guess the biggest problem facing researchers is the validity of information. 'More of the same' still doesn't make it right. Initially one must accept all data and sources at face value. Once sufficient data is on hand then it is possible to discount sources and/or the data. The key to data validation is to understand where the data has come from. This is generally provided from the data itself, by the detail provided and the method of distribution. The following points should be kept in mind when reading or understanding the acquired data:

Most important of all is to keep an open mind.

Type of Data

The type of data generally collected is:

This information can divided into three main groups:

  1. Inventory - Built, converted, scrapped, sold
  2. Maintenance- Paint, lift, repair, modifications, storage
  3. Operations - Unusual traffic, unusual locations, sightings, general traffic use

The information that counts is that which adds to, or confirms, our sum of knowledge. Traffic sightings and use help confirm the vehicle in use through the years. Between construction and scrapping the vehicle is in the system doing work. A data logger on every vehicle would produce an enormous amount of material. Constant observation and note taking would generate lots of information. By looking at the vehicle life cycle and the types of information that can be recorded it is possible to work out what is important. The key is to understand what data is useful and what is not so.

The importance of information will in the most part be very subjective, depending upon the experience of the collector.

Passengers cars are interesting. They tend to have a higher profile of interest. Fewer cars, more visibility, more information and more importantly, people ride in them and form attachments.

Please note: These notes were written to present an overview or 'big picture' to the research scene. My concern was not to elaborate on the mechanics of research within institutions such as record offices, libraries and archives.


Peter J. Vincent, March 2003