Reach-in access isn't too bad

Reach-in access isn’t too bad for the rear track. however, reading car numbers and reporting marks is impossible if there are cars on the forward track.

I’ve used this photo in another post to demonstrate the reach-in access of the yard tracks and to show the relative height of the layout. Layout height has been covered extensively and the discussions always reaches the same conclusion: there is no one size fits all answer.

I’d like to discuss another aspect illustrated here, the ability to see and focus clearly. As shown here while I can reach the cars, I can’t easily focus on the fine print of reporting marks and car numbers. This distance falls in that gray zone of clarity for my ability to focus properly. Reading car numbers isn’t the only problem here. Using a hand held uncoupling tool is also fun with regard to seeing what I’m doing. It should also be obvious that any cars setting on the foreground track would totally block the cars on the rear track, making switching impossible. You won’t discover this from pencil lines on a flat sheet of paper.

I built the I&W to this height on purpose. One reason was to save my back from the constant bending over to work on track or whatever. Second was to enjoy the close-up views I worked so hard to create and to have that sense of actually being a part of the scene. Thirdly I conserved space by tucking the workbench under the layout. A taller layout offers numerous advantages for increased realism but also comes with some drawbacks to operational ease.

One that we seldom discuss, because it’s a bummer, is how the aging process impacts layout design. Rest assured it does sooner or later. Changes in vision and the range of focus as we age will have a huge impact on your enjoyment of the hobby. I used to have no problems with close-up work, now I do. My eyes have changed. Things far away used to be quite blurry without glasses, now they’re coming into focus more easily, while close-up work needs more artificial help in the form of a Magni-Visor or other optical device.

Vision problems are just one card in the deck. Mobility issues are likely to raise their annoying head at some point too. Crawling around on the floor isn’t nearly the fun it used to be as a child. That’s why I dislike duck-unders of any kind. (I actually have several reasons but this is the main one). Being stupid in my twenties, I damaged the tendons in both knees and they remind of that every once in a while. So standing for extended periods of layout operation may become more tiresome in the future. As mentioned previously, I tucked my workbench under the layout, which worked out well but it means that at the current height, there is no easy way to sit down while operating. Furthermore, the layout wasn’t designed to be operated  while sitting. Reaching in to throw a turnout, couple and uncouple cars will be hindered by several scenic elements near the front. Seeing what I’m doing also comes back into play. What happens then if standing becomes an issue? Hmmm.

Here’s an issue I can’t recall ever reading about. What happens if the motivation for the hobby wanes with age? This is something I’m becoming aware of myself. As it stands now, the I&W is likely to be the last major layout I’ll build. If you’ve read my writing for any length of time, this won’t surprise you. I’ve been scaling back on the size and scope of my layouts for years now. Of course I’m human and this could change in a heartbeat. The older I get the more I value simplicity in all areas of life, including, no, especially, model railroading. Currently this is as much layout as I want to maintain. I’ve done want I wanted to do with a layout and I find that I’m now drawn to smaller more detailed individual projects. Being aware of this understanding is the core of what I mean by the concept of a Freedom Layout. I feel free to explore other aspects of this hobby without any sense of loss or being deprived of something. It’s a damn nice feeling too!

The takeaway here is this. You may be twenty, thirty, forty or even fifty now. Health may be good, mobility excellent and sight clear. Time however waits for no man and the day may come when you might start rethinking certain things you’ve taken for granted before. Unless a catastrophic turn for the worse happens, it doesn’t have to mean the end of hobby activities, just a reevaluation. Nothing wrong with that.

Cheers and good health to all,


  1. Ed Kozlowsky

    Another post to get the gray matter buzzing. At 64 and major health problems, I’ve already faced the aging issue in a big way, but there’s a related problem many of us face. From my observations, the elderly seem to be divided into two camps. One has more money than they know what to do with and the other find themselves, for whatever reason, barely able to get by. This division makes a good deal of what used to be affordable in model railroading inaccessable to some. Your approach of bringing modeling back into the hobby is one many of us have discovered out of necessity. There are ways to get around most of the aging issues you’ve mentioned, dedicated prescription glasses is one, but the money thing is usually not fixable unless you’re prepared for some serious reprioritizing. Most of us have more of everything than we’ll ever use. Downsizing may just provide the funds for continued enjoyment of the hobby. As you’ve said, it can also be quite liberating.

  2. mike

    Hi Ed,
    I remember in the early 1960s, that my first HO train set cost eleven dollars. This included an Athearn Hustler (a four wheeled industrial diesel), three freight cars, a caboose along with a small oval of brass sectional track. A power pack might have been included also, I can’t recall. All that for eleven bucks. Things have changed haven’t they?

    You’re right. This hobby has gotten very expensive, especially in a scale like 1:48. With the economy still uncertain folks have to make clear choices. I know I do. The random splurges at the hobby shop are a thing of the past for me and frankly, it’s okay. Like you and many others, I have ample projects awaiting my attention.


  3. Ed Kozlowsky

    I know it’s hard to believe, but my inflation calculator tells me that $11 in 1960 is $85 today.

  4. mike

    Not hard to believe at all, especially when it cost me ten dollars or more to fill up my 2.5 gal. gas can for the lawn mower! But I digress.