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Layout to run trains or operate a railroad?

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Layout to run trains or operate a railroad?
Posted by Lastspikemike on Wednesday, July 28, 2021 9:29 PM

Recent threads resurrected a line of thought that has popped up from time to time in my mind when I'm trying to figure out what this hobby is all about for me.

There seem to be two general classes of interests in our hobby when it comes to layout design.

Do you want to watch trains run from here to there without worrying too much about modelling here or there  or do you prefer modelling a real operating railroad albeit in compressed scale?

Reason I ask is prototype railroading up here involves a lot of single track mileage with no towns, no yards, no industries and no apparent reason to run a railroad through here. We have 4,000,000 sq miles of country with a population roughly the size of California. Most of our railroads run through endless miles of truly amazing scenery but have almost no interim destinations or departure points.  Railroad serviced industries are also few and far between especially in the modern truck oriented age. 

Which should we model? 

Alyth Yard

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Posted by PRR8259 on Wednesday, July 28, 2021 9:58 PM

As my tastes run to rural southwestern desert, despite living in Pennsylvania, I opted for a simple track plan featuring mainly desert terrain in which to watch my trains roll.  It's so simple there is one passing siding.  I did use Kato track, and I did plan it out in cadd, so I knew the pieces would fit together correctly.  Also, I glued it down to the pink sheets of foam insulation using Liquid Nails.  Under the foam insulation is a wooden frame that my Dad built.

I find watching the trains run to be relaxing, so the point was to be able to railfan my own layout simulating wide open spaces (mainly of the old Santa Fe).

However, you have to do what makes you happy.

I would never be happy trying to model an operation-oriented pike.  I build up the trains the way I want and just run them, sometimes leaving the consist alone for a week.  My son has pushed them above 80 cars, but most trains are only 15 to 20 cars.

John

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Posted by MisterBeasley on Wednesday, July 28, 2021 11:35 PM

My end goal is neither operations nor watching trains run.  I build a model railroad because I like the models.  I like the scenery, the locomotives, the rolling stock and the structures.  I like industrial sidings with the activities of switching, and grade crossing with nothing but a train passing by while lights flash and perhaps crossing gates come down.  I like a parking lot with an old man walking to his car with pair of dogs at his heels.  All of these are a creation of a time and place.

It takes an iron man to play with a toy iron horse. 

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Posted by NVSRR on Thursday, July 29, 2021 7:30 AM

I have a couple layouts for that reason.   The HO is the operations layout with the high detail.    The postwar layout is the "trains running and pushing buttons to do stuff aspect" is almost a mandatory thing in the postwar realm for some reason you just can't not do that.   The large scale I have is to be able to enjoy just runnin* outside on those gorgious days to nice to be inside.    I don't know where the 009 HOe fits yet.  

shane

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Posted by Lastspikemike on Thursday, July 29, 2021 9:03 AM

MisterBeasley

My end goal is neither operations nor watching trains run.  I build a model railroad because I like the models.  I like the scenery, the locomotives, the rolling stock and the structures.  I like industrial sidings with the activities of switching, and grade crossing with nothing but a train passing by while lights flash and perhaps crossing gates come down.  I like a parking lot with an old man walking to his car with pair of dogs at his heels.  All of these are a creation of a time and place.

 

Thanks for adding that perspective. I hadn't realized that this was actually what I like about the models. Although I'm not a scenery fan (not yet anyway, that may well change as I get into doing some) I am mainly attracted to this hobby by the small scale world aspect. 

So, I now wonder if the two aspects I described previously are two sides of the same coin: watching trains run is the more external modelling experience whereas operating a model railroad as a real operation is a more internal experience. The one involves you as a spectator and the other as an operator.

More pondering is required.

Alyth Yard

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Posted by dknelson on Thursday, July 29, 2021 9:24 AM

Lastspikemike
    Reason I ask is prototype railroading up here involves a lot of single track mileage with no towns, no yards, no industries and no apparent reason to run a railroad through here. ...  Most of our railroads run through endless miles of truly amazing scenery but have almost no interim destinations or departure points.  

