Subscriber & Member Login

Login, or register today to interact in our online community, comment on articles, receive our newsletter, manage your account online and more!

Build what you can, forget what you can't

2461 views
16 replies
1 rating 2 rating 3 rating 4 rating 5 rating
  • Member since
    April 2003
  • 302,278 posts
Build what you can, forget what you can't
Posted by Anonymous on Monday, October 6, 2003 10:56 PM
In a number of threads here, I've found a comon theme. If I can't build what I want, then I won't build a layout at all. I don't want to mention any specific thread as though I'm pointing fingers, but instead focus the newbies attention onto what can be done, rather than what can't be done.

Most of us want a large layout, with gobs of turnouts, sidings, yards, etc. But reality can be a harsh mistress and often determines what we can or can't have because of space limitations, time constraints, lack of skills, or lack of money. Rather than focus on what can't be done, focus on what can be done. For example, in an older MR track planning book was a layout that was 2 by 7, certainly not that big, and the kind of layout that could be stored in a closet, under a bed, on top of a book case, etc. This layout - whose's name escapes me - was a shelve style layout, yet I found it much more interesting than most 4 by 8's or larger layouts. It had a barge area for interchange, lots of ops track.

This layout would suit many who don't have much space, such as college students, RV Travellers, etc.

My tenant is simple, if we focus on what we can do to build a layout, even though it isn't in the dream layout category, we will be having more fun, than sitting in an arm chair dreaming about that "day" when we do have that great layout. I have a 70 year old friend who still talks about his layout "some day", of course, by now, most of us have figured out he will never have that layout. But he could have had a lot of fun with a smaller layout that existed in reality.
  • Member since
    June 2003
  • From: Culpeper, Va
  • 8,024 posts
Posted by IRONROOSTER on Tuesday, October 7, 2003 6:25 AM
I agree. It's fun to plan for that big layout, but It's even more fun to build something. I'm on my fifth layout - none of which is my "dream layout". In fact my dream keeps changing based on my experience. My current layout at 11x18 feet is the biggest so far and is turning out in reality to be about as big as I can reasonably handle. Like many I started with a 4x8 using a sheet of plywood and a published track plan. When our first child was born, I lost the spare bedroom, so I built a 6 x 6 1/2 in the master bedroom, then we moved and I had a 6x10 in the basement. Another move and I was back to 4x8. Kids grew up and now I'm building the 11x18. Through it all, the hobby has been fun.
Enjoy
Paul
If you're having fun, you're doing it the right way.
  • Member since
    July 2003
  • From: Sierra Vista, Arizona
  • 13,757 posts
Posted by cacole on Tuesday, October 7, 2003 9:23 AM
Amen to that -- start out as simple as possible, and progress from there as you learn through your mistakes. If you start with a simple diorama or small shelf layout, there's not too much lost, financially, when you have to chuck it all and start over; but if you begin with a grandiose 20 x 40 foot or so space and plan on modeling the entire Rocky Mountains and are not adept at what you are doing, things can get out of hand and result of a lot of lost money and time when you have to throw it away and start over. Another thing I have noticed are some posts that go something like, "I'm a newbie -- teach me everything about modeling in 50 words or less..." or "What's the best...." Those types of posts are impossible to answer.
  • Member since
    April 2003
  • 302,278 posts
Posted by Anonymous on Tuesday, October 7, 2003 3:48 PM
At the MR forums, I find more newbies than at other forums (proportionately). Nothing wrong with that, but I agree with the above, I see lots of statements that are really general, like - "I'm going to build a layout, what do I need to know?" - kind of statements.

For the newbies lurking and reading, when you do your first early questions, the more specific it is, the more likely you are to receive good advise. For example, lets say your new to the hobby and your think, "I don't even know what I don't know, how am I suppose to ask a specific question?" Well, start where you are at. So I would start a thread if I were you with this question - "I'm new to the hobby, what should I learn about first to get me started?" In answer to this question, many will direct you to John Armstrong's "Track Planning For Realistic Operations" (third edition).

