Some folks – the vast majority of the out of town folks who were at these events – hadn’t heard my layout had been torn down. Once they got over the initial shock the inevitable questions about the “next” layout started.
At dinner I shared a table with a number of well known – some very well known – model railroad authors, operators, and layout owners. The conversation went something like this:
“So Marty, how big is the new basement?”
Well, the basement is pretty big, but we want to use the space for purposes other than model railroading – but there’s still a decent size layout area.
“Oh, so how big is this “land grant” that your wife is giving up (wink, wink!)?
I wouldn’t say “giving up." Chris is perfectly fine with the hobby. But the layout area I’m looking at is about a third of the basement - 16 x 44 feet – completely open on one long side. Seems to be a logical place for the layout that won’t interfere with the other uses for the room.
“Oh… Okay, 1/3rd of the basement … so 16 x 44 – guess that’s not too bad.”
While I’m going to come up with a design for the “complete” layout in the entire space I’m seriously considering starting with one “interest area” and completely finishing it before starting the next town. So next time you guys are down here the layout might be no larger than, say, an 8 x 12 foot L-shape in one corner of the room.
Mind you, this was accompanied by a look that made me check the large wall of mirrors on the other side of the room to verify that yes, indeed, a third arm had appeared out the side of my head.
Yeah, but it will be finished, operational, and completely scenicked. And, if that proves sufficient to meet my needs I may not ever fill the rest of the space with model railroad.
“Oh. I see. Pass the salt.”
I relay this tale not to single anyone out. In fairness, with one exception, everyone at that table has built one or more large basement filling layouts – and their main interest in the hobby is operating said layouts (after all, they'd braved D. C. traffic to go operating the weekend before Thanksgiving).
I mention this discussion to illustrate how we, as model railroaders, very often ask the wrong questions – especially in the early stages of designing a new layout. Consider the very first questions most of us often ask:
- How big is the space?
- What are you modeling? (this can be broken down into subcomponents such as era, prototype, etc)
- How many levels?
- What locomotives do you need? Who makes them?
- How many staging tracks will you have?
- How many operators?
Let me suggest the following questions the next time one of your model railroad buddies announces he’s planning a new layout:
- How much time, energy, and money do you want to devote to this project?
- How long will you be living in this house? Really, another way of asking “How long will this layout be around?”
- Are you going to have formal op sessions?**
See the difference?
I plan to offer my answers to the second set of questions on this blog. Frankly, if the other dinner guests had asked those type of questions my planned approach would have made a lot more sense to them. Instead, it came across as I was squandering a wonderful opportunity to fill yet another basement with lumber.
* The attendance numbers may be off, but there were a lot of people there. Great fun though!
* *I know it's heresy to say so, but there are some model railroaders who simply have no interest in hosting formal, multi-person op sessions. And if that's the case, it can significantly impact the layout design.