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Picture: Rory Barr for Finland Today

I looked past the submarines, ships, tanks, planes and trucks and realized that R/C cars were navigating a fenced track at impressive speeds.

It was late April, and I was supposed to visit the fair centre for the Handicraft Fair for a story for Finland Today, but after a look at the empty tables and the small crowd of people at the stalls, I decided to put all my journalistic energy into the fancy display of these miniature models.

The race ended just as I arrived but I realized quickly that I had just passed through the invisible dividing line into the heart of the Model Expo. The second racing area was smaller. Four R/C cars were grouped on an indoor competitive drifting track. High torque RWD vehicles carving lazy lines around the carpeted race course. The combination of the carpet and the wheels chosen to give the reduced friction needed to simulate the high horsepower drifting monsters of the real world. A carefully practiced dance of setup and execution, the cars trade speed and throttle for graceful oversteer through the hairpins and chicanes.

[alert type=green ]A carefully practiced dance of setup and execution, the cars trade speed and throttle for graceful oversteer through the hairpins and chicanes.[/alert]

A few more steps and I was greeted by another crowd gathered around the slot car track. Four drivers of various ages were maneuvering their cars around the fixed track with only one variable at their control, throttle.

Picture: Rory Barr for Finland Today

Venni, Kalle, Kimmo and Leevi had no steering to contend with, no batteries to drain. Their regulation spec controllers only able to speed the car up or to slow it down. The light weight of the slot cars means they can speed up in the blink of an eye. The challenge is to slow down enough at the corners to prevent the car from sliding out of its lane completely. The quick pulses of the throttle in the grips of the racers are rhythmic, each lap following the same order of turns and straightaways. The racers themselves were silent with their attention focused on the track and the milliseconds between victory and defeat.

Picture: Rory Barr for Finland Today

Past the R/C speedboats, dry-docked due to the lack of a liquid racetrack was my favorite zone, the construction area. Adults and children played together in a vast arena of earth-movers, transport vehicles and dirt. The realistic sounds of heavy machinery emanated at comfortable noise levels from the miniature landscaping equipment. Articulated tractor-trailers delivered smaller machines and in some cases juice boxes to other parts of the designated work site. A tiny logging truck carried its load of sticks over the suspension bridge, well away from the loaded dump trucks. At one point, a heavy duty (or should we say light duty) tow truck even towed another model out of the construction zone. Each miniature machine controlled by a different person standing carefully so as not to interfere with the fantasy. No judges, timers or competition were present in this setting. The only purpose was a free-form collaboration expressed in sand, rocks, dirt and patience.

R/C planes and helicopters are the mainstays of the remote controlled world. The magic of flight just as palpable in small scale as it is when human-sized. The entire range of diverse flying machine sub-categories was well represented at the expo. From the ultra-light planes powered only by a twisted rubber band to the 3D-printed quadcopters which race on punishing aerial courses, there was something for everyone.

Behind the table were enthusiasts from every discipline willing to talk shop if they could only coax people away from the helicopter stunt flying just meters away in a protected flight zone. Physics are much more forgiving to a remote-operated helicopter with strong, lightweight materials and high power battery packs. The best pilots can fly impressive routines quickly changing from normal flight to inverted to sideways and so many more orientations it’s a wonder they can keep it all under control. Rolls, loops, flips, spirals and more are chained together in a complex display so swift that you hardly have time to blink your eyes. The crowd was packed around one of the most extreme classes of remote controlled vehicles.

Picture: Rory Barr for Finland Today

Someone looking for a more easy-going experience would find all the peaceful boxes ticked by model railroads. The detailed train sets are built into fully fleshed out model towns. From farmhouses to churches, these miniature tracks pass by all different types of scenery as they lumber around their endless loops. Tunnels, bridges and track switches allow many trains to run at the same time. The fans of model trains seem to be older gentlemen and very young gentlemen. Something about the mechanical nature of iron horses proves to be an irresistible force for wistful desires. As few will ever have the legitimate opportunity to own and operate real locomotives, model trains provide a means to explore all the same aspects in your own home, provided you have enough space in the basement.

[alert type=green ]As few will ever have the legitimate opportunity to own and operate real locomotives, model trains provide a means to explore all the same aspects in your own home, provided you have enough space in the basement.[/alert]

Not just a venue for small children or for men with lots of money, but a smooth blending of all interests, skill levels, age ranges, backgrounds and financial means, the modeling communities in Finland impressed me with their wholehearted inclusiveness. Each group only seeking an outlet for the pure joy of pursuing their passion. Whether they are professionals or amateurs, the people themselves bring out the most important aspect of the hobbying world: community.

One thing is true, after seeing so much dedication, I certainly wouldn’t call them toys.