I took a little longer to walk to the office this morning. Wandering around Charlottetown, coffee in hand, I was thinking about my relationship with model railroading and a few thoughts occurred to me. Most of these feel like they are probably obvious, but with over thirty years in the hobby, they just weren’t to me. I figured I’d share some of these in short posts here, just for heck of it. The first one was really what triggered the walk in the first place. I think when I’m walking. It’s how I meditate and where I find my center. I was thinking about my layout and my lack of progress on it or any of the half-assed things I tried before it.

“I really want to own an N scale layout. I want to see one in my house. I can do this. Why haven’t I? What is wrong?” I thought to myself.

I have a profoundly clear vision of what that looks like. For the life of me I can’t seem to will myself to do the work to make that happen. Further, despite my ability to fund such a venture I equally can’t will myself to just through enough money at the problem as a workaround to resolve that void. I expected a relationship in me where my desire to own something and the ability to fabricate those elements could be relied upon to energize realizing that vision. I can’t seem to translate one into the other. I’m disappointed but yet it feels like an interesting product of this introspection and that is just fine.

I still don’t need to have that finished layout ready for the magazine photo shoot but I do need it to be a platform for experimentation. I thought that establishing a grand vision would provide direction and allow me to identify elements that supported it and in turn drove the work. I think I was wrong about that and that, for me, I know what kinds of little projects I like most and that I might instinctively develop something more satisfying if I just focused on making something small, just a component. That maybe a common theme might appear in the sum of those components and from that a layout could grow. If nothing else, I’ll get something made and something done and I’d like to get back to a feeling of contributing to the hobby rather than just watching it from outside.

This morning I read a neat little tutorial on The Shortline Modelers Guild website about cast concrete and how to model it. I caught myself thinking how much I’d like to try that. I think I will. I’ve also got a nice set of plans for a B&SR water plug. Probably going to make up one of those too (actually again since I’ve already made one earlier in 1/4″ scale several years ago).

I wonder where this will take me. I haven’t a clue but it feels right and I should be smart enough to trust that instinct.




  1. Chris,
    Gotta follow your instincts. I too would love to have a layout in my house. There are times when the inspiration is strong, and others when there are other things that distract. For me, some of the inspiration comes from evaluation, similar to what it sounds like you’re doing, of my goals and what I can accomplish. I’ve had some time away watching this year as I’ve worked on a major event in my life that will soon pass, and then I’ll be focusing again. Sometimes, finding that article, that photo, or the right thing to build, is all it takes.


    1. Thanks Jeremy

      It’s those articles and like inspiration that I want to get back to focusing on. Lately I find I read something and want to try it out to sate my inner tinkerer but don’t because it doesn’t support the grand vision. I’m missing out on some great modelmaking. Maybe, for me, the choice of scale isn’t supposed to be the one that best represents a prototype or those elements from it but best supports the type of work I enjoy. If I drive the vision from the parts instead.

      Thanks again for the kind thoughts. I really appreciate they.


  2. Hi Chris:
    Well, it’s a cliché, but clichés are what they are in part because they’re true. And the cliché is: It’s better to do something in the hobby than to do nothing. Who cares if it doesn’t fit your grand vision? Maybe your head is telling you that your grand vision isn’t that grand, or visionary.
    So, go ahead and build that water crane, or a covered bridge, or an O scale boxcar, or a European high speed rail train set. And enjoy the experience.
    There was a time when I thought I wanted a late 1970s era layout built to support several operators in a busy session. You know where I ended up. And I ended up there partly because I didn’t restrict my hobby to one scale, gauge, era or theme.
    Just keep sharing what you’re doing – I always enjoy your blog!
    – Trevor (Port Rowan in 1:64)

    1. Hi Trevor

      Just when I thought I’d explored every possible layout idea, you go and surprise me with the potential of a collection of TGV operations!

      Seriously though. Thanks for the kind thoughts. I really appreciate it. I do need to get out of my own way and heed that instinct more often. Some of these projects that look like fun probably will be. That seems like a much more productive, and in turn positive, direction.

      Let’s see where this goes.


