A freedom layout: 1. A layout sized no bigger than required to provide ongoing interest and modeling challenges.  2. One that fits into your life instead of taking over your life in the process of building it; one that leaves you free of the nagging pressure to finish it.

That’s my unofficial “official” definition for what I’m going to call a small focused layout now. I’ve written a lot on this subject because it interests me deeply. I really don’t care if someone wants to fill their house from basement to attic with benchwork, track and trains. Nor do I really care what scale you work in or the standards used. It’s your hobby and your choices. This is a guru-free zone.

However, I do think it’s time to ask serious questions about where this hobby is going or might go. Like it or not the times and individual lifestyles have changed and will continue changing, which will impact this hobby of ours in ways we might not imagine.

Lots of people are content to bury their head in the sand and claim everything is just rosy in model train land with high green signals all around. I’d rather look the coming changes in the eye and figure out their implications. In my opinion, it’s the only way the hobby is going to move forward and survive.

So, a “freedom layout” is my concept for a different way of looking at the layout design process and what the hobby means to us individually. It’s a mindset and a goal. Time to have this conversation don’t you think?

Switching cars for spot order


  1. Ed Kozlowsky

    The idea that this is a hobby is given lip service, but it’s refreshing to hear someone actually put the idea into practice. I’ve been serially frustrated by the cognitive dissonance experienced by thinking one thing (limitless time and finances available to model trains) and reality (I have a wife, family, job, property to maintain, etc). I’m not sure I’ve reached the happy balance yet, but your series of articles, along with Brian Scace’s Nodal Design concept, have freed me from conventional thinking. Here’s to the Freedom Layout!

  2. mike

    Hi Ed,

    Thanks for the supportive comment. That happy balance is something we all have to figure out for ourselves. As I stated in the Dream Analysis post, there’s nothing wrong with dreaming big, but those dreams need to be tempered by the realities you mentioned. They apply to all of us.

    I sincerely feel, we’ve been sold a bill of goods with regard to the whole layout planning/ultimate/bigger layout issue. Only a handful of people will ever build a dedicated outbuilding to house their “dream” layout. Only a handful will ever excavate a basement under their garage slab for more layout space. These and similar scenarios represent .000001% of the hobby. That alleged ideal might sell magazines and other products, but bigger is not always better, it’s just bigger. If the thing isn’t realistically sustainable, given a person’s time and other resources, what’s the point?


  3. TomHiscox


    You concisely put into words what I eventually came to realize myself as I’ve been working on layout plans for a new pike. I started in the classical way with negotiating for space (basement, garage, separate building), givens and druthers, squares, and many iterations of what would fit where, how would it operate, where would the people stand, etc, etc. Nothing felt right, and the more I worked on it, the more my objectives got boiled down to deciding exactly what it was that I wanted to get out of this and want I didn’t want. Once I got that clear, the plans are now coming together. Smaller, simpler, able to build in stages , sustainable well into the future, and focused on those features which trip my trigger. I’m excited again to get it built.

    I’ve joined the LDSIG of NMRA, and intend to become more involved as time permits. This concept needs to be included somewhere in their material as it’s really helpful to all the rest of us who are not building club or museum scale layouts. Just reading your two definition points opens up a lot of thinking.


  4. mike

    Hi Tom,

    I’m glad you found the concept valuable. You make an interesting observation about the planning tools and methods we use. There’s nothing wrong with them. They all serve a purpose in speaking to the many ways people approach a planning/problem scenario. What I really take issue with in the current hobby thinking, is the way we’re encouraged to jump right in and starting using one of those processes. In my view, that’s getting the cart before the horse.

    Given and druthers, LDEs, Armstrong’s squares, and the plethora of others we default to are just tools, and tools of any kind are inert until the hand and mind of the craftsman/woman picks one up and brings their intellect, knowledge, passion, love and skill to the task.

    The current crop of planning tools aren’t a panacea that will make your life in the hobby easier, which you discovered. They are just what they are: a set of tools that we as modelers guide and use as we see fit. We, however, still have to bring all of ourselves to the process and to me, that’s the missing ingredient in most of the layout planning conversations.

    Thanks for writing in. Really appreciate the comments.
    Mike Cougill