Wrapping some data around my instincts

I’ve read several examples of where other model railroaders and layout designers have used a decision matrix or similar tools from the business intelligence trade to attempt to reconcile a scope for a future layout or help them to understand their own interests and, basically, test an idea that looks attractive in this month’s magazine or catalogue. Given my day job and just the way I’m wired to think, I’m attracted this approach but have never really tried it. Walking home from the office today I started to think about how I could use a similar matrix to map out my interests.

There’s always that perpetual model railroading question of “which scale is best” and it doesn’t take long to read the way we react to it in any forum or magazine. We talk about whether or not there’s enough rolling stock available or how hard it is to get something in one scale or the other. We parrot tired idioms like how great N scale is for running long trains or how O scale is really the best for scratchbuilding. I don’t disagree with those thoughts or anyone’s right to think them but I’ve been in the hobby, in varying degrees of productivity, long enough to want to think a little deeper. It doesn’t matter to me how easy it is to get an SD90MAC in any scale, I don’t like them and don’t plan on ever buying one. Despite the fact that one of my favourite layouts is Jim Kelly’s Tehachappi (any version) it features a style of railroading that my heart just isn’t into following – I’m not as intersted in the long trains or the American southwest. Likewise, I’m not interested in mine cars or Big Boy steam engines. Paraphrasing one a favourite cliché from work: “I’d like to see myself in those opinions” instead.

Like any good nerd, I revved up some spreadsheet software and cooked up this simple table:

Subject Notes or Questions N scale HO scale S scale Notes
Summary 62 49 48
Track 9 6 3
Scale height/size rail Prototype rail height is approximately 5″ 3 2 1 Is this height readily available?
Hand-spiked track 3 2 1 If using typical wheel flange depths is it practical to spike track without interfering with train operation?
Ballast scale size crushed stone or cinder 3 2 1 How readily available is this in a size that I consider reasonable for the scale and cost?
Turnouts 7 6 5
Throwbar design I like Can it be hinged easily or is there enough rail base to make a soldered one strong? 3 2 1
#8 turnout Would like to use a minimum #8 turnout 1 3 3 Or equivalent if wye or curved
Operate turnout Motor or mechanical means of moving point blades 3 1 1 Ease of attaching mechanism to throw bar and how smoothly the blades move
Operation 15 10 5
Uncoupling How easy or how much do I enjoy uncoupling cars? 3 2 1 Based on typical Kadee or Microtrains style coupler
Slow speed operation Switching cars and replicating typical 10-20MPH speed limits 3 2 1 Based on DC control not DCC
Coupling cars Car mass is sufficient for slow speed coupling 3 2 1
Scenery 3 2 1
Overgrown track Grass between the rails to at least rail height 3 2 1
Structures 13 9 5
Window mullions and sash scale size 3 2 1 How hard to scratchbuild windows. Mullions to scale size and double-hung style where required.
Brick red clay brick 3 2 1 Ease of making brick siding. Method may be different from scale to scale but weighted against how much I enjoy that technique.
Asphalt brick siding 1 1 1 I assume I’ll wind up with a printed product here so all scales are equal
Clapboard siding Drop, lap, and like siding products 3 2 1 Can I make this myself and how much do I like the finished model?
Shingles Roof or wall 3 2 1 Can I make this myself and how much do I like the finished model?
Rolling Stock 10 5 14
70 tonners Require 3 for finished layout (minimum) 2 1 3 Should be readily available as opposed to combing for rare models
CN 8 hatch reefers Require approximately 10 for finished layout 3 1 3
Other end bunker ice reefers Require at least as many as CN 8 hatch cars 2 1 3 I have approximately 2 dozen already in N scale
40 foot insulated box car (CN) Would like 3 or more 1 1 2 I have more than 3 in N scale already
Slab side covered hopper (CN) Would like 5 or more 2 1 3
Layout Design 5 11 15
Context The ability to show the trains against the landscape as a part of their environment 1 1 3
Minimum radius curve 5x 40′ car length is minimum 1 2 3 Compared to available space (real)
Train length Would like six cars plus two engines plus one caboose or combine 1 3 3 In current space it might be difficult to accomodate this so rank reflects my comfort with compromise
12″ desired layout width 1 2 3 I like this width but how well does the scale work in this space without it just being filled with track?
48″ layout length 1 3 3 My general attitude to space utilization

