Category Archives: Observation

Don’t exclude your family from your hobby…

…even if they don’t share it!

The latest issue of Model Railroad Planning came out a couple of days ago. I always enjoy reading it, even if I don’t agree with everything in it, as it gets a bit more behind the scenes and addresses some of the issues that typical monthly periodicals are less inclined to give editorial space to. I have found 3 articles particularly interesting, amongst a good sprinkling of great pieces, including one from England!

There is an interesting piece from Malcolm West about moving up from N to H0, but which is really about how little one really needs for a satisfying model railway layout, as he is discovering.

Lance Mindheim is is his usual thought-provoking self, too, when addressing complexity and differentiating between planning (your strategic objectives) and design (curves, track arrangements, etc). As he says, “putting planning… …ahead of design greatly increases the odds of ending up with a [layout].” No answers, but plenty of questions for you to answers, with a handful of pointers and observations: vintage Lance!

But the clear leader of the pack for me is René Gourley’s article about making his railway-room a family-friendly room. If you follow his blog, you may have seen my comments already, but he brought home some lessons I have learned, but he has provided an eloquent exposition of how to make sure you aren’t excluding your family from yourself.

You see, I have had over the years experience of various spaces for my hobby: my bedroom, an attic (via a fold-down ladder), just the corner of a room, a spare room big enough to store a modelling bench and books, store, etc, but not a layout, a garage which although built into the house, had no internal door, and latterly a log cabin, which I began building in September 2021 and finished about a year later. The attic, garage and log cabin were (and are) all big enough to house a layout, books, parts, machine tools and a modelling bench, but I will be completely honest here: they all failed. In the case of the log cabin, this is still failing. For two simple reasons. Firstly, it’s remote: not part of the house. Secondly, no one else visits me. Why would they: it’s remote, and designated as my hobby space? The attic (when I was a teenager) meant scrambling up an aluminium ladder, to experience restricted head room, and extremes of whatever the weather had going on outside, the garage meant leaving the house via the front door, opening the garage door and then opening the internal partition door I had installed. And the log cabin requires leaving via the back door, crossing the yard, and going half way down the garden. Hardly encouraging!

René talks about making his basement space accommodating to family, as well as serving as his railway room, modelling bench, modelling storage, desk for working from home, and also as a guest room for visitors. Progress on his layout was halted whilst doing this, but it was worth it. Very worth it. I am likely to be moving house this summer: I am would consider space for building another cabin, or an attic, or a garage, for housing a layout and the lathe, but an absolute must is to be able to do basic modelling in the house, in a room where other members of the family are welcome to visit. Ideally, it would house a layout, too, but that’s not so important, as it turns out.


I have tried to leave a comment on a friend’s blog, but Google (who own Blogger) appears to want none of it, unless I allow them more access to my on-line activity than I wish to (you can have it, guys, but if you value it so much, pay me for it!). On another blog, a friend is finding that the ”improvements” to WordPress (which i am using here) are not so much ”feature-laden” as ”feature-heavy” to the point of toppling over. He was happy with Blogger, until Google started messing around with it, so he moved to WordPress, and now they have given him more complexity which he didn’t want and taken away the simplicity he craved and originally had, all without asking him because, hey, more is more, yes? No, less is more. More is less…

Anyway,I was struck by the simplicity and vital importance of this remark:
“I know you can’t go cheap with turnouts”

So true, also for benchwork. Especially so if in staging under the rest of the layout!

Virtually everything else on a layout can be upgrade over time as money (if that is what is needed) is an issue, but poor benchwork from lack of investment in a few simple tools and by buying poor materials, and poor track work, from poor quality workmanship or buying poor quality ready made components (bearing in mind the improvements over time in such things as wheel manufacturing) will only result in regret. Anything else can be replaced: equipment, scenics, structures, control systems, even wiring.

Money invested wisely now is sound investment in the future happiness of the hobby!

(Actually, I generally think that other than as temporary stand-ins for basic scenics and placeholders for structures, where hardshell+zip and cardboard boxes will suffice, respectively, buying anything that is sub-standard is a complete waste of money: fewer models of high quality is a better place to start!)

Let it be,



In a round-robin Email between a small group of friends (whom I like to think of as “The Unusual Suspects”) Matt LaChance, not even speaking in his mother tongue, came out with several superb insights, not least of which was this:

I’m still looking for my personal approach to this [for the] Temiscouata project even though I know deep inside all the key ingredients are there. Making a good layout right now would be easy, but making it a special layout with personality, that is something else. I have a blurry vision in my mind, I can almost feel on my neck the slightly chilly wind that sweep the St. John’s River valley, but have yet to translate it on the canvas.

Now, isn’t that a grand, poetic way to view the creation of a Model Railway?

That’s my emphasis, but what a great phrase, “a special layout with personality”.

When you think about it, isn’t that what precisely (and yet indefinably) defines a great layout?

Why raise an issue that isn’t there?

Over on his blog, Mike Cougill has been raising some interesting points about the diverse range of activities available to those who are interested in our hobby, and the similarly diverse level of involvement that enthusiasts can enjoy. Indeed, I would go so far as to include those with a “passive” level of engagement – you know, the so-called “armchair modellers” and indeed armchair critics.
So what, then, am I to make about the latest issue of the Model Railway Journal? I picked this up and saw that the “lead”/layout article was about Tony Wright’s “Little Bytham” (which is not far from where I live). Tony is an excellent modeller who knows what he wants from his hobby, and unlike all too many of us has set about arranging his life to achieve it. The results are impressive. I say that as someone who has no desire to in anyway approach what he has done (it simply doesn’t float my boat) and who looks at the photos and can see that the track is 00 and not EM or P4. Not a choice I would have made, personally, but Tony has built up a large collection of engines and rolling stock over the years, and as he was happy with 00 to begin with, and remains happy with it, he hasn’t changed. His train set, his choices, and he is happy to live with the compromises he has made in order to achieve his objectives. The track is well laid, and to reasonably fine standards in terms of clearances, and looks good, and by his own account it runs well. An LNER P2 (passenger train Mikado) with 13 coaches on can replicate the prototype’s performance by running through at a scale 90 miles per hour. Good. That means he has achieved his objective.
So why the cheap jibe that he hasn’t seen a P4 (4mm scale, 18.83mm track gauge) model do the same? Maybe such a layout doesn’t exist, but as long-standing readers of MRJ will know, Chris Pendlenton’s LNER A1 “heavy” pacific can reverse a rake of coaches through a crossover at speed, and with the elegance and grace only possible with fine track and wheel standards combined with sophisticated springing. Surely that’s a bigger test, but more importantly, doesn’t it just reflect the different choices made by another excellent modeller?