If there is any agenda behind this blog, it’s to offer a counterpoint to the mainstream view. However, I don’t sit here week after week thinking of ways to be contrary, I simply write about how I see and approach the work.
I’ve been active in this craft since adolescence. Back then I was a sponge and eagerly awaited the monthly arrival of Model Railroader and later, Railroad Model Craftsman, devouring every issue. It all looked amazing and my teenage ambitions far exceeded my abilities. The craft also provided a refuge for an awkwardly shy kid. I stopped being active during my twenties and thirties and returned to the work inspired (yes that’s the word) by the inaugural issue of Model Railroad Planning back in the mid-nineties, essentially picking up where I left off some two decades prior. A lot had changed with the craft, but not much had changed with my view of it.
After a few years of plodding along in HO with failed layout after failed layout, I grew discouraged and somewhat disillusioned with it all. I dabbled in O scale back in the 1970s but never did anything serious due to my limited resources. In the early 2000s and ready for a greater challenge than HO offered, I switched to P48 and built the Indiana and Whitewater. It’s the only layout I ever came close to completing.
Read any of the literature or lurk on blogs and forums and you’ll find that building a layout is considered the ultimate goal of this hobby. Spoken or not, the question of what would you do otherwise is posed, as though there were no other alternatives to pursue. Reams of paper and megawatts worth of pixels have been dedicated to this ideology. It’s considered perfectly normal to spend a decade or more planning and constructing a miniature world of plywood and Styrofoam, spending thousands of dollars in the process, only to chuck it all in a dumpster at some point. After all we tell ourselves, the next layout will be the “one,” right?
The way we’re taught to think about a layout and its design sows the seeds of its own destruction from the outset. There’s no such thing as a “permanent layout.” The design, the construction and every decision that underlies both wage war against common sense and practicality by encouraging the use of methods that aren’t easy to modify.
I dismantled my layout about a month ago. It was a decision that took me a long time to reach but I did so with no regrets whatsoever. The layout served its purpose in teaching me how to work with quarter-inch scale and also helped me clarify and prioritize what is important to me about this work.
Built in the traditional manner, I knew that it would not come apart easily. Of course I willfully ignored that future reality during construction. In addition to the rolling stock, I salvaged a few sections of track and turnouts along with the lumber from the bench work but that’s it. Chucking ten years of work into the dumpster at the landfill gave me no pleasure at all. In fact it made me kind of ill at heart. I’ve been asking if this is what model railroading has come to? I do know I’ll never build another room filling old school layout in the traditional manner again. I can’t tolerate the idea anymore. I’ve experienced a great feeling of freedom knowing that Susan and/or our children won’t have to deal with that monstrosity in the basement should the unforeseen happen to me. I knew it had to be done and I wanted to be the one to dispose of it.
I enjoy working with my hands more than ever these days and quarter-inch scale is more appealing than ever. I like the idea of exploring just how small a quarter-inch scale layout could be along with spending time on projects of my choosing because I’m still a sponge for things that stretch my skills and that challenge them with materials and methods that are new to me.
As for any future plans, the urge to have a traditional layout is gone. I’ve done it and proven to myself that I could. I want to build a few modules for photography purposes and to provide a test bed for rolling stock projects, but as for building another room size layout, no thanks on that one. I won’t miss crawling around under bench work stringing wire or being hunched over it laying track. I’m happy to put that misery behind me.
I consider this blog an opportunity to encourage you to think differently and to challenge assumptions that may or may not serve us well in the long term. The notion that you’ll automatically build layout after layout is a sacred cow that no one dares challenge (except for me of course). Let me categorically state that I’m not here to dictate how anyone should enjoy their spare time. In a post like this, I’m simply expressing a point of view based on where I’ve come to in my own journey through this craft, nothing more, nothing less. Everyone has their own interests and finds satisfaction in different ways, so enjoy the work however you choose. I only suggest that there are many ways to enjoy the modeling of railroad subjects and even operations that don’t require a huge commitment of space and other resources.