It’s not a shopping list of everything I’d need to know about myself to build a layout. I thought about the layout’s I’ve been involved with over the past few years and what I liked or didn’t like about each one. While I’ve grouped off each of these lines into general terms you’ll notice some areas are a little more popular than others. While I’m ranking each scale analytically it’s not a case of order by price or some more tangible term but more trying to rank my emotional reaction to each subject. In the rankings “1” is my preference. In a few cases I really couldn’t decide so the items are paired in ranking. If something initially appeared in the list but I couldn’t decide if it was important enough to rank I just removed it entirely.

I didn’t intend to favour any one scale. I just listed the three that I’m the most likely to actually build a layout in and then ranked them using my subjective scale. What I found interesting was that in each of these areas what I felt intuitively matched the sum of each group’s score. Things like space utilization and layout design favoured N scale but the models as individual works were favoured by the largers scale (“Yay S!”) Frankly if we were talking about this stuff over coffee right now I’d probably describe my thoughts on these scales and wind up at much the same result. Despite being the kind of guy who still thinks in N after spending so much of my life collecting and working in the scale or scales darn close to it I don’t enjoy the work itself the same way these days. In a reaction to that frustration I’ve been testing the waters of larger scale modelling and reminding myself of how S might be some place I would want to go. I kept saying that I wasn’t as interested in HO since it was too small to scratchbuild in and yet still too large to balance the size of elements I like in the small space I have – all the while ignoring the fact that most of my friends in the hobby work in this scale and all the while discounting the effect of the common language of scale can have on my own attitudes toward my choices.

I wanted to share this as much to place it somewhere for feedback and also to further introduce the things that are important to me, in terms of layout design and construction. I’ve certainly shared enough plans and ideas but they’re just sketches and sometimes I think a little more background that sheds some light on how I think about a layout might be of interest. I enjoy reading other’s thoughts on why they made the decisions they did. Above are some more of my thoughts.

I’d like to keep adding to this list as other subjects occur to me and then to monitor each section’s subtotals and then the overall too. If you’ve read this far, I wanted to ask a question:

What am I missing from this list? What haven’t I thought about?





  1. Hi Chris,

    You can be a bit more positive about the 70 Tonners in S scale:
    Also, Monsiuer Mallete produces kits for CN 8 hatch reefers:

    Surely these should change the ranking of a couple of items on your list even more in favour of a Sensible Selection of Scale. (See what I did there?)

    You know S scale makes sense… :)


    1. HA!! I sure enjoyed that comment Simon.

      I have been looking long and hard at those really cool kits for the 70 tonners. The levelling fact here was that the 70 tonners in all three scales will require some detail work to bring them closer to CN’s. I’m not intimidated by the work and have done it before (in HO). The neat option that S offers in thsi category is the potential to just try scratchbuilding the right engine in the first place.

      Yes, the resin 8 hatch cars. I have only seen the S scale kit in photos but it sure looks nice and I don’t doubt it’s a beautifully designed kit. I have seen True Line’s HO scale version and I’m quite impressed with it. I think I’d enjoy building the kit and I really like the idea of supporting a kit made here in Canada. That is an edge.

      I’m still snickering about the S puns. That was brilliant.

      S makes one heck of a lot of sense.


      1. Hi Chris,

        How different are the Canadian 70 tonners? I would say that converting a kit might be easier than starting with RTR.

        And just for you, Simon Says S!

      2. Hi Simon. The changes are minor and typical of any railroad-specific engine. In the case of the CN 70 tonner it’s different headlights, numberboards, bell, and horn. Absoloutely none of these are difficult to adjust. I didn’t mean to imply that they were of a nature great enough to warrant scratchbuilding as a better option – I just thought that in a larger scale it might be fun.

        Sure Seems Smart to Surmise S…


      3. Hi,
        Why not make one set of new parts, get a small batch cast, and sell the others to other Canadian S scalers?
        I asked the question out of ignorance of the prototype.
        S: the Superior Selection.

