Saturday night cattle.

A little while ago, Mike Cougill asked:
What sacred cows are we clinging to that will soon be as antiquated as outside third rail power distribution?

The above is a paragraph quoted from his blog as part of a post titled It’s a Continuum. He’s asked an interesting question and one I hadn’t thought of quite in the terms he was asking.  I strongly encourage you to take a moment and read the rest. Here’s a link out to it:

With my constant interest in the relationship we have with the hobby and how we represent that in our work, I wrote, in a comment on that post:

It’s certainly a fascinating time. Maybe it’s just me but the hobby feels old enough to have developed a history layer and we are at a time where we’re far enough “in” that we can start to gaze back and compare then to now. Conversations like this one certainly fit.

I wonder how the point of entry for the typical new modeller will change. In the mid-century period we had folks entering the hobby through train sets on Christmas morning. Today we have new modellers who arrive at the hobby as a modelmakers who might traditionally have gravitated more toward plastic models like tanks and like military vehicles.

I’m wagering that changes in the definition of where we call home will have an affect on the hobby. I guess, this is asking how much longer for the basement empire layout? How long until we just can’t have those any more and what will the new “serious” layout look like?

It’s that final paragraph. I wanted to ask how we would find a home for a model railway when the traditional locations weren’t available any more. It’s easy to respond that we’ll just create something small; change scales to use something smaller in size; just make some models; or build a module. It’s well-intended advice but it doesn’t address the question: What about when your fascination asks for a stage or actors bigger than the traditional four square foot micro can sustain?

I can’t find a conversation about a compromise. I can’t find it anywhere and given my obsession with design, I’ll never tire of looking for it. What happens when you have tried to be as critical as you can and all it did was help you more clearly understand that what you want is that miniature mainline. The conversation never seems to shift to trying to find ways to make that happen, even when it seems impossible, and I think I’d like to ask if it could? What if our only limit was the lack of available space? What could we do?

I have edited this post a couple of times since originally posting it last night. Once to tighten up the question at the end and again, this morning, to include a link out to Mike’s original post.

I’d like to expand this post across a span of several and will create a category to gather them all together as one. Clicking on More than Micro should return all the posts that work with this idea.



  1. Hi /Chris,

    I am a little bemused. What conversation are you trying to have, here? I ask as the issues you outline have been a problem in Europe for a long time, and there are many and numerous solutions already devised, as a perusal of the European modelling press will rapidly show. I am not talking simply about “micro layouts” (few of which I find convincing) so much as dioramas and portable, self-obtained layouts that are stored in a small cupboard, or maybe on a shelf in the garage, and are set up at home for working on and playing with, and then put away, or taken to exhibitions.

    Large, permanent layouts are much rarer here than in North America, but perusal of any of the modelling magazines and sites, particularly in the UK or the wonderful Voie Libre, will reveal many, many solutions for the problem you outline.

    Besides, where is it said that railway modelling has to be about building and operating a layout?


  2. Great observations as always Simon. Thank you.

    Railway modelling, for the purposes of this line is about the layout. I do completely agree that there are so many outlets to participate in but the focus here remains on the line.

    It’s the healthy British attitudes toward temporary installation and presentation, a culture that I wish we could encourage here in America where we don’t regard things the same way. We’re still firmly of the mindset that the layout, regardless of size, is a permanent installation. So, the conversation is learning how to adopt in that British mindset to our work, both in terms of how to design for the home and how to better utilize the exhibition to our advantage.

    I hope this helps.


  3. I get what you’re aiming to do here, and I’m on board. Ultimately, I think the solution to effective model railroad operations on the small stage is to have a convincing theme with enough varied story lines to conduct many short, but interesting episodes. Think most any TV sitcom: The stage is often small and confined and the characters are the same, but the interactions between them are different between each episode.

    My chosen prototypes all operated by Timetable and Train Order. I want to mimic that operation and want my layout design to accommodate. I’ve been told that TT&TO operation invariably will require 500-600 feet of mainline and somewhere between 4-10 passing sidings. In other words, I need a basement to pull it off.

    I don’t think that’s true. While I’d surely need that to keep a crew of 10-20 busy (and I could even pull it off in N scale), my layout space will only accomodate 3-5 operators comfortably regardless of the layout scale. One can only fit so many folks (and trains) into a 400 sq.ft. room. Besides, I don’t want to have to round up 10 guys to make my layout come to life. I’d prefer to run it by myself or with a few friends on occasion.

    What I want to do is capture the essence of TT&TO operation along with the paper interactions between the railroad and its customers. The station agent role is one key, as this person would be responsible for making out the list of pickups for the way freight as well as handling any train orders from the dispatcher. The second key is that TT&TO rules will dictate when a train can leave the station. Even though the other towns along the line are not modeled, the crew will have to check their time and distance to the next siding before determining whether they can leave.

    Andy Sperandeo had a little article called “Dinner in Dime Box” in Model Railroader many moons ago. The article demonstrated how the flavor of prototype mainline operations could be captured with a model of a single town (and even a single train). I’m going to steal that operational scenario and see if more can’t be built upon it.

    I’m interested to see where this conversation leads!!

    1. Terrific comment. I really enjoyed reading that and agree with so many of those sentiments.

      I don’t immediately recall that Andy Sperandeo article and I will go look it up. Thanks.


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