What’s Important?

Limited resources will really force you to be introspective and evaluate what matters in the hobby. You can either get bogged down by those resource constraints, or use them to focus in on greatness.

In my case, time and space are the biggest limitations. Our home is small and my model railroad(s) must share the family living space. My military career keeps me busy, and I have a 1 yr. old daughter, so time for modeling has become scarce.

How we choose to negotiate those limitations will determine our success and whether we achieve our end goals. They’ll also help us discover a great deal about our real motivations along the way.

A GP10 shuffles covered hoppers at one of the elevators. These sort of operations are slow paced and enjoyable. I also get a kick out of taking “railfan” photos as I operate.

It may be an unpopular opinion, but I don’t actually enjoy building plastic models. Scenery is fun, and weathering cars is therapeutic, but kitbashing structures and detailing locomotives is not a part of the hobby I enjoy. I prefer the actual model building to come in spurts and have every-now-and-then projects. Other than freight car weathering, I don’t want a project on my work bench all the time. It took time to admit how little the model construction aspect of the hobby is actually a priority for me. Some hardcore model builders and scratch builders may view me as a little bit less of a model railroader, but that’s ok.

So, what is important to me? Having a layout that transports me to a place and time, and something that I enjoy looking at even if I’m not actively running it. A layout that is a part of the study, not buried in a basement. It’s important to have casual operating sessions that I can run solo and enjoy the trains without any preparation work. A place where I can enjoy the custom weathered models that I’ve invested my hard earned money into. A layout where I can “railfan” the trains as well.

Both the locomotive and the hopper car in this photo were custom weathered, and that added to my enjoyment of my layout and model train collection. But there’s something of my own work I am immensely proud of in this picture: the track I painstakingly painted, detailed, and weathered.

Priorities change and skills change over time. I want to get better at the building and painting aspect of the hobby and I continue to try and challenge myself. But I had the realization that if I could commission a new layout from Lance Mindheim’s Shelf Layouts Company and send all my engines up to Rob Arsenault at Weather My Trains for weathering, I’d enjoy the hobby just as much. Weathering rolling stock, small detail projects, casual switching, and letting trains run while I enjoy a book and a beer in the study sounds like my ideal. Of course, that’s not the reality right now, but it was a heck of a revelation.

So what does that mean for future modeling plans? Here’s what I think:

  • Future layouts should have a more proto-freelance approach, where I’m not frustrated trying to build a specific structure needed for a specific prototype. If I could go back, I’d model a composite of favorite scenes on Farmrail, rather than trying to faithfully recreate Frederick, OK.
  • I must be unwavering in my philosophy that the layout must coexist with the home and family. Several well meaning, wonderful friends have suggested extending the layout around the room over the closet, adding lift-out bridges, etc. I’m sure it could work, but the thought of trying to find a rain coat in the closet when we’re late for church, chase a mobile toddler through the room, or wrangle a stubborn bulldog who doesn’t want his medicine doesn’t mesh well with that sort of thing. Any sort of set-up work beyond flipping the power switch and firing up the ProtoThrottle would mean I’d run the layout even less.
  • I never realized how much I like to “railfan” my layouts. More attention needs to be given to how it will photograph during the planning stages.
  • Less is more. A 30 min operating session is usually plenty for me.
  • If and when I move on from Farmrail, I need to ensure I select a prototype that gives me flexibility to enjoy things I like. Scenery. Big EMDs. Casual operations. Maybe a short passenger train here and there. And be something that I won’t spend a lifetime custom building and painting things, because it would never get done.
  • On that note, I’ve realized just how much time, money, and space is required to do a model railroad right. I’ve begun to sell off some large parts of my collection that I’ll likely never use and don’t fulfill my priority short term or long term goals.
Honestly, I really enjoyed assembling, painting, and weathering the switch stand in this photo. Its the kind of small project I most enjoy having on the work bench.

Sometimes some self reflection on what you’ve learned so far is good for you. And can help frame out how you should plan for the future!

6 thoughts on “What’s Important?

  1. Excellent post and commentary on what you enjoy with the hobby. You have to build and operate a layout that is right for you. That may change later, but as long as you are having fun now that is all that matters.


  2. Alex:
    Great thoughts and viewpoint. I like the concept you have, similar to my FEC 5th District set in mid 1950s to early 1960s.


  3. Very well said, Alex!
    You’ve done well to work out what it is in this hobby, that you like. Speaking for myself, after over forty years involvement, I’m still not entirely sure!
    Do what you like and if others don’t like it, tough.


  4. your blog was an inspiration as I’m in the same position. I have about 15 totes of stuff that I reluctantly will have to part with. We currently have a small home here in Ontario and Florida neither will support abig layout.


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