      4. I’ve been 3D printing a lot of parts for diesels in HO through my store on Shapeways. With that experience under my belt I’m now starting to offer the first few parts as resing castings where the casting might be the more economical option compared to 3D printing each one.

        In terms of the S scale 70 tonner I wondered if I should (me asking me) consider printing a cab and some sideframes and then just making the rest in brass and plastic. This way I’d balance out things in a way that might see the model completed.

        I’m very sensitive about stepping on other maker’s toes. The Smokey Mountain kits look really great. I do not want to risk stratifying out the market or in any way detracting from his sales so anything that I’d do would just compliment his.

        The choice seems clear. I’m really anxious about not having enough room for the layout but know that the models would be a great deal more satisfying to build. It seems the road is obvious.

        I’ll say it again: Suppose S is for Serendipity?


      5. Jim King at Smoky Mountain Model Works did everybody in S a “S”ervice with that 70-Tonner kit, by crafting the body as a well-detailed but bare bones shell. See the photos, here:

        As you can see, the shell is excellent. But it’s what it does NOT have that’s important: There are no headlights mounted, or stacks, or other details that might differ from railway to railway.

        Those details ARE included in the kits. And I’m pretty sure my kit includes all the parts to correctly model a CNR 70 Tonner. (I can’t check right now – it’s buried in storage for the duration of a home renovation project.)


        – Trevor (Port Rowan in 1:64)

      6. I didn’t realize that the shell was separate from the details. Not that it helps in this thread but looking at the photos on Jim’s site there are white resin parts (the hood, cab) and pink parts (the headlights, horns) and now I assume these are separate. That is powerful.

        The kit looks really nice. I’m not sure that I’m sold on the Stanton drive but I’ll confess my finger is hovering over the Buy It Now button a little too much for my own good…


      7. I have one of the 70 Tonner kits, and three of the eight-hatch reefers, on my S scale layout, so I can attest that they exist.
        When it comes to S scale, I don’t know how to work “availability” into your table. I’m finding that a lot of things that appear to be out of stock (or absent – because they don’t show up in Internet searches) are actually available if one asks around. I’ve picked up several kits and brass pieces by simply asking, “Does anybody have ### that they’d like to sell?” It’s a very unscientific approach, but it seems to work.
        Your NASG standards gauge is a good example. Knowing who to ask for one, made it easy to find.
        I’m not sure that “S” stands for “Sense” – but it could stand for “Surprising”, “Scratchbuild”, and “Satisfying”.
        – Trevor (Port Rowan in 1:64)

      8. I didn’t know you had one of the 70 tonner kits. Geex…is there a Port Rowan, PEI in your future? Scatter a little red dirt around the place, swap out the tobacco for potatoes and done.

        In terms of sourcing items I agree that the deeper I dig the easier it is to find stuff. The MLW eight hatch reefers look like so much fun to build and it seems like the Pacific Rail Shops 50ton ice reefers are still fairly easy to find – these should work as the balance of the fleet.

        That S standards gauge is wonderful. Something so simply yet really a major step forward here.

        Perhaps S for Serendipity?



  2. Chris,

    I did a similar decision matrix to decide between scales, layout themes and layout designs simultaneously. Like you, what I preferred most by only a small margin won out by only a small margin. Comparing our two matrices, the only category that you might add is “achievability”, i.e. how achievable do you feel your goals to be in that particular scale.

    Another idea would be to use a 1-5 or 1-10 ranking instead of a 1-3 ranking. The 1-3 ranking makes things simple, but doesn’t necessarily capture the true magnitude of the difference between the alternatives (e.g. is the rail size issue in N scale really just a “3”, or would it be at the bottom of the ranking no matter the range of values?). I’ve found this to be a double-edged sword as I tend to think of a 1-10 scale in thirds (resulting in no relative difference between the ranking methods and not worth the trouble) or I find that the rankings end up in the upper half of the scale (resulting in less difference between the end scores and less clarity from the analysis). All that said, just ask yourself if your ranking values are able to capture your true feeling for each category.

