I added a new page to the website on Monday, aimed at modelers who are stuck in the frustrating cycle of starting a layout, tearing it down because they’re bored, and then starting another one in the belief that this will be the one.¬†Lots of people think this is how things are done in model railroading but left unexamined, this cycle can repeat itself for years and leave one disillusioned with the craft.

I certainly don’t have the final answer and I’m not here to tell anyone how to practice their hobby. All I’ve done is share my own journey and the shift in thinking that drew me out of that cycle. The link to the new page is found at the bottom of the homepage. If people want, I’ll add a link in the menu bar too.

Mill Street Revisited
I received several comments (public and private) about my changes to Mill St. outlined in last week’s post. The consensus is that the scene still doesn’t work.

I could invoke the “it’s my layout and I’ll do what I want” excuse. I’m not going to because that response is designed to shut people up and stop the conversation. The comments I’ve received were thoughtfully expressed and given in good faith. People simply want to understand my intentions and choices.

As I replied to David’s comment on the post, the street is pure fiction. As such I’m making it up as I go and, from the comments received, doing a poor job of it. There is an access road from the main highway at Valley Jct. but it’s located in a different place than my fictional Mill St.

I happen to like the location of Mill St. on the layout, driven as it was by other elements on each side. Relocating it to accurately reflect the road at Valley Jct. would entail a lot of scenery rebuilding. I’m not opposed to that of course, but need to consider the tradeoffs involved and whether they are worth the effort. Nothing we do on a layout is done in isolation. The impact of even minor changes ripple out quite a ways.

However, the location of the street isn’t the problem, it’s my treatment of the transition to the backdrop. Here I admit that I’m not putting in my best efforts and the critiques offered have been ¬†quite accurate.

If you are confused by a creative work, whether it’s a blog post, a piece of music, a painting or a freelanced scene on a layout, it isn’t your fault, it’s the creator’s. What seems perfectly obvious to me isn’t to others because they can’t see things as I do or know what’s going through my mind as I create the work.

In a meager defense, I will say that the photos offered last week show a work still in progress, something I should have clarified more than I did. Still, I’m doing a poor job and saying so publicly. David, Simon, thank you for keeping me accountable.

Ben Brown
By now many of you know of the passing of Ben Brown. I never met Ben in person but we emailed many times during the years I worked for O Scale Trains Magazine and afterward. He didn’t always understand what I was doing with my layout but always found something positive to say. His passing left me deeply saddened. My heartfelt condolences to his family.

The Boxcar
I want to end this post on a positive note. I finally had a day of good weather (sunny, minimal winds and low humidity) that allowed me to apply the primer coat to my PS5344 boxcar. (Lacking a vented spray booth, I always work outdoors.) I procrastinated on this step for a long time because my track record with spraying paint is dismal. I put hours and hours of work into this car that could have been ruined in mere seconds by a poor spray job. Happily, all went well. I don’t have any photos yet because I don’t want to handle the car anymore for at least a week, if not longer.

While the primer is drying I plan to work on lots of styrene practice pieces, take plenty of notes and plan the steps for the rest of the paint and weathering. Yes, there will be photos soon enough.



  1. Chris Mears

    Good morning Mike

    I’ve really enjoyed following these latest edits on your layout. In so many ways it appears that these changes are really the fine tailoring. Having seen the prototype photos from the area that inspired you I can see the layout now moving toward that direction and I’m seeing more evidence of what drew you to the prototype scene in the first place. I’m excited to see the next few steps when the time is right for them to happen.

    I just finished reading the new page on the site. Thanks for putting that together. I certainly saw my own experiences and revelations in some of those paragraphs. In a few places, I read words I’m sure I said. We often talk about learning the various skills associated with the hobby but never enough about why we’re doing it in the first place. Certainly, it’s possible to overthink that muse but we shouldn’t discount its affect. Most of all, I saw myself in the thoughts on my relationship with the hobby. Unable to attach to a project I started to doubt my relationship with the hobby. It’s a frustrating paradigm since I don’t doubt my interest in the hobby but was developing some real doubt about my ability to participate.

    Thanks for the note about Ben Brown. I don’t know him but do follow a blog written by a Ben Brown on his Eastport Branch layout. Is this the same person? Regardless, I can appreciate the sense of loss.

    Thanks Mike. I really enjoy reading the blog. It’s very personal content and through that approach, terrifically insightful. Thank you again.

    Chris Mears

  2. mike

    Hi Chris,

    I find the changes satisfying in the sense that the layout looks less cluttered and therefore a more convincing representation of a time and place rather than a disjointed collection of generic stuff.

    Yes, we certainly can use reflections on our “why” as an excuse to procrastinate. There comes a time when we need to dig in, do something and be willing to make mistakes or even do things in a crappy manner if that will enhance our learning process. Your forays into large scale modeling techniques have opened my eyes to a different way of thinking about the craft, so thank you!

    I’m trying to transition this site into a resource for others both in terms of book offerings and information you won’t find elsewhere. Much of this is quite personal as you suggest. The only answers I have are the ones that work for my situation, but I do have lots and lots of questions around how we think about and present this craft, both to ourselves and others.

    Yes, it’s the same Ben Brown who blogged about his Eastport Branch layout.


  3. Chris Mears

    Hi Mike

    I really like where the layout is headed. I don’t know if it’s less clutter or a more harmonious blend of what’s there. In the past you mentioned how it really felt like two layouts or somehow fractured. The changes like those you’ve undertaken in the past few weeks you’re pushing through edits that marry the scene together. In my comment on tailoring I was thinking of creating the composite work instead of set of more localized studies. You’ve not only focused the variety of elements but created venues for them to interact with each other. It’s wonderful.

    For me what appears as procrastination is really more of an anxious reaction. The more half-finished work I produce the harder it is to ignore the general lack of direction. I fear starting anything for fear of creating something that isn’t part of something greater. In opening my thoughts up to conversations like the ones we’ve had I’m developing a better sense of my relationship with the hobby and in that discovering inspiration. Those studies in larger scales speak to this.

    Thanks for the clarification on Mr. Brown. I really enjoyed following along on the progress of his layout.



  4. mike

    Chris, I think a lesson for all of us is not to fear mistakes or supposedly wrong directions. In my experience with the arts, I tried to go with my curiosity. I was naturally drawn to certain subjects and learned over a long time, that’s where I needed (or wanted) to focus more.

    However this takes time and reflection, and it’s so easy to let other voices and influences sway you. The parallels to our craft are obvious and in my view, are a prime source of the frustration many people seem to have with it. Yes, there is a time to learn by copying others but also, a time to speak in your own voice. Sadly, too many never find their own voice. This is one reason I have spent the last few years encouraging people to think for themselves instead of following the herd. However, to each their own.

    In your case, I get the impression you’ve realized that not everything you do has to be part of some larger vision, and I agree. You’re clearly enjoying your explorations with large scale techniques and if they lead to something different, all the better. But if not, who cares? You’ve had the experience and gained an insight.