S12 switching a Pennsy box near the mill on the I&W

From the track to the overgrown weeds reclaiming the one time mill area, all were informed choices in an effort to recreate the images of railroading I grew up with.

As a child, my experience of full-size railroading was up close and personal. With the tracks running mere feet from my house, I saw trains in a way many people will never experience. Growing up, I was unaware of the big picture of how railroads operated, however, I was keenly aware of how detailed and interesting the small picture could be.

Those experiences, and the visual images behind them, guide my path through the hobby to this day. Those memories are why I spend so much time adding the details to my track, scenery and, maybe someday, the rolling stock. Details that most people just gloss over without a second notice. In miniature, I want to see the same images, motion and level of detail I saw growing up around trains as a child.

To that end, I spent time last week working on the area south of Mill Street. I finally added the ┬ácoloring to the new section of Mill Street between the tracks and backdrop. (Was it really late August since I worked on it last?) I’ve started adding the various weeds and other groundcover and over the weekend, picked up some new scenery materials to try out. I’m in no rush to move this work along. I’ll go down for an hour or so after dinner, peck away at the area and then come back up to spend the evening with Susan.

What I’m doing with the layout, this blog, my books, my photography and, in the past, my artwork, is saying to others: Hey, this is interesting, look at this. Look at this pattern, I wonder how it was formed. Look at this texture, look at these details, isn’t that cool? How did that come to be; how does it work? In essence, I’m saying this is important to me, check it out. You might find it’s important too. Not in the same way but in a way you might come to appreciate for your own interests.

NS siding track

This is my memory of track: up close where all the details are plain to see. If they’re not present in model form, it simply doesn’t look like track to my eyes.

Of course my experiences aren’t going to be the same as yours. We each have something that drives our involvement with this craft and although two people can find inspiration from the same source, they’re unlikely to be inspired in exactly the same way.

What I’ve discovered is how satisfying the craft is when you finally choose where to focus your time and efforts. Having such focus frees you to concentrate on the aspects that truly bring enjoyment and satisfaction instead of wasting time and resources on those that don’t bring either. I do appreciate how some people feel they can’t make such choices because everything is equally interesting. The word for that is collector.

My layout is small because I made that choice. The track is handlaid to exacting standards of fidelity because I made that choice. The groundcover techniques and other scenery aspects are all choices, each freely made. Herein is the key I think; making informed choices instead of compulsive compromises because that’s how it is supposed to be according to the expert of the month magazine article. Regardless of what others think, or how it’s supposed to be done, I practice the craft and make the choices I do because it brings me the satisfaction I want. That’s the only form of good enough I’ll acknowledge.



  1. The Industrial Lead

    Thanks Mike,

    I can relate to the up close and personal feeling. My view of the railroad is from directly above it. While I am familiar with the big picture, it’s the intimate details that make it interesting to me.

    I’ve chosen to focus on the subtle details and getting them right, and it takes longer (sometimes a lot longer) to build. When I hit a stumbling block, part of me says just call it good enough and move on. But I don’t think that will produce a satisfying result so I chug along. I do it the best I can, and if it is not the best, I scrap it and start again. I enjoy the challenge and that is what makes the hobby fun.

    Greg Amer

  2. mike

    Hi Greg,

    Good thoughts on why following through when the going gets rough or frustrating is important. If a modeler isn’t happy with the outcome, the hobby isn’t enjoyable for them.

    I like how you identified what’s important for you personally and how that provides the motivation to see a hard task through.


  3. P4newstreet

    Hi Mike

    Interesting but I’ll offer you a different point of view. You see I don’t choose where to focus my efforts. I don’t focus on aspects that always bring me enjoyment and I do put the same effort into aspects that bring me niether satisfaction or enjoyment because it’s there and I have to model it. I don’t see myself as a collector though.

    You see from my point of view I see the idea of focusing on things that give you the most satisfaction or enjoyment as the very definition of compromise. It might be a considered compromise over a compulsive one but it’scompromise none the less.



  4. mike

    Hi Jim,

    I think we are actually in agreement Jim. I looked at my post again and see where the language is confusing in the part your refer to.

    What I meant, and should have said, was how satisfying the craft is when you finally choose a theme upon which to focus your time and efforts.

    As with both our layouts, having a clear theme to organize our efforts around is what provides the enjoyment and freedom I referenced. This is in contrast to those who can’t decide between prototypes, era or other considerations in choosing something specific to model. Therefore buying this and that because it looks exciting or is just something shiny and new. This consumer mindset of “got to have it just because” is what I meant by the word collector.

    I don’t always enjoy cutting up little pieces of twine and gluing them to the layout to represent tall grass. It’s incredibly labor intensive and speaking frankly, boring. Like you, I do it because it is the tall grass is there in the scene and I chose this method to model it.

    Excellent point and thanks for helping me clarify my thoughts.


  5. P4newstreet

    Hi Mike

    I must admit I have no idea what it must be like to ‘choose’ something to model. I’ve always wanted to model new street and have never gone though any sort of descision process.