In many ways, model railroading has a storytelling role. Our models are set in a time, and are made to reflect reality of that time. Further, and arguably unique in model railroading, is the concept of operations and sessions dedicated to operations. Even moreso there than in other aspects of the hobby, the layout owner and the 'managers' that help with the execution of the session are storytellers.
Take for instance this image:
This car has a story. Built in the early 1970's, covered hoppers like this carried all sorts of bulk materials that needed protection from moisture. Wheat, rice, oats, flour, malted barley, sugar - these cars could be used for any of these. This one was purchased by the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific Railroad - known as the Milwaukee Road by most. The railroad was a transcontinental, one of the mighty western railroads that spanned the Great Plains, the Rocky Mountains, and crossed the Continental Divide. Dubbed "America's Resourceful Railroad" as a nickname, this one crossed other ranges too and came down to tidewater at the Pacific Ocean.
Yet, trouble brewed. One of the most difficult transcontinental routes to maintain and operate, the Milwaukee Road was less profitable than it had been by the end of the 1970's. Early in the 1980's, the railroad abandoned its westernmost operations. Soon the whole company was bankrupt and sold to competitors. It was a sad end of a fascinating railroad. Cars and locomotives were auctioned off. Some workers went on to other jobs but many retired.
This car, though, still having some useful life, was purchased and put into service by a new owner without a full paint job. Thanks to the artistry of Lenny Harlos, it has been faithfully recreated for the Onondaga Cutoff, patched for its current owner - East Erie Commerical, better known as General Electric Corporation.
The Milwaukee was long gone by 1994 but its ghost lived on in cars like this. This was no longer the glory age of railroads in the early 20th century. No way. Dirty, rusted, but with a bright patch of reporting marks and lube stencils, this car looks like a car from the 1970's did in 1994 - part of a rebirth that was just getting some traction. This car helps set a date and place, and lends a gritty, well-used appearance to the Onondaga Cutoff. As more cars are weathered for the period, the more it looks like it should - like the real thing.