Tuesday 31 August 2021

Back in the saddle

Firstly, thanks to everyone for their kind words of encouragement after last month's post. It was very pleasing to receive such support and sage advice. As a result, I have made a number of changes to the layout (and continue to do so), removing the second deck and much of the overall complexity to make things much more achievable, albeit at the loss of a significant length of run. I took the advice of a number of people, as well as from this publication by noted model railway builder, Lance Mindheim.

I was initially going to give a book review (something one would expect from the armchair), but I'll just comment on a couple of points that were relevant to my situation. The first thing I had to change was what I had initially thought of as my vision for the layout.

Essentially, my vision was based on my experiences in the US visiting and operating on very large layouts (some exceedingly large by Australian standards) with lots of operators. These layouts had long runs, often double-decked, and in massive basements. They had lots of towns and industries and many were wonderfully scenicked and landscaped. Even some of the "smaller" model railroads had lots of operating potential, with regular operating sessions (well, before Covid-19 struck), and a regular crew of good mates to run trains with. Lastly, and I conveniently forgot about this, all of these layouts had many helpers in the construction and operation of their basement empires. 

For example, Stephen Priest's massive layout, the Santa Fe St. Louis Division (see Railroad Model Craftsman, April 2019), had regular mid-week sessions where ten to twenty modellers would turn up to work on the layout. Can you imagine that? Ten to twenty people each week coming over to help you build and scenic your layout! Of course, Stephen is a NMRA Master Model Railroader and so are some of his friends, but still, building a HUGE layout (50' x 78') required a LOT of work. All those helpers certainly increased the achievability of the layout within a shorter time frame than otherwise the case.

Clearly, all of the above circumstances did not translate to me. It was what I wanted and it was my vision for the future, but it was not realistic or achievable within the context of my situation.

As Clint Eastwood famously said, "A man's gotta know his limitations". And this also crosses over to time, ability, and capacity to construct a model railway given that all three have inherent limitations. In Lance Mindheim's book, he warns of being bogged down as the modeller becomes "engulfed and overwhelmed because they underestimated the magnitude of their dreams". Quite....

The other problem compounding the enormity of the task was the garage itself, not an ideal environment especially in winter. While I do have insulation in the roof with a ceiling, some draft prevention around the garage doors, and an Aldi reverse-cycle air conditioner that I think I have fixed for some reliability (RTFM....ahem), it takes a while to crank up the heat to work in the garage comfortably. Consequently, stepping into the garage for the odd 15-20 minutes of work rarely happened. In addition, all the garage tools and paraphenalia added to the visual clutter (along with the modelling clutter on my second deck) to give the room that air of utter despondency!

Lastly, sometimes we can be too clever by half. I had a good idea of the trains and sequencing I wanted to run and this involved a lot of trains and some yard complexities which I figured I could sort out without too much trouble. There were four hidden staging areas and while I have the cameras and a screen to deal with this, I was never fully confident it would actually work in practice without causing undue stress. That was one thing I should have remembered from operating on layouts in the US - it can be very stressful at times and this was, and is, a truly unpleasant feeling. Sure, the hidden staging could have been overcome with cameras and informative control panels, but was all this complexity and possible angst actually necessary? Was I trying to find solutions to problems I actually didn't need? The answer was a resounding yes. I have removed two of the four hidden staging yards with one more to go! The fourth staging area will remain, but no longer totally hidden. In addition, I simplified the main classification yard, going back to Google Earth to check on a similar classification yard on my prototype to make sure my simplified version was believable...and yes it was!

I could go on but I'll finish up now. Suffice to say, I have been spending more time on the layout on weekends and in the evenings than ever before. It is still cold at times but I am more prepared to set up the heating beforehand knowing that I will go into the garage and actually accomplish something instead of being stuck by the enormity of the task. Reducing the complexity of the layout, and making the layout more manageable and achievable within the accepted limitations, means more time and energy (both physical and electrical) to progress the layout for a more enjoyable outcome.

This blog isn't really about building my layout, but I think my experience might be of value to others who are considering building a large layout and who may also need some encouragement. So, thanks everybody.

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