Monday, June 14, 2010

Model Railroad Lessons Learned #1: Anyone Can Do It

A scene from my first layout, the CP Rail Grimm
Valley Subdivision.

Reading Tony Koester's new book The Allegheny Midland: Lessons Learned, made me wonder what lessons I have learned over my 22 years in the hobby.

Looking back, I can say I have learned a few things, although none of them are nearly as deep or thoughtful as Tony's. But I have picked up a few lessons and tips while building two layouts; over the course of the next few postings I'll share a few.

1. Anyone can do it.

Today my layout is almost done, and I am quite proud of it. But 22 years ago, when I was ready to build my first "real" layout, I was as uncertain as any model railroad newbie could be.

I had no carpentry skills to speak of, and knew almost nothing about wiring, scenery or any of the other things needed to build a layout. All I had ever built before was an HO scale 4 by 8 layout on a sheet of plywood as a kid, and a tiny (and not very successful) N scale layout on a small table as a teenager.

I still remember how I felt before building my first layout, the CP Rail Grimm Valley Subdivision. I recall looking at my empty basement room with a sense of anticipation and dread: Excited to get going, but deeply afraid I couldn't pull it off.

Yet I did pull it off—twice. With help from friends, how-to books and magazines, I learned how to build benchwork, lay track, do wiring, make scenery, weather rolling stock, scratchbuild structures and many other things.

Did I make mistakes? You bet—lots of them. (You can't mix oil-based paint and Styrofoam, for example; ask me how I know.) But they were temporary bumps in the road, and opportunities to learn new lessons.

Not everyone has the space to build a layout as big as the CP Rail Manitoba & Minnesota Subdivision. But I'm convinced that everyone—no matter their skill level—can learn to build a layout, no matter how large or small, if they want.

I'm proof of that.

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