Railroading: Simple and Pure

by Jul 14, 2018OST Believes2 comments

For each of us, there is something about railroading that moves us deeply. Maybe it’s the sound and fury, the complexity of a busy junction or the ballet of moving people and freight. Perhaps it’s the visual simplicity of a quiet branch. Whatever the answer is for you, that’s a clue about where to direct your focus.

It seems obvious doesn’t it? Yet such clarity is often buried under the premature concerns about the amount of room space we have, what type of benchwork to use or whether to handlay the track plus the other layout design trappings we’ve been taught to obsess over. I suggest that until you understand your real motivations around model trains, all that is just useless mental clutter that gets in the way.

Questions of methodology don’t speak to the emotions that are the essence of why we are drawn to certain things and not others.

As individuals we see and experience things differently, yet the discussions are based on the notion that everyone has the same definition of the 1950s steam-to-diesel transition era; a narrow gauge logging road; a Midwestern branchline. They all bring an image to mind but is it the same image for everyone? I seriously doubt it.

We all have a version of what’s true about a subject or event based on our experience, personal history and worldview. Your Iowa branchline might have hauled grain while my Indiana operation moved a different commodity. So whose “Midwestern” branchline is right? Both of them of course and the layout story we create about each will be unique if, we can move past the clichés and stereotypes that have a choke hold on our understanding.

Riley Triggs explored this idea at length on his Model Railroad Design blog using the example of Rick De Candido’s Fillmore Avenue Roundhouse layout. His post opened my eyes to an idea I only have a vague understanding of. Thank you Riley for expanding my vision of the craft.




  1. Patrick

    Eureka!! I’ve been mulling over and over what track plan to go with for my little 8×6 shelf layout for the past few months. Even paid someone to come up with a track plan for me and yet still something wasn’t right. Finally today I realized what I wanted and then as I’m going through my usual train sites I came across this post you made. It just verified what I finally figured out on my own after all these months. The first paragraph you wrote is the first thing anyone who’s planning a layout needs to ponder. Great blog

  2. mike

    Hi Patrick,

    Thanks for the kind words. I’m glad the post was helpful.