Actually that describes just about every Class 1 railroad in the US -- miles of nothin' between towns, and still more miles between the cities where the railroad even bothers to serve customers.  The exceptions would be urban railroads such as the Indiana Harbor Belt or the EJ&E but even there, there are certainly uneventful stretches.  And miles and miles of track with no crossings and no turnouts.  Indeed I read that the Sante Fe deliberately selected a route between Kasas City and Chicago that bypassed many possible cities and towns because the goal was just to get to Chicago with the fewest complications and distractions possible.  Oh there are towns along the way that have or had ATSF service, or fuel and water stops, but often the railroad came first then the town. Exceptions include Galesburg and perhaps Streator, and some crew change points like Chillicothe.   

The fact is that even if we try to be prototypical in having "average" locomotive rosters, and "representative" mixes of rolling stock in our trains, with very rare exceptions we are not average or representative in the locales we model on our layouts, since few layouts are large enough to accurately model even one town or city, much less the three or four or five that we introduce for sake of interesting operations or interesting structure modeling or just an entertaining layout to look at.  Or more interesting scenery for that matter -- the number of railroad tunnels in the USA compared to the  number of total railroad miles must be nearly infinitesimal.  Yet it's not so long ago that it was rare to visit a model railroad layout that did not have a tunnel on it!

So whether a layout is a "prototype modeler's" creation or that of someone who just likes watching the trains run, in both cases to one degree or another, there is a wildly disproportionate amount of interesting trackage, interesting locales.

Although it is possible to design a wonderful looking layout that is nonetheless awkward and unsatisfying to operate in a realistic manner, usually the more interesting and realistic a layout looks, the more easily it lends itself to operations if and when the time comes to try out actual operating sessions.  I seem to recall Tony Koester writing that George Sellios found that out when he first introduced operations (which originally he had not been interested in) to his FS&M. He did make a few changes to the track plan once he found he enjoyed operations, but they were enhancements, not make-or-break requirements.  That is partly why Koester advocates using Layout Design Elements -- track arrangements that are taken from real railroad examples -- not just for the realism but because by logical necessity they will also make the layout suited for operations, even if that day never comes.

I guess I am saying it is not necessarily a this-or-that, either/or choice.  And I found a long winded way to say it.

Dave Nelson

 

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Posted by Doughless on Thursday, July 29, 2021 9:37 AM

All three mentioned.  Its to make miniature scenes, watch trains run, and to run a railroad.

- Douglas

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Posted by Tin Can II on Thursday, July 29, 2021 9:47 AM

Now that I finally have room for a model railroad, my plan is to combine the best of both realms.  I will have a large oval for continuous running, with one large staging yard and a junction based on the real town of Lometa, TX.  I will model the branchline from Lometa to Eden, TX inside the oval.  I intend to hand lay the branchline.  There will be several scratch built structures on the branchline, and numerous switching opportunities.  

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Posted by Bayfield Transfer Railway on Thursday, July 29, 2021 2:11 PM

Operation, 100%

 

Disclaimer:  This post may contain humor, sarcasm, and/or flatulence.

Michael Mornard

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Posted by ATLANTIC CENTRAL on Thursday, July 29, 2021 2:27 PM

For me it is both - or actually all three.

I like just watching model trains run. My new layout will support five of them just running around pretty good sized loops.

I like simulating prototype operations - without getting too deep in the weeds......  My new layout will have CTC (simplified), signals, schedules, switching industries, etc. It will support a crew of 12.

I like building the models and the layout - on this note I like building models of trains (rolling stock and locomotives) but I also enjoy the non railroad aspects of the scenery - building the town, the farm, the rural neighborhood.......

I like modeling both real prototypes, and fictional but plausable/believeable ones. I don't have much interest in trying to duplicate real places, just like my scenes to have the right "flavor" of places I know and like.

Guess I'm into most all aspects of the hobby.

It is not an either/or choice.

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Posted by wjstix on Thursday, July 29, 2021 2:45 PM

If you modelled the Great Northern in Montana in the 1950's, you could build a very realistic layout with few if any towns, but lots of scenery. As on the prototype, you could run the correct GN trains of the era based on the real passenger schedule (Fast Mail, Empire Builder, Western Star) and models of the actual scheduled freights - with perhaps a few extra trains, like a maintenance of way train thrown in. You would be 'operating' the layout just like the real GN, recreating what the GN really did...even if you aren't stopping to drop off or pick up freight cars at all.