The more specific your question, the more are likely to respond.
  • Member since
    November 2001
  • From: US
  • 732 posts
Posted by Javern on Tuesday, October 7, 2003 7:40 PM
I tried this already but.....I just keep buying and buying
  • Member since
    March 2002
  • From: Milwaukee WI (Fox Point)
  • 10,494 posts
Posted by dknelson on Wednesday, October 8, 2003 7:55 AM
The problem for many of us is that we spend our money and time on buying cars and locomotives and do not budget enough for tools, track laying aids, and other things of a less exciting nature. So we end up with wonderful shelves of stuff. Once you start building a layout it seems you suddenly need all sorts of costly stuff you have not been accumulating. Not many of us buy 3 foot flex track for "someday" the way we might buy, say, passenger cars for 'someday." But unless you try to plan ahead it can seem economically daunting to suddenly start a layout
Dave Nelson
  • Member since
    April 2003
  • 302,278 posts
Posted by Anonymous on Wednesday, October 8, 2003 11:01 PM
dknelson hit the nail on the head as usual.

My wife has me on a small hobby allowance for the sake of keeping the bills under control. I have carefully tried to balance my car fleet, loco needs etc with tools and planning future needs.

There is going to be a 2 x 8 train table of a port and I probably worked on for almost a year (Yet to lay the first track) but the HO track work has been tested and found to be fit. I dont know exactly how much I have spent on my latest work on the hobby but I will tell you that by the time it is complete I can expect to spend that much one more time.

I think the biggest bill for the railroad is metal wheel sets. 7 dollars outfits 3 cars. very nice wheels. But with 60 cars ouch. So it will be done in stages.

What I did feel strongly about is some of the early ninetys trains (O scale HO scale etc) are suddenly being sold for 3 to 5 times the retail value the ordinary person in a trainshow with 50 dollars really has to look hard for a good buy.

Easy does it and in time with set goals each month towards your final vision on the railroad you will achieve a balanced situation.

Good Luck,

Lee
  • Member since
    April 2003
  • 302,278 posts
Posted by Anonymous on Thursday, October 9, 2003 8:42 AM
Wow, I must be abnormal, then. [:)] I changed scale to N, have bought lots of track, but not one single car or loco except for the starting set to try out the scale. I keep resisting the urge to buy that first expensive loco with DCC, and to buy my first DCC, while I'm still laying out my track. Now that I have a track plan (it is missing some of the things I wanted, like a switching yard), it's time to do the benchwork. [}:)] This I'm not looking forward to, so its a good thing I don't have the fun parts or I might never get it done. [;)]

I really wanted one track to pass over another using a bridge structure but could not make it fit into the rest of the space. I didn't quite get that, but did get one track to enter a tunnel in the mountain while a spur line climbs the mountain over the tunnel entrance. It's close enough and will have to do. At least I got 3 independent loops to run 3 locos at the same time, which was my main goal.


Glen
  • Member since
    April 2003
  • 302,278 posts
Posted by Anonymous on Thursday, October 9, 2003 11:53 AM
That is called engineering Glen. The Cajun Pass had to use a looping tunnel to get the trains up and over the summit other wise the grade would be steep. Keep in mind that climb to victoriaville is like 5-7 % by Interstate and I guess 2-3% by rail. I dont think the prototype can keep a train of 100 cars going up and over on a 7% grade no matter how much horsepower and traction you place on the rail.

I too had some problems getting into certian desireable areas but by running flex track here and there possibly split grading or switchbacking if necessary (only on a branch such as logging) hopefully I can get the track there with a acceptable grade, or I will have a Helper division on my hands. I am motivated by "you cant get over this mountain" I say oh yeah? lets get some Mu's or big steam and lets get this train up and over even if I have to double or triple this hill.

If there is a will, there is a way.

Good Luck

Lee
  • Member since
    April 2003
  • 302,278 posts
Posted by Anonymous on Thursday, October 9, 2003 3:00 PM
Glen,
Buying DCC before you have advanced any further isn't as crazy as it seems. I have DCC and layout that has 1/3 of track down, but the wiring isn't complete (I also need a Digitrax PM42 for a reversing loop section and power districts). But as soon as the wiring is ready, you can bet I will be running DCC equipped loco's on that completed 1/3 of track. I do this for two reasons: one, to test the track and second, to have fun.

About collecting rolling stock and engines:
I consider collecting to be one of the biggest blocks to layout building. Most of us have too few dollars for to many dreams. So somewhere along the line, if we spend a dollar here, a dollar over there isn't spent. In micro economic terms, this is called "lost opportunity."