    Also, the scope and theme for your current N scale layout is too far along to abandon it now. Stay with it and modify it where necessary to maintain progress toward running trains. If S scale is in your future, then buy the necessary equipment kits and begin building the models for the “someday layout” while enjoying running trains on your current layout. If you can build the correct models in S scale while enjoying the essence of operation and great scenery in N scale, then perhaps some of the “3s” in the N scale category can be overcome by scratching the itch in S scale (much like your brick project).

    Hope this helps!

    Rhett Graves
    S Scaler (recovering N Scaler)

    1. Thank you for the great input and feedback. It’s great to read about how others have used tools like this to help themselves understand their questions and answers.

      A lot of the examples of this matrix, that I saw, did use a larger scale than my 1:1 example. The more I thought about it the more I wondered how I could decide if something was 6/10 in interest. My example just ranks the scales for that element subjectively sort of like asking myself: “Hey what scale would I most want to do this in?”

      As I read through your suggestions I did wonder if perhaps there might be merit in weighting each element. In my list I might be more flexible on some things than others. For example: the amount of space in my house is not a function of choice of scale so has more bearing that my ability to accurately replicate an overgrown right of way.

      I enjoy mapping out tables like this and working with various analytics. I didn’t so much expect to make a decision based on this data more that I was really curious how well this more analytical view aligned with my intuition. I was surprised to see that they were close.

      I noticed in your signature block that you too are a former N scaler. It reminds me about the question of migration between the scales and if there are common trends in who from where goes to where.

      Thanks again. I really appreciate your feedback and thoughts here.


  3. I did NOT use a table like this to choose to work in S, but I did ponder the decision – a lot.

    Over several decades in the hobby, I’ve collected a range of things that interest me – from HO to live steam. This includes a number of pieces from previous layouts that didn’t work out or pieces I’d picked up for planned layouts that never happened.

    When deciding what layout to build, and what scale to build it in, I looked at various items in my “cabinet of broken dreams” and my (at the time, two) S scale CNR steam locomotives caught my eye. I realized I had never test run them, so I pinned a couple of rails down to a board and powered them up – and compared to other steam in my cabinet, in several scales, they just blew me away with how well they ran. Running quality is important to me – nothing spoils a session like poking a cranky locomotive.

    Once I determined that these were the best-running items I owned, I then did the survey of what was available in S to go with them. When I figured out what I could model with that, I was off to the races.

    That said, I’m probably the worst ambassador for S scale, because I’m not an acolyte. I didn’t “see the light”. I made a decision that worked for me – and I’m the first to admit it may not work for others.

    Great discussion, everyone!

    – Trevor (Port Rowan in 1:64)

    1. I think your approach and candor in statements like being the worst ambassador for S make you one of its finest. It’s easy to render an image of the scale in broad terms as we would for the others but the decision is a personal one. Port Rowan is such a superb showcase for the scale in terms of a prototype I can relate to. Without it, it’s unlikely I’d be having these thoughts since I don’t tend to do so well in the abstract.

      Thanks for the insight into your own path. I guess I had always thought that your arrival at S was more a function of the ability to represent your prototype in your available space but now it looks like it started with models and finding a home for them. It’s those running qualities I am attracted to. Those 70 tonners in N and, albeit to a lesser degree, in HO were succeptible to any amount of dirt on the rails and operating sessions were often punctuated by the 0-5-0 helper. A little more mass in S should help fix this. Further, I think I can fit a bigger speaker in that hood, for sound, and that’s something attractive too.

      It is a fascinating thread. I really appreciate everyone’s thoughts.



