Friday, July 1, 2016

Reflections on layout visits

In this post, I want to offer a few thoughts about layout visits. Such visits may occur during open-house weekends, at model railroad conventions via bus or self-guided tours, or as part of operating weekends. Over the years, I have visited quite a lot of layouts in different parts of the country, and still have the feeling I recognized very early on, which is that I have never visited a single layout without getting at least one idea or seeing something clever, original or really well done. Even a “Plywood Pacific” may have intriguing track arrangements or operating wrinkles of interest.
     Last March, I participated in the Soundrail operating weekend in the Seattle area (and posted a brief description of some of the activities, which you can read at this link: ). In that post, I showed a photograph of a nicely done scenic detail on Roger Nulton’s layout, which really struck me as to how nicely observed and rendered it was. Also, I mentioned there the outstanding N scale layout of Jim Youngkins, and I saw a lot of terrific ideas that Jim has implemented on his layout. I will just show one of them here, an excellent schematic town map, on the fascia right at the town location, as an aid to switch crews. This does take up some fascia area, but is a great way to supply information. (You can click on the image to enlarge it.)

     It is always interesting, too, to observe the layout owner or host during such events, and to see how much and what kind of information about the layout is provided. Sometimes it is a multi-page handout, a timetable, or set of operating instructions; sometimes a single page; or it may be only verbal. Of course layouts vary in how complex is the intent, and how advanced is construction or experience with operating sessions.
     A year ago, my friend Paul Weiss, who has operated on my layout a few times, made an entertaining but, I think, perceptive comment on this topic (you can read his comment below this post about operating sessions: ). With Paul’s permission, I am going to expand a little on his remarks. He alluded to the common observation that for layout hosts, “when a layout is 80 percent scenicked, guests perceive it to be mostly done. And yet the host seems to feel it is less than half way there and kind of apologizes for what he perceives as 65 percent incompleteness. This could be termed the Host Incompleteness Perception, manifested, for example, as a single cardboard mockup building seeming (to the host) to block the dozens of scratchbuilt beauties nearby . . . but not really.”
     Paul also mentioned another syndrome that one may experience at operating sessions, what he termed “Host Flaw Hysteria,” in which even the most minor difficulty is perceived by the host as towering above the many aspects of the layout which do work and work well. The visiting operator naturally sees it the other way around. But Host Flaw Hysteria can work to advantage in motivating the host to be sure to correct, or at least minimize, those flaws before the next session.
     Paul also wisely observed that “the fun for guest operators can be directly a function of the humor, grace, and humility of the host. The very inconsequential problems that may bubble up create fodder for tiny jokes and trigger dialogue about potential causes and fixes. This dialogue, where the collective experience of the guests may happen to complement that of the host, leads to good ideas sometimes. The gracious host, always eager to learn more, encourages this and has fun with it. It makes the session very rich indeed.” I have seen the same climate develop at a number of operating sessions in which I was privileged to participate, and entirely agree with Paul about the outcome.
     I guess I continue to struggle with Host Flaw Hysteria, but am making progress on Host Incompleteness Perception. I don’t know what percentage of “completeness” I would assign to my layout, but nearly all track is installed and working, and a lot of scenery is done, along with most of the needed buildings. This photo at Shumala on my layout shows a reasonably complete scene, even though the host knows there are few things remaining to be done. This is the Surf turn doing some switching, behind an RSD-5 on this day.

     Layout visits, whether just for viewing or for operating, can be instructive as well as simply fun to look at. Look more closely and you will find any number of interesting and thought-provoking aspects to any layout. I enjoy learning from such visits, and expect to continue to do so.
Tony Thompson


  1. I too, enjoy layout visits, and I try to always express my appreciation to the owners for sharing their work. I love seeing new or different ideas, for instance, on both Jim's and Walt Huston's layouts, I was really struck with how well their dark green fascia's blended seamlessly in with their railroads. Indeed, I almost failed to notice their fascia's at all it was so well done! But I did note, and photographed Jim's town schematics for me to steal - er - borrow for my own layout.

    On a local layout that I op on each month, I try to acknowledge the various projects that Karin and Bob have done since the last session, and likewise, thank them for both their hospitality and for sharing their railroad with us operators!

  2. Good point, Brian, about thanking the layout owner for opening up for a visit. It is always appreciated, as I know from the times I have hosted open houses.
    Tony Thompson