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An Introduction

Keith Addenbrooke



Railway modelling is mainly a Spring and Summer hobby for me.  Autumn and Winter bring busier times, and as much of my modelling takes place outside (benchwork, paint spraying and big sticky jobs), or inside with the window open for ventilation (gluing and painting), free winter evenings are often spent on research and reflection.


I enjoy exploring fresh ideas, dreaming up new projects and shopping around for bits and pieces.  I've discovered I also enjoy writing about railway modelling, sharing and learning from those with more experience.  Tidying up my current Project Threads for American HO and Narrow Gauge H0e / HOn30 at the end of my modelling season doesn't mean I stop reading, watching or thinking about model railways, so I'd like to use this blog for my onward journey.


In my previous RMweb blog I considered why I don't get layouts built, despite (or perhaps: because of) all the ideas I have.  While Narrow Gauge modelling keeps me occupied, and I have a TT diorama to finish, I still dream about that more elusive goal of a fully sceniced model railway.  But another year has passed without a layout.  So where will I go from here?


I 'finished' my modelling year with a display of some my kit and scratchbuilt rolling stock and structures at our local 009 Society Group meeting in early November:




What about my Standard Gauge interests and layout project ideas?  I'll start with my long standing interest in American HO:


Chapter 1 - American HO: "If only I'd known this years ago..."

A short while ago I came across this blog post from American author and custom layout builder Lance Mindheim:  "Defining Model Railroad Design Success".  Two quotes jumped out at me.  The first explains why so many wannabe layout builders like me find it hard to really get started:


"...there is what they “think” is the absolute bare minimum scope they need in order to motivate them to build something/anything. On the other side of balance is their actual level of time/energy/focus level. The problem is the two don’t match...


while the second offered a way out of the trap:


"...understanding how to be satisfied with less.  Less doesn't mean less sophisticated and it doesn't mean "settling"..."


As I noted when I referred to this discovery in my current American HO thread: "Perhaps I should send it round to everyone who has helped me with all the different ideas I've explored with a heartfelt apology? I may now finally get it!"


Although I've been refining my goals and objectives for a while, Mindheim's succinct summary hit home.  While I've often thought (and written) about achievable layouts and have my own "two locomotive rule" to manage my budget when getting started on an idea, I've not found a way to limit my ambitions once I get interested in a topic.  I invariably end up doing exactly what I shouldn't: setting a bare minimum for a layout idea that exceeds my practical maximum.  So I stop.  Again.


How can I become both satisfied and motivated with 'less'?  Not for the first time, @James Hilton has come to my rescue (there's someone I owe a pint or two if we ever meet).  His latest "Hilton and Mears" YouTube Video: "Just Four" helped:



It's another brilliantly simple concept for people like me with limited space (and budgets): you only really need four different locomotives for a small switching layout, or for each area of interest you have.  Doesn't have to be four, but then again, why not?  If that's a limit I'm going to set for myself, it may help keep my ideas manageable, and focus on building (not shopping).


Choosing four for me was too easy:




Two recently bought as new Kato GP-35s in perfect condition for my favourite American railroad, the Santa Fe.  I like passenger trains, so my Budd RDC-2 is another easy choice - it's another perfect runner.  The Baltimore & Ohio livery wouldn't have been my first choice, but this was a bargain too good to miss, and definitely a keeper.  My Atlas Bangor and Aroostook GP7 is the outlier, but it's another excellent loco I got for a bargain price in what I think is a very nice livery.


A close fifth was my Burlington SD7, but after giving it some careful thought over a few days, I decided I'd stick with four.  Trading the SD7 (which I bought unused and have hardly touched) will also help free up funds for my other projects:




A major factor in my thinking was that I'm concentrating my interests better: on the Santa Fe and the North East.


But I've been considering the Alaska Railroad as an alternative to the mountainous European railways I like.  Where does this leave the Alaska Railroad plan?  Here I've been helped by a couple of YouTube videos from an unlikely source: Dave Meeks' Thunder Mesa Studio.  The first is this one - and I'm talking about the number one thing on his list of ten:



The section starting around 20.45 covers the key question: "What story do you want to tell?"  I think it's a fantastic way to phrase the central consideration, irrespective of scale, gauge, prototype or era (the video explains it better than I could!).


While I've previously asked myself what's the vision? the idea of story helps bring a project to life (it won't be the same for everyone).  What do I see as the centrepiece of an American HO layout?  For me it's a Walthers' Concrete Grain Elevator:




While the Alaska Railroad is fascinating, all the pictures of concrete grain elevators I've seen turned out to be different angles looking at the same one - a redundant failure of an attempt to develop a grain industry in Alaska.


