I saw this photo by Barry Lennon that someone had posted on the O Scale Trains Magazine forum. If you promise to come back and finish the post, here’s the link to Barry’s Flickr gallery.


I can’t help myself. I love photos like this. If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know that images like this push all of my buttons big time. Of course my eyes were drawn to the track and the weeds, the patches of melting snow, the general clutter scattered about, as well as the interesting enginehouse in the background with the cluster of trees nestled up to it. I’m less enamored with the little steamer, or with steam in general anymore. But with shortline railroading, I’m always going to have a soft spot for these types of operations. A photo like this provides lots of inspiration and gets the juices going. Of course the trouble is, I already have a layout, one that still provides satisfaction, and I’m just not in the mood to totally trash it on the basis of one photo.

So, what to do?

Well, I could simply enjoy the photo for what it is: a nice scene that’s full of interesting texture and details. The artist in me will be happy with that. I could acknowledge that my existing layout also features many of these same textures and be happy with that understanding too.

There isn’t any way to justify that engine shed or the other interesting buildings and silos, let alone the little 0-4-0. That’s okay, because I have equally interesting structures to choose from that are relevant to my current theme.

Well someday…

I could also just file this image away for future reference or projects. I’m not one who likes to have a bunch of clutter laying around or to split my focus between multiple layouts, no matter how tempting the possibilities. So it isn’t likely I’ll build anything new based on this one photo.

What makes you tick?

Lots of folks will come across a scene like this and the modeling juices start boiling and, often, an old layout gets trashed or severely modified to incorporate the new images. Sometimes it works; though sometimes the result winds up looking like a patchwork crazy quilt, made from bits of this and that with little or no coherence. Lots of folks are happy with that approach but it isn’t for me.

I used to succumb to this mind-set easily and often. That’s one of the many reasons I started and never finished so many layouts over the years. They were all mostly driven by an image of something cool rather than a thorough understanding of why I found said images so cool to begin with.

I admit that the urge to model this character laden track is strong. In looking at the other photos in Barry’s album, it seems that tieplates, and even spikes, are optional accessories in may places along this little line. I think that’s really neat but it’s not reason enough for the wholesale destruction of the I&W.

I have no personal connection with this little line. It’s in Illinois and I’m not even certain it still exists in any form. Having such connections has become more important to me than mere surface appeal. I like the experience of seeing my subjects first hand. Being on site brings out layers of understanding that static photos simply can’t provide. If I really have to include the track details seen in the shot, the Pole Track could be the place to include them. And, they’d be right up front too where they’d be appreciated by everyone.

So much of the culture of the hobby these days is driven by the shiny-new-object syndrome. Having been in the hobby for a number of decades now, I’ve gotten the shiny-new-object syndrome out of my system. Well, at least it’s under some measure of control anyway. I’m not immune by any means, but I’ve learned that all shiny-new-objects eventually become faded old objects pretty fast.

The secret for me was in finding the underlying reasons for why I liked a particular theme. Reasons that go deeper than the first impression from a single photo. Once I knew that, it was simple to keep the shine of my chosen subject nice and bright. The secret for you may be something different.

**Know that being inspired by such a photo or an article can take many paths. It helps immensely to understand why you’re drawn to this source material and whether or not you’ve already focused on those reasons. This understanding takes time and yes, effort to achieve. What it does is free you from the surface appeal of whatever shiny-new-object is in front of you. Such freedom is liberating. You can approach your layout and the hobby without the pressure of always having to embrace the next thing.**

The impression from Barry’s photos is of a struggling little line that moves a handful of cars at a leisurely pace, along less than perfect track through simple but picturesque, scenery. Sounds remarkably like the layout I already have.


** Edited, June 19, 2013


  1. mike

    Five lashes seems appropriate 😉

    I noticed the different coupler height too. The IM should have used a Kadee coupler height gage on that saddle tanker.


  2. Matt


    Scenes, such as this one, have always brought out drafting pencil and paper. With time the “gotta have that one syndrome” is under some control. However, because of my interest in these finer points of track, weeds, etc., I decided several years ago to model smaller very simple scenes based on pictures. So modular railroading in the basement cured my addiction to gotta have one.