An uncompromising attitude

Trevor Marshall has just come out all guns blazing on the issue of a “no compromise” attitude.

Rather than fill his comments to overflowing, here is my take on the matter.

The laws of physics make it impossible for me to have a model which is perfectly to scale. Likewise, although my models are steam-powered, it is at some remove: the steam drives a turbine at the power station. The cost of real estate means I cannot produce a model station that is to scale proportions in my chosen scale, and I have to accept sharper curves – at least at the end of my garage – than a real railway would tolerate anywhere outside a dockyard. I cannot even model the full width a model railway “requires” if the layout is to be accurate.

I accept those constraints as the parameters in which I have to work. This is not a compromise, it is a set of requirements, a specification if you like. I have to accommodate running fits on bearings that if scaled up would suggest an urgent need to visit the shops, but a running fit is a running fit. To get around those curves, I need to give consideration to having a bit more sideplay in some of the driven axles of steam locos – not much, but an engineering tolerance as part of a specification is an engineering tolerance. On a consolidation, I may simply have some blind drivers, as the prototype did.

The above is as near to a list of “givens” as I will get, but the only “druther” I can come up with is that I’d rather (I druther, for the very few who wondered) not call it that.

Re-framing the mindset

A 42″ radius curve is not, therefore, a compromise. It is a parameter in setting out design constraints and tolerances: all rolling stock must successfully negotiate a test curve of 40″ radius (it being wise to go slightly below the operational requirement).

Similarly, although railways are a lot wider than most of us realise, compared to their length they are long, straggly things, so not modelling the full right of way will help with creating this impression – this is an artistic response to the constraints, rather than an engineering one.

Level of detail requires a bit more care. Proportion and colour have more impact than anything else, and I am still building up my knowledge on the prototype. For now, I will accept the incorrect bracing on my composite box cars, knowing that I can return to improve or replace these models at a later date. I also agree that unless it is there in the RTR or kit model to begin with, I am not going to model details which I cannot see on the layout without the aid of a dental inspection mirror.

Likewise, if I know that there should be a collection of small rods, cranks and levers hiding in the murky depths of the underframe, I may not model this as a series of separate rods and clevies, etc, but as a piece of carefully shaped wire or strip. Where something is visible, such as the various connections at one end of a freight car, for transferring movement in the brake wheel around the corner to the underside, then it will be modelled in greater detail. Not with greater care, as the same level of care will be used across the piece: a right angle is a right angle, whether it is a fully modelled crank or a bent piece of wire.


To me, “compromise” is not about modelling standards (e.g. wheel profiles), rather it is about the standard of modelling, and this is where “no compromise” comes in. If I make something, I can ask myself some simple questions:

  • Is this the best I can achieve, given my current skill set?
  • If I were to re-do this now, would there be a noticeable improvement?
  • If I were to re-do this now, would it hold up something more important to me?

The first question is a positive re-wording of the simple question: “Have I sold myself short?”

The second question looks at where I am on the learning curve – it may be the best I could do, having not done this before, but having now done this, maybe I am on the steep part of the learning curve, and I can easily do a better job second time around and lo reinforce th learning I have just undertaken.

The third question looks at my personal priorities, and helps estimate the “nagging quotient”, I.e. “How important to me, at the moment, is getting this detail right? Will it sit at the back of my mind, nagging me, or can I leave it until a future date when other, bigger, projects are out of the way?”

Setting a realistic outlook

Such a mind set is a realistic way of working with a “no compromise” attitude. Either something is an operational constraint which determines tolerances (e.g. minimum radius), or it is something which is as good as I can achieve at this moment in time. That doesn’t mean I won’t come back and upgrade or replace it in the future. This certainly is not a “good enough” policy: it is a “is this as good as I can get at the moment?” attitude.

“No compromise” means not selling oneself short. It does not mean working to exact scale of everything. Compromise means settling for sound best, for less thn is possible; for creating a mental dwell-point, with the constant nagging thought of “if only”, rather than a positive, “Look what I did within my constraints”.

So, what do you want? To identify ways of maximising the possibilities of working with as well as within your constraits, or to spend time regretting the short-cuts and short-selling of one’s potential?

All I can say is, start building a freedom layout, and enjoy yourself as your extend your abilities beyond your horizons.


2 thoughts on “An uncompromising attitude

  1. p4newstreet

    Everyone compromises, the real world is big, really big. In the scale I work to 1:76.2 a mile in about 70 ft. That’s a lot of layout but absolutely nothing in the real world. A 10ft radius curve on the model would be a 30mph curve when scaled up. The thing is the best way to adopt a no compromise approach is when it comes to the element of consistancy. A consistant layout will always look right, regardless of the actual standard adhered to. While a stunningly detailed loco parked up next to a car park full of tipped from thier boxes cars will never look like anything other than a model.

    1. Dunks Post author

      Hi Jim,

      I agree: never compromise on standards, but do ensure that they are applied consistently.

      Everything else is a constraint, a challenge, or a parameter. My room is 8’10” wide maximum, but has structurally important projections which create extra challenges. I have therefore accepted a 42″ radius for a 180 degree curve, but it has transitions, and elsewhere the minimum is 120″. A compromise, though, would be neither one thing nor than another – maybe a curve branching out through a wall in the house?

      I have similar points about consistency all over the web – Mike Cougill’s OST blog, Trevor Marshall’s Port Rowan and on RMWeb. The best exemplars of this approach show different personal levels, but these are applied consistently. They also involve a lot of hand-mad models. I am thinking of such people as Peter Denny, Trevor Nunn, Jas Millham, the Gravetts, Geoff Forster and indeed, you with New Street.

      Thanks for commenting, and for raising the important point about a consistent standard – accepting items that are less than this is a compromise, and not one I am prepared to make.

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