Although I'm impressed with the Alaska Railroad Panorama cars, they're not my absolute top priority:




If I don't pursue an Alaska Railroad Project, am I just repeating my all-too-common mistake of enthusiastically buying into a new idea, only to abandon it shortly afterwards.  People who know me will say that's actually not in my personality at all!


Yet my project list for the past couple of years does look like that.  It's partly as I buy almost exclusively second hand.  I put together some key items before proper research, just in case they've sold by the time I reach my go / no go decision.  It's not always the best approach, and not one I'd recommend, but I have tried some nice ideas I'd otherwise have left untouched.


There's also a possibility we may move house, so I now need to ensure my project list only carries ideas I'd want to follow through irrespective of whatever space I may (or may not) have.  The stuff I'm keeping reflects interests I've had for a while (or longer).  I think that's important.


In June 2020 I wrote a short post in the Layout & Track Design Forum on the benefits of a clear out , but what I overlooked was my ability to rebuild my stash faster and faster each time I've tried something new since.  Which show my naivety!


Another YouTube video from the Thunder Mesa Studio that has also made me think is this one.  I'd say it's well worth a watch for anyone finding themselves stuck in a bit of a layout rut - with a project they like but isn't progressing:



While I don't model in On30 (that's not the point) and I don't have either that kind of space or a layout to redesign, what I found helpful was the focus on keeping what's most important, but using it better rather than starting over.


So that's where I'm at with American HO.  Just that bit leaner and fitter, ready for next season when the Spring comes.  Nothing new...well, apart from this bargain mint condition InterMountain 60' boxcar that came today:




In my next post, I'll return once again to that other great unrealised interest of mine: Continental modelling.  Until then, I hope my ramblings give some food for thought - and as always, discussion is welcome.  Thanks for taking a look, Keith.


Edited by Keith Addenbrooke

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Thanks for the nod Keith - and interesting read! Always good to spend longer on something like this, more like proper blogging than forum and Facebook - good luck with whatever comes next!

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Interesting and thoughtful words as ever Keith. I must admit I do admire modellers who can limit their imodelling to one line on a particular date or similar but for me and no doubt others there is a smorgas board of modelling out there to try!  Never seen an epitaph that read ' Wished they had spent less time model making!' There is a danger, especially in this internet age, that we can get over whelmed with ideas, views, advice, prototypes, etc. and end up achieving very little because our minds try to process all that is before us and we actually almost give up! For me one of the more liberating reviews I had on my own personal model making some years ago was captured in my 009 layout Chalkdon that I first just called For the Fun of it. It is one of the few layouts that I have built that has nearly got to the stage of being finished. Having got to an age where my years left are limited and with an interest in so many aspects of model making I have to accept that in many ways I don't have time to be too fussy about what I model so, as long as I enjoy it and it gives me satisfaction and a buzz then I am getting what I want out of my model making time. 

We are all different but most of us have a stash of models for that one day layout which for many of us will never happen but it is also fun to dream! You do have a great taste in the models you choose!

Apologies for the rambling nature of the above but trust at least some of it makes sense!


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Very interesting Keith. We move around with my work so are never anywhere for very long. Mindheim’s summary is fabulous and diagnoses the root of many failed projects. Recently I have decided to curb my ambitions and focus on one 4 x 1 board which I know I can store, know I can build, and know I will have time to lift down and operate. My own niche is 5’3” Irish modelling which means basically building everything myself from track to stock. I really enjoy this though - more than operating. I used to find running trains really boring - perhaps because I had no concept of using a timetable or having a purpose for each movement. We have such a wonderful hobby with so many areas to develop - and we all like different areas. It’s a bit like how CS Lewis described Christianity - a big central corridor with lots of rooms off it! Forums like this are great for showing us that there is lots of scope for anyone to do modelling - it’s a case of finding your place within the discipline.

Edited by Irish Padre
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I like the "what story" idea. An excellent question.


My ambitions have always been far ahead of what I can afford, build and have room for. For a long time I was hoarding, plotting and experimenting for a large N gauge layout that would be built "when we moved", something that was a long-time aim. I rediscovered my childhood trains and thought "what the hell" and filled the garage with them. We still haven't moved but I've had a lot of fun so far.


Like most people I have a collection of projects awaiting the right time and others that have stalled for one reason or another. Sometimes I clear one or more of them out and shortly afterwards regret it. It is just so hard to resist new distractions. N6.5 anyone?

Edited by ian
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