Attainable layouts (coal dealers vs. coal mines)

I was supposed to have lunch with a friend last week but life had other plans. However we had a short but great conversation by phone.

One thing he said stuck in my mind. He mentioned that he’s rethinking his plans for his layout in order to build something that’s more attainable. He’s realized that other commitments in his life mean that he would be better off focussing on a less complex layout that he can actually expect to finish.

I think this is a great idea – one that I’ve been mulling over for years, it seems, since each new layout I’ve started has been more attainable than those that came (and went) before it. With my Port Rowan layout, I think (I hope) I’ve found the right balance between challenge (S scale, hand-laid track, a number of scratch-built structures) and reward (rapid progress without an overwhelming investment of time). We’ll see…

Many years ago, a Hobby Sage advised that we should plan our staging needs – then double them. The argument was that we could never have enough staging because, inevitably I suppose, we’d want to add more trains to the layout to keep people busy. Fortunately, some hobbyists are now challenging that assumption – and looking to enhance the realism of the work done by each train so that fewer trains are needed to satisfy the operators.

Done right, even a layout supporting just one or two trains can keep people entertained. Similarly, choosing industries wisely can save money, time and staging yard capacity: For example, it takes the same number of moves to spot a single hopper car on a coal dealer’s siding as it does to sport a string of hopper cars under a coal tipple.
Fewer weeds around coal bin photo CoalTrack-Weeds-07_zps4f512a4f.jpg
(No coal today!)

This isn’t to suggest that everybody adopt the approach I have. But I encourage everyone to assess – realistically – the real world demands on their time, money and other resources when planning a layout to be sure the layout fits their lifestyle – instead of becoming it.

2 thoughts on “Attainable layouts (coal dealers vs. coal mines)

  1. In days of old, the focus was on cars, not trains. Coming up soon on The Model Railway Show, is an interview with Brian Scace, the dean of the Modal Concept of layout operation. Looking at your layout design I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s a refreshing change from scale miles of parallel staging tracks, especially in the larger scales.

    • Hi Ed:
      Thanks for the note (and the plug for my podcast!) and you’re right: I do find this layout refreshing. But I was never a fan of the “10 lbs of sugar in a 5 lb sack” approach to layout design.
      What I find most refreshing about this layout is the sense of accomplishment I receive during every work session. I can spike one turnout and say “I’m 12.5% closer to having all the turnouts laid”, for example. Progress is evident after even 15 minutes of work in the layout room and that encourages me to keep going.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.