Barriers to Model Railroading part V: Model what?

How many times have you built a model railroad only to finish it or even half finish it and say to yourself, “ I don’t like it”? I’m sure every modeler has had that experience at some point in time. I know I certainly have more than once. Over the years, especially the last twenty or so I have started and stopped many projects. What have I learned in that time? You will never have enough of whatever, be it time, space, or money. Something will limit you and you will stop. Next step is no what to do?

Over the past several years, Model Railroading has been a back burner hobby. Other things have pushed it there until the realization is that a lot of projects got started but never really finished because I lost interest. The problem was looking towards a finished layout. Many layouts never came about because somewhere along the way an intermediate step created a roadblock or became its own project. Ultimately, this led to the hobby becoming a back burner and other things taking up more of my interest.

Recently, I sat down at my modeling desk and cleaned up the dust bunnies, pushed some stacks of stuff around to see what they were and discovered a small book of trackplans and model railroad ideas. Was an interesting stroll down past ideas and projects. several different Beckleysville plans in On3, On30, S standard, Sn3, and one in On2. The Emerson Railway, a Maine two footer in On2 was in there as well. While looking at the Emerson plans, I realized some of the issues centered around rolling stock and motive power issues. No wonder I didn’t finish any layouts. Beckleysville had more trackplans than industries, and almost as many scale and gauge ideas to match the abundance of trackplans.

So, let’s return to the question at hand, what to model? Let’s look at the question in a different light. To succeed, Beckleysville needs a scale, track gauge and a plan. Emerson needs rolling stock and motive power. Pick something and go.

Barriers to Model Railroading part V: Model what? @ December 2020

By :H. Mathews

4 thoughts on “Barriers to Model Railroading part V: Model what?

  1. I enjoy this series. Thank you for continuing it.

    Like you, I have a similar relationship with projects. I excuse it by acknowledging that I enjoy the design conversation and that even those few that make it from paper into form are themselves just a next level of design study.

    You mentioned that issue of collecting the right equipment. While on errands earlier this week I was thinking about my teenage years in N scale. That time was around the dawn of modern N – the Atlas-Kato RS3 was just starting to lead an exodus from Minitrix diesels but we were still planning layouts around what we could get. Often in my more recent plans they burn out when I can’t reasonably overcome critical items of rolling stock that are simply unavailable by reasonable means. I’m rambling but the point I started reflecting on was: if plans are failing because of what I don’t have or can’t get can I invert that equation and plan from fixed points of what I can get? Is there an idea waiting in the elements of the obtainable?


  2. This is a great approach, Matt. Break down the projects and pick the ones you want to complete.
    I would also add, perhaps look at the projects that are half-finished and make a list of the things you learned while doing them. That list could be everything from “I learned a new technique for X” to “I learned that I really like this particular aspect of the hobby – but not that aspect over there”. (I’d try to keep the list positive, by always finding something good about the project – even if, overall, you didn’t enjoy it.) Such a list may help you decide what you want to tackle next.
    I’ve started a lot of layouts. Never finished one (although Port Rowan came close). I don’t regret any of those as “false starts” or “failures”. They were also learning opportunities.
    The hobby tends to focus on the layout (or the model) as the point of the exercise. Not enough attention is paid to the learning process.
    From your woodworking interest, have you ever just grabbed a board and practiced with a plane? Sometimes, making shavings is the point of the exercise…

    1. Trevor, Thank you for the comment. Over the holidays, I gave your thoughts much consideration and decided on a new approach to the Blog. I plan on continuing the “Barriers to Model Railroading” series as well as introducing a new one entitled “Field Notes”. I hope to focus on research aspects of the hobby, whether through books, the Internet, or actual field work on a subject.

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