      1. Hi Chris:
        Thanks for the kind words about the layout – much appreciated!
        No, my arrival at Port Rowan was a function of looking for something that would fit in S scale – itself a function of having some S scale CNR power that ran well, which was my primary concern for my current layout. Previous to Port Rowan, I had built a freelanced Maine two-footer inspired by the Monson RR and using On2 (not On30), which meant relying on cranky brass locomotives imported, for the most part, in the 1980s and probably never expected to run. (Who would run brass? It was an expensive investment!)
        When I decided to abandon that effort, I looked at O standard gauge and actually built up quite a stable of Proto:48 power and rolling stock, plus structure kits and details, to model a chunk of the Southern Pacific in northern California. The prototype was dictated by the terrific Glacier Park Models SP steam locomotives, which came with a P:48 conversion kit. I had no particular affinity for SP: I liked the look of their equipment and I’d visited the Bay Area a couple of times, but that was it. Rather, it was a desire to run large models of small steam prototypes that dictated the choice.
        Unfortunately, I could not fit a reasonable layout into my space – not even with my modest ambitions! – and when I returned to the cabinet, the S scale equipment seemed like the next best thing. As it turned out, Simon Parent’s 4-6-0s ran even better than the GPM SP steam, so it turned out to be better than “next best”.
        From there, I explored what I could do in my space, assuming CNR, S scale and a survey of the available equipment, and Port Rowan presented itself as a good choice. (Had I done a bit more research, I might have picked the CNR Waterloo Sub from Kitchener to Galt, which had an even smaller terminal and no turntable.)
        Working in S, if one doesn’t want to stray too far from a prototype, can be pretty restrictive. For example, I can model the mixed train to Port Rowan because an appropriate CNR combine was offered by Andy Malette at MLW Services and I was able to super detail an American Models RPO to match one class of CNR baggage-mail cars. But many other lines are not as easy to model because they saw a greater variety of passenger equipment or locomotives. A line that depended on a CNR 2-8-0 would be prohibitive to model because an accurate model isn’t available. One can buy the Missouri Pacific 2-8-0 from Overland, and then – as Andy Malette did – invest about 500 hours into modifying it, including creating a new tender body and cab, and unsoldering all of the appliances on the boiler, then rebuilding all the details from a mix of parts and scratch. That was beyond my level of commitment at the time, so CNR lines that needed 2-8-0s were out of the question in S…
        – Trevor (Port Rowan in 1:64)

      2. That’s the kind of story I wish I read more and more in the pages of any of the magazines. I think we tend to present the layout as first the interest and then the leap to the approach employed.

        In some ways, though none of them literally, it seems like you sort of did trace through a similar decision making matrix as I played with: you had the engines and knew how much you liked them (score is higher here) and then worked through other metrics ranging from the space available versus your design rules (minimum radius curves) and then exploring what other equipment would be required. Possibly the last element in the approach as a little more recursive with its evaluation in parallel to each prototype.

        I like how you were able to navigate through these steps to arrive at a compromise that you are discovering so much contentment in – that just feels like our common goal in this pursuit. From that, perhaps you’re building enough of a fleet that when it’s time to look beyond Port Rowan there will be enough of a foundation that the next prototype flows naturally from the first.



      3. Hi Chris:

        “I like how you were able to navigate through these steps to arrive at a compromise that you are discovering so much contentment in – that just feels like our common goal in this pursuit.”

        I agree, althoughI wonder if “compromise” is the right word.

        Of course, all layouts are compromises – even on my relatively simple effort, the terminal at Port Rowan is only 2/3 full size and that resulted in compromises because the prototype was just barely big enough to get the job done.

        And in one sense, one could argue that I compromised on my chosen prototype and location in order to fit my available equipment.

        But another way of looking at that is that I decided I would not compromise on the operational reliability of my locomotives in order to model a preferred prototype/location. I suppose if I had my heart set on, say, modelling the SP Narrow Gauge in Owens Valley but then chose the CNR in Port Rowan because of practical reasons (and there were many practical reasons for modelling Port Rowan), then it would’ve been a compromise.

        But I approached the problem of what to model by acknowledging that what I really wanted out of a layout was one that looked good and ran well, and fit into my schedule and lifestyle.

        “Lifestyle” is an important point: Even if the equipment and space available, I would not have chosen to build a monster layout because I would’ve had trouble rounding up enough people to run it regularly, and it would’ve required too much time to look after all the maintenance that a layout of that size requires. I can barely keep up with the maintenance on my simple layout, because I have many other things – from work to other interests – that make demands on my time.


        – Trevor (Port Rowan in 1:64)

      4. There’s wisdom in compromise though; I believe there’s a contentment just waiting to be found. I regret if what I wrote communicated any sense of negativity.

        I think that some of our greatest moments in design, model trains or not, are borne inside good compromise since they celebrate those business rules that we can’t effect change in and still manage to provide something that the client finds happiness in.