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Posted by BATMAN on Thursday, July 29, 2021 3:22 PM

It is Rocky Mountain railroading for me. I have long sections of mountain wilderness running and can have two trains running all day without conflict while I can deliver cars to a few places by sneaking out on the main in between.

I worked in logistics for the Federal Government for 36 years often moving very sensitive material by plane, train, ship, and truck. I have sat in on MRR operations at some clubs and enjoyed chatting with the participants, however, there are no real-life consequences for screwing up in MRR ops and I tend to get bored by the slow pace of ops. I use to like plummeting down the mountain at a 100kmh on skis, I have tried the Nintendo Wii ski game. Not quite the same.Laugh That is how I feel about ops.

For me, a MRR is a vehicle I use for modeling landscape and structures and anything else to make the layout pass the smell test in a photo. I keep getting better but will never be perfect, kinda like my guitar playing.Laugh

 

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Posted by ATLANTIC CENTRAL on Thursday, July 29, 2021 3:47 PM

One more thought - If I was the sort of person who felt some obligation to stick my nose in other peoples business, I might actually feel badly for those who ONLY run their trains for organized operating sessions.

I know some people find causal operation boring or pointless, but maybe we need a support group to help them "loosen up" a little.......

Sheldon

 

    

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Posted by ATLANTIC CENTRAL on Thursday, July 29, 2021 3:50 PM

BATMAN

It is Rocky Mountain railroading for me. I have long sections of mountain wilderness running and can have two trains running all day without conflict while I can deliver cars to a few places by sneaking out on the main in between.

I worked in logistics for the Federal Government for 36 years often moving very sensitive material by plane, train, ship, and truck. I have sat in on MRR operations at some clubs and enjoyed chatting with the participants, however, there are no real-life consequences for screwing up in MRR ops and I tend to get bored by the slow pace of ops. I use to like plummeting down the mountain at a 100kmh on skis, I have tried the Nintendo Wii ski game. Not quite the same.Laugh That is how I feel about ops.

For me, a MRR is a vehicle I use for modeling landscape and structures and anything else to make the layout pass the smell test in a photo. I keep getting better but will never be perfect, kinda like my guitar playing.Laugh

 

 

Just my view, but good opps sessions are on layouts that do not get too deep in every little step and rule of the prototype.

I have operated on a number of different layouts with different types of opps setups - most are fun, some are not.........

Sheldon

    

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Posted by dehusman on Thursday, July 29, 2021 4:08 PM

ATLANTIC CENTRAL
One more thought - If I was the sort of person who felt some obligation to stick my nose in other peoples business, I might actually feel badly for those who ONLY run their trains for organized operating sessions.

And you would probably be wasting your time worrying about something that wasn't broke.

I know some people find causal operation boring or pointless, but maybe we need a support group to help them "loosen up" a little.......

Many people see model railroading as a team sport.  Having operations with just one or two people is like saying you are going to play baseball with just one or two people.

A lot of it depends what your focus is.  Some people approach model railroading as if they are railfans, they want to watch the parade go by more than they want to be in the parade.

Some people approach it more from the train crew perspective, they want to be immersed in the "experience" of doing what the train crews do.

Some people are more into the system perspective, they are focused on the movement and flow, how all the pieces interconnect.

And lastly there are the people who just like to build models and oh yeah, they can move, but the model building is the most imporant point.

None of them are right, none are wrong.  The people in any one inclination need not have a "pity party" for the people with other approches.

Dave H. Painted side goes up. My website : wnbranch.com

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Posted by BATMAN on Thursday, July 29, 2021 4:11 PM

ATLANTIC CENTRAL
ust my view, but good opps sessions are on layouts that do not get too deep in every little step and rule of the prototype. I have operated on a number of different layouts with different types of opps setups - most are fun, some are not......... Sheldon

Hmmmm, upon second thought this is how I feel. There always seems to be that one guy that gets bent out of shape if someone is not paying enough attention. If you get stuck looking at your train on a siding for twenty minutes and start chit-chatting you are likely to miss "the call".Laugh  I have been a guest watching the goings-on and have seen this happen. We had much more respect for each other in the real world. I declined to join the club. 

Brent

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Posted by selector on Thursday, July 29, 2021 4:49 PM

Mike, I think you meant 4M square miles.

i freelance, but I need mountain scenes and operations, if only an approximation. Switching, double mains now instead of my hitherto single mains, and enjoying watching. That’s it.

