Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Think Layout’s Lifetime, not Lifetime Layout?

Imagine the outcry if the U. S. Navy announced it was going to start building a ship that it had no intention of finishing. Or if you hired a contractor to build a house only to be told “I’m not planning to complete this house - ever.” 
But a project without a defined end point and clearly stated goals is often the most lauded of model railroad brass rings – the “lifetime layout.” 
As best as I can tell, the concept of a “lifetime layout” is unique to North American model railroading. Normally perceived as a huge “basement filler” such projects are at once the envy and source of ridicule by our British cousins. 
Here’s the rub. While they certainly can take decades to “complete” I make no direct correlation between lifetime layout and “basement filler.” If you’re determined, work at a reasonable pace, know precisely what you want, have the desire and perhaps an army of friends at the ready, then yes, a massive “basement filler” can be constructed. I’ve seen it done many, many times so to discount it as “impossible” is simply not realistic. 
The flaw with the concept of the lifetime layout is the way it’s often espoused as the never ending project. There’s no destination for this journey, no definition of “finis.” 
Maybe instead of striving to start construction of a lifetime layout we should instead define the layout’s lifetime?
If you plan to live in your current residence for five years, does it make any sense to start a project that realistically will take 15 years to finish? I’d argue if you’re going to be in that house for five years plan a project you can finish in two. That way there’s a finished model railroad that the whole family can be proud of in the house for a couple of years – rather than a perpetual construction site. 
For my new layout I'm assuming a lifespan of 8-10 years. That number isn’t something I pulled out of thin air. Based on a variety of factors, I hope to retire in 8-10 years. Here’s the caveat – at that point we will either opt to stay in this new house (that would be our preference) or we will sell the house and move … to ??? Either way, it would seem to be a logical time to start a new layout. 
What about getting the railroad finished? I want to have the basic layout infrastructure (not all the buildings and scenery mind you but things like the benchwork, track, wiring) complete in 2-3 years. 
What I have done is bounded the project with some parameters. I have a pretty good sense of how much layout I can build in a year – keeping my 2-3 year timeline in mind defines the scope of the project. 
Disclaimer – the new basement is certainly large enough that I could embark on construction of a “basement filler” – but other factors besides available square footage should also considered as part of the planning process. 

7 comments:

  1. I think that is an excellent perspective. Many British modelers build a small layout to completion (sometimes with the purpose of showing it at exhibits) and then sell it or rebuild it into something else. They don't have the space to let it sit around forever while it is being worked on. There is nothing wrong with starting a layout you will never finish if you enjoy the build, but if it never reaches a point where you are satisfied with it then it is a failure.

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  2. Own a layout, rather than being owned by your layout? This is crazy talk 😀

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  3. Plenty of us over here have a lifetime layout, but it can be like the workman’s pick axe: three new heads and two handles, but still as good as the day it was bought.

    By which I mean, look at something like Peter Denny’s “Buckingham Branch”. It never started off with the idea of it being permanent, but the idea itself did become permanent. The Buckingham terminus went through 3 major phases and phases 2 and especially 3 had several significant marques, and the various other stations changed, grew and shrunk as well. It was housed in 2 separate locations before Peter died, and us in its third home under new ownership.

    It is possible to stick with the same theme, gradually amassing a sizeable collection of engines and equipment, but to build new layouts to suit the available resources of time and space (and money).

    You can have a lifetime of layouts on the same theme, without any of them being a lifetime layout.

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  4. A phased approach is another way to approach this problem. If you are set on a prototype and think you might want to do it again after you move, then a phased-modular or sectional approach is a good way to proceed.

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  5. Good friend, Jim Hediger said years ago that many layouts out live their owners and often get stale as well as over built. I agree. There's nothing wrong with having several railroads in different eras/scales in a modler's lifetime. It's a hobby after all.
    Being a retired railroader and primarily a solo operator I seem to fall into to the simple and less categorey meaning easy to build, maintain and operate. But that's just one opinion.

    Barry

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  6. I'm about to embark on my first layout, an intentionally small footprint along a 10' and 7' wall in N scale. Not my dream layout, not my dream scale, but one that is intended to get experience building and operating, and to see if it's the type of concept I prefer. It'll be framed quickly because of small size and track will go down soon after and wired to trouble shoot and get into operation. Flawless operation is the goal before diving into scenery, detailing, weathering. I see it being a 3-5 year project lifespan before moving on to the next layout that won't be bigger (space won't change) but will be more focused and more scratch built. And I plan, as the N scale layout matures, to begin to build rolling stock and engines for that next project. Going small and focused gives me the chance to accomplish a lot, get skilled quickly, and have fun from the start. And no remorse when it comes time to tear it out. A large layout becomes work. I'm in this as a hobby.

    Dave Eggleston

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  7. I'm backing your ideas completely here. My layout, in its current state, is 12' feet long and amounts to the biggest industry in my one-town layout design. I don't plan to be in this house for more than 8 years, so I'm very strategic about how much more of the layout I build and how I build it. The idea is that I would like to be able to adapt this layout to a new basement in 8 years when I move.

    Hunter Hughson

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