        The funny thing with Port Rowan, to me, is that it is anything but a simple layout (to me that simple layout would be the loop of LGB track I’ve put on the floor around the base of our Christmas tree on a couple of occasions). It may only be simple in terms of track layout but in establishing the simpler track plan you’ve invested heavily in other parts of the layout. This complexity is found in wild flowers growing around the turntable, the authentic paperwork, and the rich experience.


  4. I think a lot of modellers start from a position of, “I want to model the XYZ Railway in a specific location and era”, then try to fit available equipment, structures, space, money, time and other factors into that vision. And while that works for some, I think others become frustrated because they find they don’t have the help (from other modellers) or the time (because of other demands on their lives) to achieve their goals. The result is, the layout ends up partly built and covered in tools, materials and dust.
    I’ve had that happen too – and for me, a better approach has been, “I want to build a layout that I’m proud to show others, and that will entertain the size groups I can typically expect to gather – and I don’t really care what the prototype/theme/era/location is because almost all of them can be interesting.” I’ve yet to find a prototype that didn’t recommend itself as the subject for a model railway – for the right person, of course. But I’ve looked at many prototypes that were the wrong subject for me, because I don’t want the hobby to rule my every waking moment.
    – Trevor (Port Rowan in 1:64)

    1. I wish I’d gained the wisdom from the second paragraph earlier in life. Heck, I’d like to see that paragraph seed an article in a traditional model railway magazine – it’s a message that really needs to be communicated.

      Reflecting on your comment I think it might describe that moment of introspection I’m trying to see in the table I was working on. Start from the things I can’t change and prioritize those things that are important. If I were meeting with a client for an analysis project I’d first want to remove everything that was platform dependant (e.g. “How do I do this in Excel?” instead of “What are we trying to do?”) and the focus on what we need to get done.



  5. Wow, quite a conversation you’ve spurred here, Chris! It looks to me like HO and S are almost tied, with the news about 70 tonners probably giving the tie to S. However, you may want to add an importance or weight to your factors just to make it interesting.

    From one analysis nerd to another :-)

    1. I’ve been thinking a lot about weighting each element. The challenge here is developing a weight that reflects my thoughts on what’s important and what I’m flexible while removing personal bias from the mix.



      1. Yes, we run into the same problem all the time with product evaluations. It’s interesting that while it looks more scientific to have more criteria, you actually wind up shifting the selection. You’ll probably do better to normalize the categories and then weight those instead of the individual criteria.
        I usually tell my people that they really only want about ten or so criteria to feed into the decision for this reason.

      2. I agree.

        Assigning or managing these weights, with regard to my little project here, would be something I’d do using the same logic that I applied in deciding to add in an item in the first place. Though I might not reduce the list, I wanted to provide sub-totals to each group so I could see the rank for that group. Comparing these groupings, I might choose to rank only a subset of all of those.

        For example:
        Since it’s obvious, in my opinion, that the larger the scale the better it will operate and likewise the more I’ll enjoy making track there’s little point in feeding their values into the rank.


    1. I could and would move in that direction for weighting the categories. For the individual metrics though I wonder if changing the scale just multiples the end result or emphasizes the gap between?


  6. I’m fascinated by this discussion. I have very little to add. I think I had the matrix in my head instead of on paper, though I can understand the appeal. I keep a lot of stuff up there and some of it gets misplaced from time to time. I think the decision was more emotional than practical for me. Or maybe more ‘right brain’ than left, which isn’t good or bad, just different. The whole notion of the making decisions this way is informative I me.

    1. Thanks

      Krista touched on the same point as you did when I described what I’d done, with the table, to her. She pointed out that I might have unfairly weighted the table in favour of only those discussions and questions I wanted to discuss – that I too was already moving in one direction and the only value I’d get from this exercise was reinforcing that, to myself, by marking instinct with data. She was right. In my defence, this was little more than wondering if it could be done and what the result would look like.

      The ultimate decision is and should be emotional. I believe that’s the reason we’re gathered together in this hobby in the first place; we like trains and we like model trains; we like making model trains and we like owning them. The list goes on but always through an emotional lense. In an effort like my simply table my curiousity was to explore how I felt, in detail, to see if I could observe some broad trends.

