Valley Junction looking east toward Cincinnati.

I’m always amazed at how long I can stare at the obvious before I understand what I’m looking at.

Every time I’ve come back to this photo, I’ve failed to see the lesson it has to offer. What lesson? Restraint. There is nothing to add or take away from the scene itself. It is what it is, a quite ordinary rail yard, simply and fully expressed in a manner anyone can grasp.

The volume of rail traffic will ebb and flow of course and the facility is a shadow of what was here in the past. A mere sixty years ago, J3a Hudsons screamed through here on crack passenger trains from Cincinnati to Indianapolis. Mohawks handled the freight to and fro and Mikados ambled along the branch. If you didn’t know that history, it would be hard to believe based on what you see today.

Typically, a scene like this doesn’t hold our attention for long. We’re conditioned to give a quick glance and mutter: “nothing of interest here.” This starts a downward spiral of thoughts that lead us nowhere. “Hmmm,” we say, “no buildings to model, the scenery is too plain, no operating potential. No thanks. I’ll pass.” Then off we go in that desperate search for the spectacular, the outlier, the amazing, the fantasy railroad with everything that only exists in our head. We conclude that reality, as pictured above, is far too boring.

However, a scene like this is within reach of anyone, which is why it’s so instructive. What’s important to understand is that when we allow ourselves to exercise restraint in what we model, our scenes will convey more power.

What if we stopped worrying about all the layout space we don’t have and saw the space we do have as an opportunity to create something wonderful? What if we truly understood the power of breathing room in a scene like this? What if we modeled the various elements in a way that allows them to be seen and appreciated for what they are, rather than scrunching everything down into a cartoon caricature? Wouldn’t such breadth in a simple scene make us pause, just for a moment, and look again?

I’ve visited this site many times and failed to grasp this lesson for exactly the reasons mentioned above. I still have parts of two dissonant layouts masquerading as one because I’ve been looking for that fantasy railroad of mine, rather than observing, studying and learning from the reality in front of me. With this knowledge in mind, I think I know (tentatively) what I need to do. As a friend says: “More to come.”