We’ve been taught to understand this hobby as a form of entertainment. A distraction from the tedium of everyday life, with a focus on how-to techniques and the latest and greatest products. Most people are satisfied with these criteria and don’t care about anything deeper. Their desires have been met.

Because of my experience with the fine arts however, I see the potential of this work as a means of serious creative expression. As a result, my intent is to discover and clarify what fascinates me about trains and to express that in a clear manner that others can understand. Instead of flailing around hoping to find something satisfying by default, my approach takes time for deep reflection to understand and clarify what my interests actually are. Looking through the lens of art, I see a far different image of what this work can be and, this is the point where I loose most of you because my view is just too different from the hobby as entertainment mindset.

My Eyes Hurt From All This Vision Stuff
When I speak of developing your vision of railroading or of what you want to say about trains through your modeling, it’s easy to think that finding this grand vision is the end goal. It isn’t. The goal is to use that vision as a guide for expressing yourself as a modeler, to give concrete three dimensional form to it, so that others can see and understand it. Forming a vision without the means to express it doesn’t do anyone much good.

My own vision for a layout has changed considerably over the last eight years because I spent the bulk of that time ridding myself of outdated ideas that were not going to take me where I wanted to go. My Indiana & Whitewater started out like many other track-centric layouts: overcrowded and poorly defined. It was initially built for entertainment value rather than as a expression of how railroading speaks to me. As I continualy studied real world railroading more closely and as I clarified for myself what I did and didn’t want in a layout, I changed the I&W to reflect my ongoing vision. Those changes involved removing track that served no real purpose.  As of today, I have probably removed close to fifty percent of the original track because I discovered I didn’t need it to express and enjoy my vision of railroading and I can truthfully say, I don’t miss it.

My vision of the hobby has also changed and matured over the years. Today, I’m over the idea and desire for a so-called permanent built-in-place layout. If I ever build another, it will not be constructed in any way that requires demolition in the end. I’m also completely over the desire for a big layout. Even the I&W, modest as it is by quarter-inch scale standards, is more than I really need to express what I feel about railroading. How can I make such statements? Because I have worked through all the competing, conflicting desires that tugged and pulled me in every direction. I know, I fundamentally know, what draws me to trains and railroading and I’ve learned how to express that in a personally satisfying way. It’s taken me years to reach this point of clarity about what I want from the craft and what that means to me.

If It Was Easy…
These are hard concepts to convey because there are no cut and dried answers, and hobbyists love cut and dried answers. The truth is, this is hard messy work that most won’t bother with at all because it requires that choices be made and we’ve also been conditioned by the hobby culture to believe that we can have it all. Others won’t bother because of how they define the craft in their minds (or allowed others to define it for them). This isn’t a matter of judgement, where I’m saying my way is better than another’s, it’s a matter of knowing my intent toward the work and what I expect to receive from it.

I often use these posts as a way to work out ideas, which explains the sometime erratic nature of them. I’ve been chewing on this one for a long time and feel it’s getting close to a resolution. I’m not here to tell anyone how they should practice their hobby. I do suggest though, that how we define the work to ourselves greatly influences our understanding and approach. That said, there are many ways to think about this craft that one might consider and I encourage you to follow your own path.

Regards,
Mike