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Posted by ATLANTIC CENTRAL on Thursday, July 29, 2021 4:57 PM

dehusman

 

 
ATLANTIC CENTRAL
One more thought - If I was the sort of person who felt some obligation to stick my nose in other peoples business, I might actually feel badly for those who ONLY run their trains for organized operating sessions.

 

And you would probably be wasting your time worrying about something that wasn't broke.

 

 
I know some people find causal operation boring or pointless, but maybe we need a support group to help them "loosen up" a little.......

 

Many people see model railroading as a team sport.  Having operations with just one or two people is like saying you are going to play baseball with just one or two people.

A lot of it depends what your focus is.  Some people approach model railroading as if they are railfans, they want to watch the parade go by more than they want to be in the parade.

Some people approach it more from the train crew perspective, they want to be immersed in the "experience" of doing what the train crews do.

Some people are more into the system perspective, they are focused on the movement and flow, how all the pieces interconnect.

And lastly there are the people who just like to build models and oh yeah, they can move, but the model building is the most imporant point.

None of them are right, none are wrong.  The people in any one inclination need not have a "pity party" for the people with other approches.

 

Completely agreed.

I just recall my own experiances of no longer having fun when I started to get too deep into the extreems.

When it comes to operation, I am that "system perspective" guy. I want to create that illusion for the viewer and/or operator, without necessarily having to replicate every detail. That's why my CTC and signals are "streamlined" a bit......

I can switch some cars around some industries, but I'm not really the "train crew" sort, one of the reasons I have little use for DCC - it is really made for those guys.

And I also really like the "railfan" thing. I would rather be a railfan at a model layout than in real life (I find modern trains boring most of the time - but I sit at Strasburg and just watch for hours).

And the model building thing is pretty important to me, but again, they don't all have to be first place winners at the NMRA convention.

Sheldon

    

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Posted by kasskaboose on Thursday, July 29, 2021 5:11 PM

Who says you can't have some of watching trains go and operation on the same layout? 

On my layout, it's point-to-point setup, so watching trains run is not very easy.  I like the operating aspect b/c it gives some level of reality.  Modeling a genuine part of the country in a certain timeframe gives me the sense of enjoyment far more than watching a train go in a circle.  Of course I'm not espousing one approach over another; I do what works for me and that's what matters!

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Posted by ATLANTIC CENTRAL on Thursday, July 29, 2021 5:20 PM

kasskaboose

Who says you can't have some of watching trains go and operation on the same layout? 

On my layout, it's point-to-point setup, so watching trains run is not very easy.  I like the operating aspect b/c it gives some level of reality.  Modeling a genuine part of the country in a certain timeframe gives me the sense of enjoyment far more than watching a train go in a circle.  Of course I'm not espousing one approach over another; I do what works for me and that's what matters!

 

I understand that completely.

Let me throw an idea at you.

What about thru staging rather than point to point? A BIG continious route only part of which is seen. Trains enter the stage, just like leaving a staging yard on a point to point layout, travel across the stage, and then leave the stage.

Empty hoppers always moving west, loaded ones always moving east......

What about the idea of only modeling one city, one place, and the rail activities there. Combined with the thru staging concept described above.

Build a bigger more realistic yard rather than two yards? Model a few junctions either side of that city that also go "off stage" to the rest of the world?

Just a thought.

Then you can also just let some trains run. This layout is designed so that 90% of the industries can be worked without fouling the main. I will be able to let four trains run on the main in display mode and still work the yard and industries.

You can have it all if you design the layout to do it all.

Sheldon

    

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Posted by Lastspikemike on Thursday, July 29, 2021 6:08 PM

selector

Mike, I think you meant 4M square miles.

i freelance, but I need mountain scenes and operations, if only an approximation. Switching, double mains now instead of my hitherto single mains, and enjoying watching. That’s it.

 

indeed. The autocorrect function on this site is simply bizarre. It changes  what you typed sometimes several characters later. Just weird. 

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Posted by Lastspikemike on Thursday, July 29, 2021 6:14 PM

Through staging is very common in the UK judging from all the magazine articles I've seen. Many times the staging is quite a bit larger than the scenicked display sections. 