Once you start building a layout, you will find your desire to collect engines and rolling stock drops as other priorities emerge to get the layout up. For me the first really exciting time was getting the benchwork up, then I installed my backdrop even though no track was laid - this too was very very exciting.

Layouts consume amazing amounts of money and money spent on collecting hinders building for many of us.
  • Member since
    December 2001
  • From: Smoggy L.A.
  • 10,714 posts
Posted by vsmith on Thursday, October 9, 2003 3:26 PM
3 SIMPLE RULES FOR BEGINNERS

Always remember KISS.

Keep It Simple, Stupid

Or in my case

Keep It Stupidly Simple.

No DCC, No radio control, No decoders, No computers. My track is state of the art, for 1970. Atlas controllers, manual switches, a simple transformer, and a stupidly simple wiring arrangment. and NO HEADACHES!

Dont go overboard when starting. DCC before you have even layed down a complete loop might be a waste of money if you never fini***he basic layout.

Rule 1. GET THE BASIC TRACK DOWN FIRST, even if its just a loop. Most who drop out of the hobby seem to be trying to build more than they can handle, get frustrated and drop out, so I say start simple, build a portion that will allow you to run your trains then move on to the next section or the second loop. You can always add track till the end of time and you'll have more incetive to finish once you start actually running your trains on it.

Rule 2: DO NOT BUILD SCENERY UNTILL YOU ARE ABSOLUTLY SURE THATS WHERE YOU WANT IT. This has to do with planning and track laying. it all looks good on paper until you lay it out and really see it, then you have to adjust or try soemthing new, this is easier BEFORE you've built a mountain there. This goes for buildings too.

Rule 3. DO NOT BE IN A HURRY TO FINISH. Haste makes waste, or at least a poor layout. Relax, why hurry, take your time reflect and then install scenery, buildings, bridges. Take the time to do the work carefully and thoughtfully, you will be much happier with the results. also taking your time also spreads the costs out over a longer period of time making it more affordable.

Easy, Eh? Time to play my KISS CD's now...

   Have fun with your trains

  • Member since
    April 2003
  • 302,278 posts
Posted by Anonymous on Friday, October 10, 2003 5:04 AM
QUOTE: Originally posted by HighIron2003ar
My wife has me on a small hobby allowance for the sake of keeping the bills under control. I have carefully tried to balance my car fleet, loco needs etc with tools and planning future needs.


I think this is a great idea--the hobby "budget". When I first started getting into the hobby I had a lot of spare ca***o blow, and I ended up buying things I didn't need--and ended up giving it all away in the end! But that was ten years ago...

I am now looking to start over again--and take more of a "zen" approach to the hobby. I think model railroading is a hard one to keep within the zen frame of mind because I just want everything NOW! It's a great hobby to learn about patience--patience is definately a virtue when it comes to this hobby in my book these days... I used to read MR and just drool over the endless possibilities in miniature scale... but luckily I'm trying to focus my attentions to the "real world" and not escape as much into this hobby as I did the first time around... it's one of those life lessons I've had to learn the expensive way!

Thanks for letting me share this,

Johnny :)
  • Member since
    September 2003
  • From: MA
  • 52 posts
Posted by sully57 on Saturday, October 11, 2003 11:33 PM
Well, my thanks to vsmith !

I haven't yet started my benchwork plans for my first layout. However, I AM reading my buns off so that I can have some method to my madness, concerning this hobby. And being on a fixed income, I have been getting rather discouraged about all the expenses people are mentioning in these forums. But vsmith kind of brought it all back into perspective for me, with his 3 simple rules. I think I just needed someone else to say that it was OK not to have all the latest gadgets, at least not right away. I'm back on board. Thanks again! -Sully
  • Member since
    April 2003
  • 302,278 posts
Posted by Anonymous on Sunday, October 12, 2003 7:08 PM
Sully,
Most of us don't have the budget you might think we have. But what ever amount you spend per year will add up over time. Heck even if you only spend $100 per year, over twenty years that's $2000; if you spend $500 year, over twenty years that's $10,000.

It can be a very expensive hobby, but it also can be way cheaper than many folks think if your willing to submit time and a learning curve in lieu of cash.

Wood: there is so much wood out there floating around for free, you should be able to do decent benchwork on the cheap.

Track: learn hand laying and remember you get better as you go along and faster.

Ballast: I know many that use sand.

