As time passes, I find out the most important thing with a layout is to keep trains running. If you look around, you’ll see a lot of interesting projects on the web. But many stall because there’s too much time of rail activities on them. When you see trains running, your imagination start to envision what could be done. That’s a tremendous boost to keep your interest alive.
Building a layout is great, but the core aspect is to see trains running, never forget it. We often think one step have to be done before we can move to the next one. Unfortunately, that means the real objective becomes a fuzzy specter lost in a future no one can predict. You start to feel prisoner of this linear logic.
I think having a focus on what you want to achieve and decent planning are a good starting point. But don’t let details bother you too much when they can be better worked out directly on the layout. When you start a project, what you need the most is coherence. Coherence is what makes a project realistic, probable, logic… meaningful. It doesn’t mean you have to cast in stone every detail, but to have a global framework to work within. Personally, selecting the locale, i.e. Murray Bay subdivision, helped me to focus my effort on a general goal. It doesn’t mean I can’t change anything after that decision, but rather that I have a manageable array of possibilities to work with instead of panicking infinity of choices.
Having the global concept set and most basic choices made (main industries, town, era, etc.), I think one can design a credible track plan. From that point, it is important to lay track and run trains… just for fun, just because it’s the main goal and because is it the best way to test your ideas against reality. No wonder we call our layout structure a benchwork… that’s what is truly is.
Some people will argue that special scenes will need to be built correctly from the start. Well, that’s a pitfall I met myself and my solution is simple: build it in a way you’ll be able to modify benchwork later. That means, keep provision for future projects. With limited time and budget, you can’t start a war on all fronts.
Anyway, we have to understand most modellers have waning interests, just like squirrels (a French modeller used to call us “hamsters”, nervous, excited, always making provision and forgetting them to pursue other glittering train interests). It is not a lie to say one day, they will build a bridge, the next one weather a car or two and a month later start scenic work on a culvert. To be clear, don’t let the general goal of running trains stall because of a mundane detail. A mundane detail can be a motorized turnout, a small brook or a large canyon scene. Anyway, the point is that any of these little projects should be part of a coherent whole instead of a diversion from the real project.
I’m not advising to set for anarchy while building your layout, but to keep in mind that some steps are vital to run trains (laying track, wiring, etc.) and others not. And track you lay doesn’t have to be prize winning if you just try to figure out how things will work. I’ve seen too many people waste years hand laying track like maniac to find out they didn’t like the project or lost interest. So, never forget your primary goal and create a framework that will allow you to keep focussed on your projects, be they mundane or vital. The idea is that any of your interactions with this hobby is another step toward the goal. We often say the process is much more important, it’s true, but only if the goal is meaningful. If it is not, that’s only wasting time and escapism. You’ll soon lose faith in what you’re doing… and motivation.
So next time you feel depressed because your “Model of the month” trestle isn’t complete, lay track over a plank and span the gap. You’ll have the same thrill and a preview of what it is to run trains over that future great scene: two good motivation factors to start working on that bridge!