I’ve used this photo in another post to demonstrate the reach-in access of the yard tracks and to show the relative height of the layout. Layout height has been covered extensively and the discussions always reaches the same conclusion: there is no one size fits all answer.
I’d like to discuss another aspect illustrated here, the ability to see and focus clearly. As shown here while I can reach the cars, I can’t easily focus on the fine print of reporting marks and car numbers. This distance falls in that gray zone of clarity for my ability to focus properly. Reading car numbers isn’t the only problem here. Using a hand held uncoupling tool is also fun with regard to seeing what I’m doing. It should also be obvious that any cars setting on the foreground track would totally block the cars on the rear track, making switching impossible. You won’t discover this from pencil lines on a flat sheet of paper.
I built the I&W to this height on purpose. One reason was to save my back from the constant bending over to work on track or whatever. Second was to enjoy the close-up views I worked so hard to create and to have that sense of actually being a part of the scene. Thirdly I conserved space by tucking the workbench under the layout. A taller layout offers numerous advantages for increased realism but also comes with some drawbacks to operational ease.
One that we seldom discuss, because it’s a bummer, is how the aging process impacts layout design. Rest assured it does sooner or later. Changes in vision and the range of focus as we age will have a huge impact on your enjoyment of the hobby. I used to have no problems with close-up work, now I do. My eyes have changed. Things far away used to be quite blurry without glasses, now they’re coming into focus more easily, while close-up work needs more artificial help in the form of a Magni-Visor or other optical device.
Vision problems are just one card in the deck. Mobility issues are likely to raise their annoying head at some point too. Crawling around on the floor isn’t nearly the fun it used to be as a child. That’s why I dislike duck-unders of any kind. (I actually have several reasons but this is the main one). Being stupid in my twenties, I damaged the tendons in both knees and they remind of that every once in a while. So standing for extended periods of layout operation may become more tiresome in the future. As mentioned previously, I tucked my workbench under the layout, which worked out well but it means that at the current height, there is no easy way to sit down while operating. Furthermore, the layout wasn’t designed to be operated while sitting. Reaching in to throw a turnout, couple and uncouple cars will be hindered by several scenic elements near the front. Seeing what I’m doing also comes back into play. What happens then if standing becomes an issue? Hmmm.
Here’s an issue I can’t recall ever reading about. What happens if the motivation for the hobby wanes with age? This is something I’m becoming aware of myself. As it stands now, the I&W is likely to be the last major layout I’ll build. If you’ve read my writing for any length of time, this won’t surprise you. I’ve been scaling back on the size and scope of my layouts for years now. Of course I’m human and this could change in a heartbeat. The older I get the more I value simplicity in all areas of life, including, no, especially, model railroading. Currently this is as much layout as I want to maintain. I’ve done want I wanted to do with a layout and I find that I’m now drawn to smaller more detailed individual projects. Being aware of this understanding is the core of what I mean by the concept of a Freedom Layout. I feel free to explore other aspects of this hobby without any sense of loss or being deprived of something. It’s a damn nice feeling too!
The takeaway here is this. You may be twenty, thirty, forty or even fifty now. Health may be good, mobility excellent and sight clear. Time however waits for no man and the day may come when you might start rethinking certain things you’ve taken for granted before. Unless a catastrophic turn for the worse happens, it doesn’t have to mean the end of hobby activities, just a reevaluation. Nothing wrong with that.
Cheers and good health to all,