I recently read a column from a modeler who had shared his latest plans and theme for a new layout. Predictably, “The Advice” soon followed on how he could “improve” on his plans.

Now this individual is a smart, knowledgeable prototype modeler who knows what he wants from the hobby. My hope is he will stick to his original plan and not allow others, however well intentioned, to muddy the water for him. I believe he will. He’s too smart to allow others to do that.

Agree or not, it is my firm belief there is a definite “herd” mentality to this hobby. For all the talk of individual approaches, if someone strays too far from the norm, they are considered fair game for the experts. New ideas in this hobby are usually less than welcome, if they fly in the face of conventional wisdom. My friend’s theme is outside the norm of conventional layout thought and ideology, making him a target.

Given his resources in time, budget and space, he wants a very simple layout. “The Advice” from one modeler was to add unnecessary complication in the name of operating interest. The implication being, “you’ll be sorry” if you don’t. Simple layouts, in this particular modeler’s view, are too boring to bother with. Nothing wrong with that, except it doesn’t accept what my friend wants to do as a valid choice.

Now don’t misread my words here. Advice can be very valuable, when the giver takes the time to understand and respect the choices being made by the receiver. Advice that helps a modeler achieve his objectives can be worth its weight in gold. It’s also rare. Fortunately, he’s also received such advice from an accomplished modeler who is pursuing a similar goal.

More typical is advice from the bias of the giver in an attempt to enlighten some poor misguided soul and put him back on the good path, that is the same one the giver is on. This advice is worse than useless in my view.

My friend doesn’t need my advice. I will simply say to anyone who might be listening, stick to your guns. You know as much as the “experts.”



  1. The Industrial Lead

    Well said Mike,

    I see a lot of wholesale advice given to people designing a layout, and I fell to it when I designed and built my first and second layout (must have hidden staging, must have a reverse loop, must have continous running, must have a push through loads in/empties out track, must have to have a drill track, & don’t have an any S curves). I did receive some good advice along the way, but most of it came after I had been convinced that the rules had already been written on what must and musn’t be. So I settled on “having” to include the stuff I’d really “miss” if I didn’t have it.

    I often see layout designers employ the “Givens” and “Druthers” analysis, as a way to determine what people really want and maust have, and then approach the design with those constraints. Honestly I don’t have the discipline to work with someone like that, so I usally try to keep my layout analysis to tweaks. Maybe lose this turnout or move it over there or make the siding longer to match the length of your trains. I never feel real comfortable suggesting wholesale changes, because I just don’t have all the information of what is desired.

    When I stumbled upon Lance Mindheim’s East Rail and Downtown Spur, I finally realized how overbuilt so many layouts are. I scrapped my previous layouts and started focusing on less track, less compression and more fun.

    Greg Amer
    The Industrial Lead

  2. mike

    Thanks Greg.

    There’s still so much of that entrenched mindset out there. You see it in design forums, blogs, magazines, everywhere. Lance broke the mold and the hobby is better for it.

    As a professional, you can confirm much of what he puts forth in his designs and viewpoints on operation. The more I learn about full-sized railroad ops, the less track I feel is needed.

    1/4″ scale could have a genuine rebirth if we could ween people off the loopty-loop mentality and show (better, teach) them the joys of simplicity.


  3. Dunks

    To add an example. Many years ago I was toying with the idea of moving into model engineering, and visited a few of the local societies to view their running tracks and see hat was involved. I was looking for advice (i.e. support and encouragement) but what I usually got was what you are calling “Advice” (someone telling what, not how, to do). What attracted me was the idea of a small loco which I could pick up, yet would be able to pull me and maybe a couple of others, and was interested in building a 5″ gauge Stroudley “Terrier” (small six-wheeled tank engine). The Advice was that I should build a “Sweet Pea”, an easy to build and maintain and run, very attractive, semi-freelance narrow gauge loco, and forget all about the Terrier until I had built one of those. The idea that it was a specific prototype which interested me, and not just building for building’s sake, was anathema to some of them.

    I have since found out that I usually managed to talk to the local “expert” who didn’t actually do much, because the doers we’re actually doing things like running their engines, but nonetheless, I felt that people foisting their opinions on me, rather than helping me achieve what I wanted, was not what I wanted from a hobby, and I stuck with railway modelling. I am glad that I did, to be honest!

    The point is, I suppose, that you are spot on with your post, Mike, but isn’t it a crying shame that it needs to be said? And it really does need to be said!

  4. mike


    I remember reading a post by a modeler who wanted to work in P48 early on. He was strongly urged not to by the experts (a bunch of old school club members). Reasons given? You won’t be able to take your equipment and run it on other’s layouts. He listened to this lame excuse and worked in wide gauge old scale for years.

    He now works in P48 and has never been happier and regrets the time spent doing stuff that didn’t speak to his heart.

    It is a shame that this has to be said and, you’re right, it does need to be said and said often. Bottom line folks, you know what you want from this hobby better than anyone else. Take any advice, including mine, with a grain of salt.

    Thanks for commenting Simon.