What Do You Choose To See?

by Mar 26, 2018OST Believes9 comments

Way back at the beginning of the blog I posted a series titled: What Do You See? A better title might have been: What Do You Choose To See?*

Look at the photo below and consider what you see in it.

An operations enthusiast might see a clear track with nothing in his way. A fan of switching might see a boring stretch of track that offers little or nothing to do.

A layout designer will suggest all those trees hinder maintenance access and block your view of the trains. He’ll also say that a rail served industry adds more play value than that scrubby mobile home park.

On the other hand, a scenery builder will love those very same trees.

A photographer will moan about the poor quality of the light or wish for a better composition that included a train.

The point to make is that we all see things differently than others. On a visit to someone’s layout or looking at a proposed track plan, the odds are you’ll quickly start thinking about what you would do with the space rather than dive deep into understanding the builder’s choices and objectives.

The same goes for sloppy terms like good enough. What does that mean exactly? We treat it like it has the same objective meaning to everyone but seldom consider that one person’s idea of a good enough level of detail might be another’s starting point for detailing.

My interpretation of the three-foot rule goes: if you’re three-feet away from an object, any detail you can see should be included on the model.

Now wait a minute Mike, that’s not how that goes.

Exactly. That interpretation helps me enjoy the craft in ways that are meaningful and fulfilling and isn’t that what most of us set out to do? Looking through the filter of our own bias, it’s easy to forget that my interpretation of the so-called three-foot rule doesn’t have to be yours or anyone else’s.

We frame the discussion around this craft as though it means the same thing to everybody, when nothing is further from the truth.


*A thank you to Seth Godin for inspiring this post.


  1. Simon

    A humorous take on this, which does make a serious point about, well, about one’s point of view affecting how a scene is interpreted.

    The pessimist sees the tunnel.
    The optimist sees the light at the end of the tunnel.
    The realist sees that it’s the headlight of an oncoming train.
    The engineer sees three idiots standing on the track within his braking distance.

  2. Simon

    Flippancy aside, when I read your post, I wondered about something you said, and wanted to clarify your meaning – or at least state my interpretation!

    “if you’re three-feet away from an object, any detail you can see should be included on the model”

    Are you saying that you will include detail on the model which would be visible from 3 feet away on the prototype? I do hope so.

  3. Simon

    Apologies for not signing off those two posts! Some may view your polite request as unusual, but actually it does make a difference when there are a lot of people out there spouting opinions but not putting their names to them.


  4. mike

    “Are you saying that you will include detail on the model which would be visible from 3 feet away on the prototype? I do hope so.”

    That’s what I’m saying.


  5. mike

    Don’t give it a second thought. I know who the author is.


  6. Craig Townsend

    I’m really struggling right now to figure out which one of these I am. I really enjoy modeling and detailing so large scale has been really beneficial in the past few years. But the operator side of me has been relit after some HO operation sessions. This conflict has caused me to wonder what I should be focusing on and how to move forward. Its driven me away from my workbench for almost a month. This post feeds this conflict even more in a good way.

    Do I continue with large scale ( A minority of a minority of the hobby) and plan on downsizing my grand plans for the sale of building and detailing, or do I downsize the modeling to P48 or even HO to a point that I can fill the operations side of my brain.


  7. mike

    Hi Craig,

    This sounds like a topic for a full blog post. I understand where you’re coming from. I’ve been there myself several times. It’s a very personal decision, but I wonder why we tend to frame these choices as either/or? Stay tuned.


  8. Galen Gallimore

    For me the new personal-yardstick I have begun to use recently is a variation on the “good enough” idea as it is more commonly known. I am in fact settling for less than I could do otherwise. I could add brake levers to that rigging, or use half-cut turnbuckles as clevises at the end of rods, or insert a section of chain into the mix, but instead I’m sticking the K brake up under the car with a little bit of wire on one end to simulate the air pipe.

    Why? Because I am coming to accept that in my current situation raising two boys, fixing our meals, doing laundry, keeping the house clean, etc. I don’t have the energy to detail something to the Nth degree and still make progress towards an operating layout. I don’t have the mental space to fill with that level of detail and all the planning and research that goes with it AND declutter the house. At some point in the (hopefully near) future I may have a bit more energy to devote to a longer term project like the Fine Scale Miniatures Pile Driver sitting on my shelf, but for now I have dialed back my expectations on what I want to achieve.

    As for what I see in the photo above, it is the contrast between the track in shadow and the further section in the sunlight. I also see the wonderful jumble of branches in the bare trees and think how inadequate our scenery efforts are for simulating this, especially in the smaller scales.


  9. mike

    Hi Galen,

    Real life always comes before any hobby. And, one should enjoy their hobby as one sees fit. There are too many expectations we impose on ourselves in this life, a hobby shouldn’t turn into just another one. I practice it in a way that brings me enjoyment and in no way expect others to do things “my way.” I appreciate that life can be a handful at times and I hope your situation settles down soon.