After Leah McGrath Goodman of Newsweek revealed the true identity of Bitcoin inventor Satoshi Nakamoto this morning, we here at The Toast realized her reporting, while excellent, left out the real story — namely, Nakamoto’s involvement in the international train modelling (or TraiMod) community.
Two weeks before our meeting in Temple City, I struck up an email correspondence with Satoshi Nakamoto, mostly discussing his interest in upgrading and modifying model steam trains with computer-aided design technologies. I obtained Nakamoto’s email through a company he buys model trains from.
He has been buying train parts from Japan and England since he was a teenager, saying, “I do machining myself, manual lathe, mill, surface grinders.”
And yet after this bombshell of an admission — he’s a home-scale lather — Goodman insists on focusing on Nakamoto’s side work developing play money. The Toast could not let this stand, and contacted Nakamoto at his Temple City home, where he graciously agreed to talk to us over the sound of whistles and station announcements.
“Bitcoin actually started as a way for the tiny passengers on my model trains to purchase refreshments from the eensy-weensy snack cart in Car Seven,” Nakamoto explained, chuckling self-deprecatingly. “I had no idea that it would become such a force of its own.”
What sort of refreshments do you make available to your passengers?
“I’m a real train-snack traditionalist,” Nakamoto said. “Meat pies, Cracker Jacks, ginger beer, Hershey bars, deviled eggs, cold fried chicken, ham sandwiches. Some people just go for the vending-machine stuff, but not me. You might as well build a model monorail system, if you’re going to do that.”
So Bitcoin was never intended to be used outside of the modelling community?
“That’s right,” said Nakamoto. “Frankly, I’m still a little bewildered at how quickly it caught on among non-modders. To hear people who wouldn’t know a stud track from an HO-scale dining car talk about bitcoins is…”
“Let’s stick with unsettling, yeah,” he said with a laugh. “I was going to go with something a little stronger.”
How important is weathering to your models?
“Oh, hugely,” Nakamoto said. “Hugely. A lot of people don’t understand that railway modelling is as much an art as it is a science. You know, the wear and tear that a freight car accumulates depends not just on age but also the region it’s most frequently used in. So you wouldn’t weather an ausTRAK N-scale the same way you would a Finnish freight. Would the car be likely to experience sandstorms, which can strip paint off the undercarriage in a few hours, is it near cities and towns where car exhaust is likely to settle as layers of grime, is graffiti going to be a factor, that sort of thing.”
How has being publicly identified as the founder of Bitcoin affected your work as a railroad model enthusiast?
Nakamoto sighed heavily. “It’s a distraction. A real distraction. I thought Goodman was really interested on my thesis about the structural differences between the Viessmann/Vollmer models, but all anyone wants to talk about are the damn coins.”
There was a pause, then a choked sob came over the line. “Model Railroader won’t deliver to my house anymore. They say the mail carrier can’t get to the front door anymore, because of the libertarian human chain in the front yard, but I know it’s because they think I’ve given the modding community a bad name. That’s what hurts the most of all.”
Thanks so much for speaking with us. Any closing thoughts?
“Attention, HO-scale passengers. The dining car is closed. Root beer is still available, but the cost is now six-fifty. If the passengers will look to their right, you will see a sad man. That is all.”
Mallory is an Editor of The Toast.