There are dozens if not hundreds of stories we tell ourselves about this hobby. The person who thinks a model that looks good from three feet away is good enough, has adopted a story about the level of detail a model should have.

The same goes for a master craftsman who spares no effort in fabricating a miniature replica of a full-size prototype. He’s telling a story about craftsmanship and developing his own skills as a modeler, in addition to one about what the hobby means to him.

People who believe that the best way to introduce a newcomer to the hobby is a sheet of plywood and a loop of track have a story about how to begin in the hobby, as does someone who advocates for a more considered approach that begins with understanding the prototype.

The “hobby is fun” crowd has a story they’ve adopted, as does the era and location specific prototype modeler.

All of these examples and myriads more reflect a person’s worldview of how things are or should be in the hobby. That’s what many stories are, a reflection of how we see the world, or perhaps a metaphor of how the world could be. It isn’t that one story is better than another, it just seems that way when you strongly agree or disagree with one and, once a person adopts a worldview or story about something, getting them to change their mind is very difficult, if not impossible.

My story is simple.

I enjoy a small layout much more than a large one.  Smaller layouts simply suit my temperament and attention span better.

I enjoy detail. My experience as a fine arts painter helped me focus on all the details of a subject.

I enjoy representing things accurately. I worked in P87 because it was more accurate, letting me detail the track with scale flangeways and switchpoint spacing. In P48 the level of such detail is on steroids and I love it.

I’m a philosopher. This should be obvious to anyone who has read my writing for any length of time. I think about this hobby in ways a lot of folks have never even considered. I bring my artist’s eye and temperament to bear on my modeling, focusing on individual aspects of a layout as parts of the whole, rather than individual pieces. I also see it as a journey of discovery, a way to learn what you’re actually capable of doing.

I’m also a klutz. All my emphasis on craftsmanship is a declaration of war against my own doofus skill levels. I can do good work, but I really have to focus hard to get there. I’m always getting in a rush and tend to settle too easily for mediocre results. I’m trying to slow down and focus. Like many modelers, I’m my own harshest critic.

Furthermore, I believe that model railroading is a hobby worthy of one’s best efforts. That the prototype should be the primary source of knowledge and answers to questions about what to do. After many years of modeling, I’m no longer that interested in where the broader hobby is going in terms of direction and emphasis. It simply doesn’t resonate with me anymore. I prefer to strike out in my own direction and explore the hobby as craft and even, perhaps, as an art form in its own right and share what I’m discovering along the way.

My writing on this blog isn’t going to change your mind unless you’re ready to consider a different perspective but if these ideas sound like the basis for an interesting story, one you want to hear more of, you’re most welcome to join me on the journey.



  1. quarryman


    I too am a fan of small layouts. I believe small layout design is a challenge that is not being explored by the mainstream hobby press. Developing interesting operation on a small layout can require as much focus as a modeler is willing to give it. A small layout is easier to justify in the larger scheme of things, especially when a prototype, setting, and operating scheme are well suited for – and optimized on – a small layout.

    Looking forward to seeing the progress on your revisions,


  2. mike

    Hi Mark,

    Welcome to the blog. I agree that small layout operations often require as much careful thought, perhaps even more, as their larger counterparts. The default small layout concept of the “switching puzzle,” where operational complexity is intentional, does a disservice to modelers in my view by introducing needless frustration. My observations of the prototype and brief conversations with railroad crews confirm that such deliberate complexity simply isn’t needed.

    The revisions are coming along and I’ll have an update on my progress later this week. Thanks for commenting Mark.