For as long as I can remember, the focus of the hobby has been toward building things: a model, a layout, scenery. We long ago adopted a project mindset, with the assumption being that when finished, each project becomes part of a greater whole, typically a layout of some kind. One can read statements all the time to the effect of: “When my layout is finished, I’ll finally be able to…” However, upon reaching that mythical finish line, the usual outcome is a teardown of years, perhaps decades of work and starting over on something new.

I wonder, is this it? Just keep building various projects, finish them, build more and eventually move on, or could there possibly be more to this hobby than that?

Woods near Mill Street

Where I’m at and, maybe you are too
My Indiana & Whitewater has been essentially finished for several years now. I’m satisfied with this layout in terms of the overall size and the theme. So why has it been months since I’ve done anything of substance with it?

Work accounts for part of it. Getting our digital magazine The Missing Conversation going ate up huge amounts of time and creative energy, leaving me ready to crash at the end of the day. The basement doesn’t have heat and it can get very chilly down there when the weather goes south. Mostly though, I just hit a wall of no enthusiasm for doing anything with the layout. In a word: Bored.

So here I am. Is this it? Do I just find and build more projects and/or possibly move on to greener pastures? It’s beginning to look that way.

New year, refurbished layout
Truthfully, there are aspects of the layout I never liked. It seems overly crowded with track and much of the initial scenery treatment looked pretty generic and bland to my eyes. I entertained numerous schemes to move it to a different wall and reconfigure the basement to use the space more efficiently. I even shared these plans publicly and on YouTube no less!

As I grow older, I’ve a lot less enthusiasm for tackling such huge projects. I’ve tinkered with our house for fifteen years and serial home remodeling has gotten old. I want to have it over with before I die. (And so does my wife.)

All that said, there’s something about the start of a new year that gets the juices for change flowing. I recently got fed up with the boredom, took time off from writing and decided to clean up the basement and do something about the layout. One short Saturday afternoon, I filled two large trash bags with junk laying around and stripped off the wooded hillside in the middle of the layout. Huh??? What, you’re tearing it down?

Woods are logged out

What I’m doing, what I’m not

What I’m doing:

Admitting that things aren’t as I hoped they would be.
Every visitor to the layout commented on two things: the track and the trees. There’s no complaints about the track, except I now feel there’s too much of it for the space I have (I’m a heretic, so get over it). The scenery however, needed work. There are sections I like and ones I don’t. As of this writing, the scenery sections I didn’t like are gone, along with the rearmost yard track. I pondered the removal of one more track but decided to keep it. Just because it’s there, doesn’t mean it has to be used. (Told you I’m a heretic.)

Why remove track?

Because it isn’t needed. For operations, this yard track is too far away and hard to reach for uncoupling and reading car numbers. In that sense it’s useless. It also crowded the area visually as I’ve written about before here and also here. So, it’s now gone and not coming back. I prefer more breathing room for the scenery.

Yard track gone

I’m admitting I can do better. 
Generic scenery isn’t what I envisioned for the layout. I have loads of photos for my prototype and it’s time to use them to more faithfully recreate the scene in miniature. I’m still an artist at heart. In my paintings I tried to capture the tangible and the intangible elements of my subject. I want to do the same on the layout. Our friends in the UK and Australia do a much better job of capturing intangible elements in their modeling than we do. I believe it’s possible and that’s 90 percent of the battle.

Artists will often return to the same subject for years, finding ever more inspiration and layers to explore. That’s how I’m treating this revamp of the I&W, as the fifth (this is my fifth layout using this prototype and theme) in a series of three dimensional art works. There is more I want to say and more layers of depth to explore with this theme.

What I’m not doing:

I’m not expanding the size of the layout.
I have no more urges to increase the size of the layout. It truly is the right amount for me at this stage in life. In that sense, it’s my Freedom Layout. A lack of space or some other feature isn’t driving these changes, dissatisfaction with what I consider sub-standard work is.

I’m not changing the layout theme or prototype focus.
I’m still happy with the branchline theme and scope of operations. If anything, I’m narrowing things down and focusing more tightly on those elements that are important to me, which is another principle from art and design. By focusing more precisely and removing distractive clutter, you give the work more power and impact. It’s true for a painting and I believe, equally true on a layout.

As mentioned earlier, the common approach in this situation is to completely tear out years of work and expense and start fresh again. I considered that possibility more than once and decided not to. The thought of starting all over left me cold. I know my energy levels and how much creative juice I have to spread between projects. I know our personal finances are not in favor of significant expenditures toward the hobby anymore. These things are all important to consider and I did.

I’m in a position with the hobby where I can pick and choose how much or how little to engage with it without the time pressure to finish some gigantic thing in my basement. There are aspects I’d like to explore and some that I’m trying hard to convince myself I’d enjoy (don’t hold your breathe). In the end, I’m hoping there is more to the hobby than one project after another, after another.

We have a mountain of information on how to build and do stuff, but next to nothing on what it’s all supposedly for. We also gloss over the fact that your interest level is going to fluctuate considerably over the years and, that this is completely normal. I’m not in the middle of some hobby crisis, just a dull patch brought on by a lack of clarity and indecision about where to go next. This too shall pass.

What about you? If your big basement project is getting close to “done.” What are you going to do next?