Glues: buy in bulk - especially white glue.

In several analysis of layouts economically speaking that I have seen in print, they all agree on one thing. It is your rolling stock that can drive up the cost of a layout. This is an expense you can control. Its better to have six quality engines bought over a five year period, than twenty engines that are marginal at best.

Buy "used" items: This includes engines, power packs, track and turnouts, structures, rolling stock, paint, modelling tools, magazines, whatever. All these mentioned items here, I have bought "used."

At estate sales, most everyone goes for the engines and rolling stock. When you go to the estate sale, and the crowd is around the "glamour" items, hit up the estate items for tools you want. Even paint brushes well maintained but used, can be had for a steal in an estate sale. I've bought used bottles of paint, an electric paint shaker, Xuron cutting tool (for track), tweezers, small screw drivers, and a host of other things at estate sales, saving almost %90 on many items.

When I'm low on cash, I'll curtail my magazine spending, instead buying them two years old or older at LHS's and train shows.
  • Member since
    April 2003
  • 302,278 posts
Posted by Anonymous on Tuesday, October 14, 2003 10:42 AM
I love this thread! I, like probably everyone else, have a dream layout floating around in my head, but I realized it will never happen unless I start somewhere.

My first challenge was space. I have a large room in our basement, but not big enough. We plan to move in the next few years, so I found a section of my dream layout that could be built as a 2 x 11 foot bookshelf and started on that. It gives me something to work on, and then can become part of a larger layout in the future. I spent a lot of time carefully planning to ensure I could use as much as possible.

My second challenge was money. I have a very supportive wife and a two year old son. Every dollar I spend comes out of our household budget. While we could afford it, I felt guilty. The solution, which works for us, is to budget an amount and then open a second account (I use Paypal) and literally pay myself each month our agreed upon amount. I use that account to pay for what I need. Again, this may not work for everyone, but it has really worked well for us.

The third challenge we face is time. To solve this, we decided to give each other one night per week, from after dinner until bedtime to do with what we wish. I take our son out to the park, or maybe just into the family room to play on Tuesdays, giving my wife a well deserved break, and she returns the favor on Thursday night, giving me two or three hours of uninterupted "train time".

My layout may never be seen in the pages of MR, but I am realizing what I cannot do (at least not yet), and focusing on what I can...and I am having a great time doing it.
  • Member since
    September 2003
  • From: MA
  • 52 posts
Posted by sully57 on Tuesday, October 14, 2003 10:50 AM
RSN48 : thank you for the insight and encouragement. Wise words and suggestions, which I will follow. -Sully
  • Member since
    August 2003
  • From: Midtown Sacramento
  • 3,286 posts
Posted by Jetrock on Thursday, October 16, 2003 9:09 AM
I can relate a lot to this thread. I just got back into model railroading in the past year after about 15 years away from the hobby. I've tried to not go too overboard with buying those shelf-stealers like structures and rolling stock, though I already have a rapidly filling shelf of such things. Structures are my weak point, which is probably why I am most fond of urban railroading (well, that and growing up in a town where there was a lot of it.)

My layout plan as a whole is small--6'x7.5' around-the-room (it's a small room) in HO, built as a series of four shelf-sized modules of various sizes. I had to re-start the project a couple of times as I ran into new information about my chosen prototype (Sacramento Northern) but that alone was worthwhile as a primer on how to lay track so trains won't leap off it every few inches.

At this point I've got a working 1'6"x6' shelf layout, and I can already play Timesaver-style switching games with it. Power is straight DC with Peco manual switches (I can reach them all, so there's not much point in automating them) split up into just enough blocks to allow one train to pass another. I have to make one or two final (ha ha) modifications to the track plan before getting into scenery and structures, and then it will be time for module number two, which is already in the planning stages.

I suppose it helps that I'm modeling a city belt line that ran small diesels and electrics, so I can get away with things like sub-12" curves and three-car trains and still be prototypical--those whose hearts pound for articulated engines and long coal drags would have a tougher time with a shelf layout than I do, although at least they don't have to hang trolley wire...

Subscriber & Member Login

Login, or register today to interact in our online community, comment on articles, receive our newsletter, manage your account online and more!

Users Online

There are no community member online

Search the Community

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
Model Railroader Newsletter See all
Sign up for our FREE e-newsletter and get model railroad news in your inbox!