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.