A quick update:
After a battery of eye tests I’ve been diagnosed with a twenty percent permanent vision loss in my right eye and told the condition may eventually also impact the  left eye. Reading small text on paper or a screen is frustrating unless it’s the size of a poster or billboard. Close, detailed work of any kind is off the table for now as I have little to no focus or clarity with small objects. And, barring substantial improvement, my time behind the wheel of a car may well be over.  I don’t have the situational awareness to be safe on the road. On a positive note, the doctor did offer a tiny glimmer of hope that I could have a marginal improvement of ten to twelve percent over the next couple of years. He also said the condition could just as easily get much worse.Obviously, this isn’t welcome news. However, I trust in the sovereignty and wisdom of God that there is a good purpose to be served, whether I ever know what that purpose is or not. It’s been a lot to take in and adjust to; an emotional roller coaster ride I’m ready to step off of and get oriented back on solid ground again.

In spite of all this, I’m solely focused on what I can do (which is a lot) rather than what may be lost forever. I still want to contribute in some way and plan to continue the blog postings for as long as I’m able to. Obviously, there will be a shift in subject matter from active model building to topics I can still share effectively, such as applying art and design principles to the craft. The posts may be less frequent than I like and until I can figure out ways to read small text with less eye strain, my responses to comments may not be as frequent or thoughtful as they deserve.

Regardless of what happens next with the site, I want to thank each of you for your support, presence and encouragment in this work. We have a small community here that is a safe place for thoughtful expression. I’m thrilled by the trust you’ve given me. You’re the reason this blog exists.

Okay, enough of that, let’s get on to something useful.


Thinking of Design or Designing Your Thinking? Part 1:
I’ve been chewing on a few ideas related to layout designs that would fit more comfortably ini the home. Much of what follows in this post  and those to come is rough, unformed thinking out loud as I wrap my mind around things and, I’m nowhere close to this level of creativity.

As an object of curiosity or decor, a model locomotive or train car fits easily on a shelf or tabletop anywhere in the home. Once the notion of having model trains in a more permanent setup took hold, they were quickly banished to spaces such as a spare room, basement or attic away from public view. As an object of play, a trainset, regardless of size, wasn’t generally considered an appropriate use of valuable household living space in a more formal society than we are used to now.

 What Purpose Are You Chasing?
At this point, I need to draw a clear distinction between layouts designed for long distance, multi-train operations and those designed for visual interest and model building. While they are not mutually exclusive, in my view, we tend to treat them as such because of the fundamental expectations and value propositions we bring to each form.

The sheer size, scope and complexity  that such layouts embody all but demand a dedicated space of their own. The long term construction and related mess are not the environment anyone wants to live in, no matter how understanding. They really are a separate category of thought and purpose in my view.

My focus in this short series will be on designs that are meant as satisfying compositions in their own right, ones that can support modest amounts of realistic operation, without imposing on the room space in an overbearing way. 

A Frame work Comes First
It’s a fundamental principle of design practice that accurately defining the problem will determine the questions you ask and the answers you get. Your framework for thinking sets your expectations of what’s possible and worth pursuing. That’s why I emphasize knowing what you are really after. It isn’t always obvious. You may think you want X but you keep moving toward Y. Maybe Y is more in tune with something you haven’t defined or realized yet that might be worth exploring. You can stay married to the idea of X but there’s a lot you don’t know yet. Long years of experience teaches me it’s wise to make your choices carefully. 

Over the last several years I’ve questioned the roots of my growing dissatisfaction and found the answers I sought. My true interests are in the combination of art and modeling and lean toward layout concepts that are far simpler than what conventional thought considers worthwhile.
The idea of layout forms that could fit more easily into the public spaces of a home hold a lot of appeal as a design exercise. I don’t believe for one second that I have any groundbreaking ideas. I have some that interest me artistically that are driven by a very specific and clear set of criteria that are hardly applicable to every taste or situation.

I’m not here to change anyone’s mind. I only present them in the hope that someone will benefit from exposure to a different way of thinking about the craft and its potential. Next time, we’ll dig into the ways that frameworks can shape our thinking. It’s interesting stuff to be aware of.


Designing Your Thinking Part Two: Frameworks



  1. David Evers

    Sorry to hear about this. I have a model railroading friend in a similar situation. He was able to find key caps with extra large lettering, so he could still see to type; and purchased a very large monitor but run at lower resolution so the text was larger.

  2. John Moenius

    This is sad news given the enjoyment you derive from building models. But I think you still have a lot to give towards the advancement of the hobby. I view you along with Chris Mears (Prince Street) and sometimes Lance Mindheim as original thinkers on layout design. I really enjoyed your discussion some years ago regarding your ‘Sycamore” track plan and the prototypical layout of your hometown of Centerville. By the way, can’t find Centerville, did you take it off your blog? You are a great contrarian to the basement filling/budget busting layouts pushed by the mainstream press. And finally, I admire your attitude given the serious bad news regarding your eyesight.
    John Moenius
    Bluffton SC

  3. mike

    Thanks Dave. I’m able to see the keyboard and have adjusted the settings on my monitor to reduce glare and enlarge the text. I’m figuring it out a step at a time. -Mike

  4. Craig Townsend

    Maybe this is a blessing, and will convince you to start modeling in a even larger scale like 1/20.3, or 1/29. There’s some serious scratch building opportunities in these scales from rolling stock to locomotives.

    As my wife tells me, “Trust and obey for there’s no other way”


  5. mike

    Thanks for the thoughts Craig. I’m in no hurry to make any decisions along those lines for now. Over the next few months my eyesight should settle into whatever it’s going to be and I’l consider the options at that time. If I can resume active model building on some level, I prefer to continue the work already at hand in quarter-inch scale, rather than have to start over from zero. We’ll see what happens down the road. -Mike

  6. Chris Roy

    Sorry to hear about your vision problems, Mike; I’m hoping, obviously, that your doctor’s best hopes pan out and you see some improvement over the next few months.

    I always appreciate your thoughtful posts, and the questions that you continue to pose – case in point: “What Purpose Are You Chasing?” I think for so long I’ve just kind of gone through the motions within the model railroading hobby, and it wasn’t until the last few years that I’ve really started pondering that question and figuring out what my interests really are and why my particular interests are worth pursuing versus the paths more traditionally taken.

    Hoping for the best in 2023!

  7. mike

    John, so sorry for the delayed reply. I believe this is one of the posts you’re looking for: -Mike

    Modeling The Past

  8. mike

    Thanks Chris.I’m glad to know people get something helpful from the blog. -Mike