Alyth Yard

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Posted by gregc on Thursday, July 29, 2021 7:15 PM

Lastspikemike
Do you want to watch trains run from here to there without worrying too much about modelling here or there  or do you prefer modelling a real operating railroad albeit in compressed scale?

all the better layouts i'm familiar with have staging and focus on operation.  they have opened my eyes to model railroading that i haven't read as much about in magazines. 

the 90x40' Pacific Southern has long distances to run between trains and can do freight switching at numerous industrial switching areas.   it has adopted automatic train control for trains running between 3 staging yards to support shows.

two others have little relative length to run trains and is mostly about bringing trains to/from staging to a yard, where cars are sorted for other trains going back into staging or a local freight that switches cars at industrial area

 

i've learned that for many, model railroading is about building models.   and i've learned to appreciate that some just want to relax with a beer watching trains run.   i imagine others really appreciate seeing trains running thru scenery or crossing bridges.

but at least on the layout we've been working on, just a few operators are needed to move trains to/from staging to a yard/passenger station.  several operators will be needed to operate towers routing trains, a couple operating the yard and hosteling locos, switching between diesel and electric locos and a couple switching locals at an industrial area.

observers may see a lot of busy operators, but not many moving trains

 

running trains continuously is not possible on layouts designed this way.

 

greg - Philadelphia & Reading / Reading

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Posted by Pantherphil on Thursday, July 29, 2021 7:31 PM

I like building layouts including structures and scenery to make attractive scenes and I like to watch trains moving through the scenes meeting and passing.  My smaller 4 x 8 N scale East Penn has a reasonable main line of about 32 feet with four passing sidings so I can choose my coal train, my TOFC train, my NE fallen flags train, my Mid Atlantic fallen flags train or my Pennsy passenger local as I wish. My just finished N scale North Penn and New England has a long 60 foot double track main line and a 24 foot long branch loop and with a little luck I  can have 5 trains in motion:  MyPRR heavyweight passenger, my GG 1 eastern flags freight, my  mixed Maine potato special coal train, and two miscellaneous freight trains.  No interest in switching industries or my stub yard.  Just use those for storing rolling stock not currently in use.  Fun to go to the train room, start the trains rolling, turn on some train songs and ride my Nordic Track or jogging platform trampoline for a half hour or 45 minutes just watching the trains move in the scenery.  Very relaxing.

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Posted by ATLANTIC CENTRAL on Thursday, July 29, 2021 7:40 PM

gregc

 

 
Lastspikemike
Do you want to watch trains run from here to there without worrying too much about modelling here or there  or do you prefer modelling a real operating railroad albeit in compressed scale?

 

all the better layouts i'm familiar with have staging and focus on operation.  they have opened my eyes to model railroading that i haven't read as much about in magazines. 

the 90x40' Pacific Southern has long distances to run between trains and can do freight switching at numerous industrial switching areas.   it has adopted automatic train control for trains running between 3 staging yards to support shows.

two others have little relative length to run trains and is mostly about bringing trains to/from staging to a yard, where cars are sorted for other trains going back into staging or a local freight that switches cars at industrial area

 

i've learned that for many, model railroading is about building models.   and i've learned to appreciate that some just want to relax with a beer watching trains run.   i imagine others really appreciate seeing trains running thru scenery or crossing bridges.

but at least on the layout we've been working on, just a few operators are needed to move trains to/from staging to a yard/passenger station.  several operators will be needed to operate towers routing trains, a couple operating the yard and hosteling locos, switching between diesel and electric locos and a couple switching locals at an industrial area.

observers may see a lot of busy operators, but not many moving trains

 

running trains continuously is not possible on layouts designed this way.

 

 

I've seen numerous club layouts designed like my layout plan, able to support all aspects of prototype operation and still have provisions for display loops.

It's really not that hard to do.

And, yes, I have seen club layouts that required teams of people just to get one train from one end to the other.

In his opening question, Mike made no distiction between club layouts or home layouts, but in my mind there is generally a fundmential difference between the two.

I have had the priviledge to visit some of the largest personal layouts around, some bigger than many club layouts, and I have visited MANY club layouts.

Yet there always seems to be a difference compared to club layouts that is hard to pinpoint.

Extreemly large home layouts are often the work of a team of people, but not designed and built by democracy. Extreemly large private home layouts are benevolent dictatorships that conform to the desires of the one paying the bills.

Clubs are different.........

But I think it is possible to easily design layouts that do both, and do both well - if you want to....

