If you could go back…

Krista and I were asking each other what our plans were for the new year. While puttering around with this morning’s distractions I was still thinking about that question. Our conversation focussed on goals for the new year but it’s hard to think forward without a bit of retrospection. Bringing this home to this blog and the discussion on model railways I thought about projects I’ve built over the years. I opened this post with a photo of a module I built for the local club’s modular layout and a photo of an N scale layout I built many years ago. It’s been quite some time since I took both of these photos and in that time both have been disposed of.

I can vividly recall the reasons why each was disposed of. Reflecting on those reasons and the conversation from last night I found myself wondering what might have been if I hadn’t parted with these works? I’ve disposed of finished or part-finished layouts for a variety of reasons ranging from a need to do something new to the grim reality one faces when you realise that you’ve made an insurmountable technical error that compromises the scene beyond repair. While there’s no salve for the need to explore or discover something new, sometimes time itself can offer the opportunity to revisit old work and with those refreshed thoughts things that seemed impossible to fix, could have been.

In the time since I disposed of that layout, I have learned so much more and those problems are not problems any more. If I still had that layout I could have probably fixed the issue and maybe made owning it more enjoyable again.

Since I’m so easily hooked on conversations regarding our relationship with the hobby I wanted to expand that question. I can easily think of several layouts from the hobby press that I am still a big fan of. Each of these examples have now been disposed of. From my question, to myself, to this broader audience (if I had the chance to ask) would become:

You had good reason to stop work on that previous layout. I’ve seen your current work and it’s clear that you’ve benefited from the decision and grown immeasurably as a hobbyist. Shedding those chains was good. In the spirit of retrospection, I wonder if you could go back.

Just a thought on a snowy Sunday morning.





  1. I think it was, I think, Heraclitus who said that you can’t enter the same stream twice – in his case this was truer than usual as the harbour he was born near silted up during his own lifetime.

    in retrospection, there are a number of things I could do better now than then, but it was partly in getting them wrong that I learned how to be better at those skills. But in terms of more major projects such as layouts (one of which reached an exhibitable stage of development) then I am glad I moved on, for the errors I made were fundamental, avoidable but not easily rectifiable. And they had one single cause: rushing things – not in itself bad, but I didn’t stop to check, and I didn’t correct some basic errors. All I needed was an “Edmund Fitzsander”, applied to baseboard top, cork sub-roadbed , and tops of the ties, to ensure that the rails were laid on a level, flat, surface. One of the projects I passed on to a friend, with the advice, “Don’t start rebuilding. Just build a new one.” Needless to say, he didn’t listen, and a few years later confided that although he had reused the rail and supporting chairs, as well as the point control tubes with wire inside, the only things left of the original were the platform face and the baseboard tops – even the frames were changed for heavier timber. (The layout was originally built to be light and short-lived.)

    Retrospection is good, but avoid the trap of introspection, as it leads to procrastination* and we know where that ends up…

    *Still illegal in some US states.

    1. I agree regarding the stream. You can never re-enter it. That stream ended the first time you tread into its waters. Not being able to go back is the very thing that makes the stream itself so attractive in the first place.

      We change over time. I’m fascinated with the way our design focus does too. I can think of modellers who have been working on the same layout for their entire lives and those who have made monumental changes in scale, gauge, and theme – so much that it’s hard to believe both works came from the same mind.

      I guess the question is as much:
      What did you learn because of the change?
      What did you learn because of continuous investment where you started?

      I believe both extremes of option have merit and both are good for the right individual. I’m curious to learn what each has to think about how they’ve grown as a result of what they’ve learned.

      I wish I still had one or two layouts I’ve disposed of but for others, no amount of anything would improve my experience with them.

      Thank you, again, for such sage thoughts. I appreciate them.


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