The Napkin Drawing

The story of how the Napkin Drawing became part of Mik’s Annual Build Challenge:

It was way back in the fall of 2013. A bunch of the regulars were enjoying the chat room on LSC when Bob “Benevolent Dictator” (BD) McCown arrived in a surly mood. Bob had been contacted by a guy looking to recruit him and a few others for membership in a private forum. Incredulous at the arrogance BD described, the members took the story with a grain of salt.  As evidence Bob opted to share the e-mails he had received. So we read it for ourselves. Amazing! The man extolled his expertise in all things model railroad and raved about the high quality of his work, and that because of it, was the self appointed anointed one, going about the task of selecting the chosen few.

To be honest some of the gang recognized his name but I did not and do not now remember it. Suffice to say that his self opinion was in the neighborhood of Smithsonian Museum skill level. As far as I know none of his work resides in that institution or any museum or has even been displayed at so much as a weekend craft show.

His main focus was on the acquisition of plans, drawings and reference material for any railroad related subject. He commented several times on how he and his friends traded and sold these items among themselves, then offered to let Bob join their vaunted circle. The reference to buying and selling plans was stated repeatedly. All of us soon realized that the man’s intention was actually owning and controlling access to as much information as possible, most likely for personal profit with no real interest in furthering the hobby.

Finally the man made an appeal to Bob’s ego, not realizing of course that Bob does not have one, he stated that BD was not like the rest of us, which he offhandedly dismissed as being so crude as to make a few notes on a napkin and then start construction. He and his cronies used the term “Napkin Builder”. Well that did not sit well with the natives, I for one had never used a napkin for planning…I always chose a paper towel.

Incensed by the slight, the word spread, the story running like wildfire through the forums of LSC. Members immediately added the Pseudonym to their signature blocks and screen names. Some even went so far as to change their avatars to a crude drawing of themselves.  “Napkin Builder” had become a badge of honor and symbol of resistance against the rivet counters! Bards composed epic ballads about the movement and there was talk of a made for TV movie on the History channel.

Over the next couple of month’s a few members of LSC began including a napkin drawing in various project threads, but come January 2014 the river overflowed its banks as entrants in the Annual Build Challenge included one in their build logs. It quickly became a part of the tradition. I can’t really explain why it caught on, maybe it just suited the counter-culture mentality of LSC or maybe it was  because Mik had passed away the previous fall and he was certainly the biggest napkin builder of us all.

Whatever the reason by 2015 the idea was well entrenched. Napkin drawings morphed into cartoons incorporating a large number of inside jokes and good natured kidding. Many were now drawn in multi-colored marker or pencils on a wide variety of materials from cardboard to scraps of wrapping paper. The more childlike and expedient the better! Silliness ran rampant through the build challenge.

The napkin drawing is not a required part of the build challenge and not all entrants include one. They are seen mostly among those who were around that first year but they add to the fun and first timers are encouraged to join in. To be certain the drawings are not meant to be a high quality plan, but simply a reflection of the unique nature of the contest and a visual expression of rule #1. I am sure that Mik would have given them his mark of approval…probably with his favorite crayon.

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