  3. Go with your gut feelings, Chris.

    If it means doing some little, seemingly oddball thing for a while, so be it. Maybe you need to do a few of those random things, to satisfy yourself and to restore your focus. Don’t feel guilty about dedicating a bit of time to yourself!

    And if you need to take a while just thinking, reading, etc. there’s nothing wrong with that!

    As you know, I’m between layouts and have been for eight years since Keir was born. With the train room reverting to being a bedroom, there’s really nowhere to build a layout. However, I know roughly what I want my future layout to be… and all my modelling, even much of my commercial effort, fits in with that eventual goal. I’m lucky, my goals were firmly established thirty years ago although the exact means or reaching those goals is a bit flexible.

    There have been plenty of times when I couldn’t get motivated until some little thing sparked my interest. I think that’s true for most of us.

    Try building something… anything, really, that catches your interest or explores a new skill you want to develop. If it fits with your layout that’s perfect, but if it’s something completely random that’s great too.

    1. Thanks Steve

      That means a lot to me and I appreciate your sharing. Thank you.

      What I found was how much I am dialoguing myself into believing that the way back to participation here was to get back into layout building. During that time between layouts when layouts were not a practical exercise I developed that pent up demand on inspiration and it’s so great to be at a place where I can release some of it. Too fast, too fast is what I realized this morning.

      I need to give myself permission to just make something in any scale. That it’s not a waste to do so. To realize that what I’m doing is wrong and that I’m wasting just as much stuff doing it “the right way” as I might not doing it my way.

      For now, it’s time to get that kettle on and make something. Anything.



  4. Hi Chris~I enjoy reading your blog and believe we could have some good one-on-one conversations. I share the same frustrations as you, and likewise agree with the other comments on this post. I’m in my early sixties, a recently retired dentist, and am building my first layout since I built my version of John Olson’s Jerome & Southwestern back in the early 1980s. There are a lot of reasons it’s taken 30 years to get to this juncture, none of which are important here, except to say that during all that time I was usually building something, honing my skills, so to speak. Dentistry is like that: no matter how talented you are (or think you are), you’re always learning. I also discovered that one scale, one era, one locale didn’t quite cut it for me, but it took a while for me to give myself permission to leave the safety of the corral, and try building something in O scale, for instance, when I’d spent all my adult life in HO, because I liked the visible detail in the larger size. And then the narrow gauge bug stung me, and the venom is still inside me, so the small layout I’m building (2′ x 10′) is in Sn3. I still love HO standard gauge and have enough room to build a 16″ x 6′ module where I can enjoy building those dreams. And isn’t that what we’re really doing, giving substance to dreams by using our hands and minds to create what we envision? I think so. But there are times when I need to take a break, or when other demands are made on my life, and that’s when constructive daydreaming fills the void, when I let my imagination take over and let it help fill in some of the missing pieces, whatever they may be. I’m doing that now as I wait for the sky blue paint I just applied to my backdrop to dry (and hope that I got it right!). It takes discipline to know when to proceed further, just as it takes discipline to know when to step away. Watching paint dry can create a lot of anxiety, because it looks different wet than when it’s dry, so it’s time for me to put the leash on our jet black Goldendoodle and take him for a nice walk and leave the paint alone.

    1. Hello. Terrific to hear from you. Thank you for taking the time to comment on the blog. I really appreciate it.

      I must say, your phrase “And isn’t that what we’re really doing, giving substance to dreams by using our hands and minds to create what we envision?” should really be on the masthead of the magazines promoting this hobby. That is exactly what the hobby is about. Well said.

      I thought that I could respond to my questions by asking myself the over-arching “I’ve been heavily into model railways for my whole life but do I still want or need to be?” When faced with that, I knew the answer was “Yes” and that I was still in the right place. What I missed out on was the questions in the middle and I immediately leapt into wondering about prototypes and how to best represent them. Where I think I need to permit myself to go next is that permission I spoke of: “Go ahead Chris, build some Gn15 track. Make up a few more of those Bob Hegge pantographs you had so much fun making a decade ago.” I discovered along that walk and in that coffee a sense of where I find my fun and that my connection to the hobby was in production and not, for now at least, perhaps in the grander goal of a miniature world.

      Thanks again. Keep in touch.


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