While I have stated numerous times that I disagree with a lot of what is accepted as normal layout design practice, that doesn’t mean it’s bad for everyone. The purpose here is to shine the light into the dark corners and ask questions that few, in my view, seem to be asking. Whether you agree or not doesn’t matter; it’s the quality of the questions asked that determine the quality of the answers found. Ponder the following from the next volume of The Missing Conversation:

1. Is this a layout worth building-for me?

Long term enjoyment often comes from finding and meeting our own challenges rather than following someone else’s ideas about  the hobby. Ask what really draws you to this hobby? What are the best ways to express or satisfy that aspect? Conventional ideas might help or just get in the way of finding better solutions.

2. What commitment am I willing to make?

Do you really understand what will be required to fully realize a so-called dream or lifetime layout? It isn’t just the time or space required. How willing are you to invest time and effort in learning new skills like how to do ongoing research, scratchbuilding or handlaying track? What about wiring and other control issues? Lastly, what happens to it all if you change jobs, you just lose interest or when you can no longer participate in the hobby due to age, a prolonged illness or death?

3. What crossroad have I reached in the hobby?

Frustration can open us to new possibilities we may not have considered before. It can also confirm the wisdom of a prior choice and take it in a new direction. Understanding that we provide the deeper meaning for the hobby may provide greater clarity about what you want from it, or what type of layout you might build.

4. Frustration can be fuel.

Reaching the point of walking away from a problem can be the beginning of the answer we’re looking for. Why is this? Because all bets are off at this point. We’re willing to consider alternatives that seemed far fetched before.

5. Know thyself.

Said The Oracle. Until I understood how I approached the hobby in terms of my own temperment, my efforts to fit another’s mold or ideas doomed me to repeated failure. Once I found the conviction to follow my own path, my satisfaction level with the hobby increased greatly. Following a conventional path may or may not be right for you. It’s a choice you have to make for yourself.

6. If a scale becomes too hard to work in, don’t be afraid to switch.

Some years ago, I realized that HO scale was no longer a good choice for me. In spite of having a ton of stuff, I switched to quarter-inch scale and P48 and never regretted the decision.

7. Tough choices have to be made

Working with a large modeling scale in a modest space means making tough choices about what to include. Sometimes it means giving up a critical feature to make a better scene. In spite of rhetoric to the contrary, you can’t have it all if a realistic scene is your goal.

8. Freelancing isn’t a cure-all.

The concept behind freelancing promises that you can mash up a bunch of separate elements and it’ll all work out and look good. Well maybe. There is plausible freelancing and there is wishful thinking. Including the Cedar Grove feed mill on my layout was plausible. I was able to faithfully carry over enough features of the prototype and its setting into the modeled scene to make it believable. The shingle plant as I was going to model it was wishful thinking. The compromises involved were far too many and too severe, stretching the credibility of the model beyond reason. It simply would have been a caricature of the plant rather than a plausible representation. It had to go, or the entire layout would have suffered and I wouldn’t have been happy. Don’t be afraid to make the tough calls. You may lose a cherished feature, but the layout will likely be the better for it. Think big picture.

9. It’s so easy to get distracted in the design process.

Maybe it’s just me. In many of my layout designs I found it easy to go off in different directions with schemes that had nothing to do with my prototype. A feature here, another there and next thing you know, nothing is recognizable compared to what you thought you were doing. It should be simple, but it often isn’t. How do you handle these situations? Focus.

10. You can always make changes to a “finished” scene.

Even though I merely made cosmetic changes to the scenery and ballast in the yard, I could have relaid the two tracks if they had bothered me enough to warrant the work involved. Sometimes major changes need to be made, other times a simpler approach will work. How do you decide? If you look at some feature and feel disgusted or irritated every time, change it. Otherwise consider less drastic alternatives first.

The Missing Conversation, Volume 02 will be out on November 1, 2012. Volume 01 and Volume 02 make up a two-part discussion of layout design. Volume 01 is available here.