      But I’m just a nerd who likes mapping behaviors and seeing what stories I can uncover in the data…



  7. Putting the specifics around one choice over another aside, what does this craft mean to you? What does it bring to your life, what do you bring to it? What do you hope to gain or achieve with your eventual choice?

    If we have a hard time choosing a path, maybe we haven’t decided on the destination?

    Mike C.

    1. Excellent points and ones I could not agree with more.

      In creating this matrix my objective was little more than to indulge in blending my interests in analytics with model railways. I did not create it seeking any kind of decision making value or direction, merely to see if I could and what my instincts in these very literal arenas would look like in terms of values.

      I am interested in exploring if we could or not attempt a similar exercise that would help describe the goals. How could we design the user experience when viewing the finished work or how could a tool like this be used to help me focus on those personal objectives?


  8. The comments are coming fast and furious on this post, aren’t they!

    Your exploration of what interests you (and what’s available) reminds me of an important point that Lance Mindheim made in his most recent blog posting:


    For those looking for the precis, Lance reminds us to engage with the hobby in whatever way gives us the most satisfaction, regardless of what popular opinion dictates. His example is a (composite sketch of a) modeller who likes to watch trains roll, but has been told by everybody (including friends and the hobby press) that it’s vital to design for operations.

    While it’s an important point, I think one must also be cognizant of what others in the hobby are doing – but only those others in your immediate area. In other words, your real-world train buddies.

    Living in a major city in Canada, I found it a pretty lonely endeavour when I modelled a Maine two-footer. I had many online acquaintances who were Maine two-foot enthusiasts, the world over. Some of them I even count as friends. But none of these guys was able to come over to help build the layout, or help bring it to life during operating sessions, or even just get together over a pint or dinner and talk about the Lilliput lines of the Pine Tree State.

    Meantime, there just weren’t that many people in my circle of real-world friends who knew anything about the Maine two-footers – and even fewer who were interested in modelling them. Going to local prototype modellers meets, my displays were met by blank stares. Local sources of information were non-existent – and research trips were largely solo affairs involving a 12-hour highway drive just to reach Maine, and a few more hours to reach two-foot country.

    So, my decision to model a CNR branch line in southern Ontario was, in part, based on a desire to connect more – and be more relevant – to my local hobby community. And even though I chose a minority scale (S), I do have a group of fellow S scalers, also modelling the CNR, within a two-hour circle of my house, so I’m not working in the wilderness. And beyond that, so many people in the area speak “CNR – Steam Era” that the fact that they model it in HO, not S, isn’t an issue.

    I guess if I was doing a table such as yours, Chris, I’d include some non-railroad-specific factors in the list, too. If all your local buddies model in N scale, that might be a better choice than S – although it’s also likely that they’re also modelling PEI railroading, so the scale may not make a difference (whereas, say, doing a Maine two-footer in Sn2 might alienate everyone in your local circles).


    – Trevor (Port Rowan in 1:64)

    1. Hi Trevor

      Lance’s post was terrific. The points he made in his post and you expanded on in yours are more that need to float around when we discuss attitudes toward serious model railroading and how you design a layout for yourself when you’re graduating from the train set days.

      Model railroading is, by its very nature, an expressive hobby. We do it because we have this idea inside that we need to get out and we want to share it with others using the medium of making models and then animating them. Despite this fundamentally communicative nature, finding people in the real world with whom you can share this idea isn’t always easy – too often the barrier is an inability to get past the medium itself.

      Sharing an idea depends on language and the ability of the presenter and audience to have a working knowledge of what’s being said. We’ve discussed across our respective blogs so many great conversations regarding the idea of communicating elements describing the theme of each model railway. Maybe there’s room for a conversation regarding the common language found in choice of scale or prototype with regard to those, in the hobby, that are around us. As you described with regard to modeling Maine narrow gauge, I can appreciate the frustration in being able to find others who like trains but never having all of the conversation – getting to the trains you were describing in your, then current, work.

      I avoided this in my original table but think it’s a vital one to try and explore. Elsewhere in this comment thread we’ve brought up the topic of liveability and I’d like to attempt to review my needs with regard to this. Not sure how that matrix looks but it will be fun to try and forge one.



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