I don’t know what memories of autumn young people have these days. Whether school homecoming games or the warmth of a bonfire against the night chill, carry the same weight as they did for earlier generations. I suspect they do.
Autumn is full of ritual: lawns are cut for the final time until next season. Gardens and flowerbeds are cleaned out and put in order for the winter. Tools are sharpened and stored away and gutters are cleaned of fallen leaves.
In my day there was the ritual of raking autumn leaves to the curb and burning them. There was the rasping sound of the rake being pulled across the grass, coupled with the rustle of dry as toast leaves piling up and up, just begging for an impromptu dive into the pile. After playtime was over, dad would light them and the pile would crackle to life and fill the air with the unmistakable aroma of woody smoke and wonderful warmth against the cooling air. In addition to our own yard, dad would also rake leaves for my grandmother, whose yard happened to border the railroad. If the timing were good, a freight train would thunder through town or maybe the local was working the grain elevator to keep up with the harvest rush of traffic.
Memories are powerful things. They transport us back in time and in feeling and for this reason, among others, we hold them dear.
A model railroad may be influenced by a lot of things and I‘d wager memory ranks right at the top. We tend to limit our descriptions to technical stuff like the amount of square footage, the products used, or the construction techniques employed. While these have their place and time, they are only the shadow on the wall that merely hints at the substance of the real object. A layout, thoughtfully crafted, is more than the sum of its parts.
Can we capture a memory in model form? On the surface, yes. We can recreate the circumstantial aspects of time and place but can we translate the true depth of meaning to others, those circumstances hold for us? No, at least not in the same way that we experienced them.
How might our view of layout design change if we focused on memory more than technique? What influences would you bring to bear, what stories would you want to tell? Would the amount of available space be the sole driver of everything, or might you discover that space is the least worrisome aspect after all?
I understand the emphasis on techniques and products and the role they each play for many people. I wonder though, with all that focus on them are we merely chasing shadows and missing the true substance of this work?