Sheldon

    

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Posted by rrebell on Friday, July 30, 2021 8:36 AM

Lastspikemike

Recent threads resurrected a line of thought that has popped up from time to time in my mind when I'm trying to figure out what this hobby is all about for me.

There seem to be two general classes of interests in our hobby when it comes to layout design.

Do you want to watch trains run from here to there without worrying too much about modelling here or there  or do you prefer modelling a real operating railroad albeit in compressed scale?

Reason I ask is prototype railroading up here involves a lot of single track mileage with no towns, no yards, no industries and no apparent reason to run a railroad through here. We have 4,000,000 sq miles of country with a population roughly the size of California. Most of our railroads run through endless miles of truly amazing scenery but have almost no interim destinations or departure points.  Railroad serviced industries are also few and far between especially in the modern truck oriented age. 

Which should we model? 

 

Why model your area, its a big world out there.

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Posted by Lastspikemike on Friday, July 30, 2021 8:48 AM

Indeed. And you literally can't model anything specific except in a representative fashion anyway.

But my experience of this hobby is inspired by real places and actual locomotives.

On the other hand, I'd love to have an OO set of British locomotives and cars to run. I'm also attracted by some roads that would never plausibly appear in my location of inspiration.

To clarify the purpose of my original post, which has been fulfilled by the way, was to encourage the expression of the two perspectives I had noticed. A third perspective was quickly added.

I by no means say that participants in this hobby are only interested in one of the three general categories. I was interested in understanding whether these different aspects of the hobby were favoured or preferred in a way that influences how you experience the hobby. Some disagreements I've seen aired on this forum seem to reflect these different perspectives.

Fundamentally,  do you get the best bang for your buck from running trains, operating trains or building a layout to display your modelling?

Not to suggest that you personally may enjoy all three equally or one or two or all in differing proportions.

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Posted by ATLANTIC CENTRAL on Friday, July 30, 2021 8:52 AM

And as you can see, there is already a little resistence to the idea that you can do all three equally well on one layout.......

Sheldon

    

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Posted by Lastspikemike on Friday, July 30, 2021 9:07 AM

ATLANTIC CENTRAL

And as you can see, there is already a little resistence to the idea that you can do all three equally well on one layout.......

Sheldon

 

That thought promoted my opening post. I think modellers do favour one or two of the perspectives over the third. The most interesting aspect of the responses to  my original post is the variation of interest I had noticed is very real. There does not seem to be a majority perspective. All three experiences are more or less equally appreciated. But, as you suggest, one person may need access to two layouts to get all three. Perhaps club layouts serve that function: provide one or two of the perspectives with the others met by a home layout. 

Hmmm. I just realized this is what I am doing. Three of us built a 10'x20' (roughly) layout just to run trains. Not yet scenicked. Likely the scenery will be very generic with few industries or other reasons to be. My smaller home layout will be more intensively modelled with less track and some railroad journey purposes, not just running trains. When I finish the two layouts, that is.

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Posted by ATLANTIC CENTRAL on Friday, July 30, 2021 9:16 AM

Lastspikemike

 

 
ATLANTIC CENTRAL

And as you can see, there is already a little resistence to the idea that you can do all three equally well on one layout.......

Sheldon

 

 

 

That thought promoted my opening post. I think modellers do favour one or two of the perspectives over the third. The most interesting aspect of the responses to  my original post is the variation of interest I had noticed is very real. There does not seem to be a majority perspective. All three experiences are more or less equally appreciated. But, as you suggest, one person may need access to two layouts to get all three. Perhaps club layouts serve that function: provide one or two of the perspectives with the others met by a home layout. 

Hmmm. I just realized this is what I am doing. Three of us built a 10'x20' (roughly) layout just to run trains. Not yet scenicked. Likely the scenery will be very generic with few industries or other reasons to be. My smaller home layout will be more intensively modelled with less track and some railroad journey purposes, not just running trains. When I finish the two layouts, that is.

 

From early on in this hobby I quickly gained an awareness of these different approaches. I have put considerable effort, research and a lifetime of experiance and testing into the idea that you can design a layout to do all three well if you really want to.

My very first layout at age 10 had hidden staging..........

And I think a detailed study of the track plan I am about to build speaks for itself - but one would have to take the time to study and understand it.

Sheldon

    

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