Sunday, May 11, 2014

Moving from collecting to operating

Some two and a half years ago, I ruminated in this blog about the differences in model railroading between collecting and operating (the post can be found here: ). I mention that post because a similar topic came up during one of the operating sessions a few weeks ago, at the Layout Design and Operations Weekend in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I had been invited to attend and give a couple of talks, and as I expected, I greatly enjoyed the operating sessions on some outstanding layouts.
     The discussion I’m referring to arose among some of us at one of the operating sessions. The topic was the changes a modeler may make in the process of moving from not having a layout (or not having even planned one), to putting a layout into use, and eventually to refining and focusing the operation scheme for the layout. Specifically, the changes we discussed were in how rolling stock, both locomotives and cars, is chosen or, if already obtained, selected for retention.
     A beginning modeler often simply chooses whatever is appealing. Era is often not a consideration, so a UP Challenger and an SD70ACe might both be acquired. And there are collectors and armchair enthusiasts who may not change from that approach, and have a lot of fun with the variety they accumulate.
     If the collection gets kind of large, or if the collector finds a certain gravitation toward some eras or railroads more than others, or even starts to think about a layout, this can get more focused. Things wildly discrepant may be sold off, or placed in a display case, and a definite theme can emerge in what is newly acquired. But the collection may still be rather generally oriented.
     A layout planning episode can really change all this. Having to choose one part of the country, or one railroad, or one era, can all act to narrow the focus, and once again, some aspects of what has been and is collected begin to look like not fitting with the plan. And of course, new acquisitions now take place in the light of the direction of planning.
     I should hasten to say that I don’t imagine all this as a fixed sequence, nor that any one “stage” is superior to another, only that a sequence of stages somewhat like this is reported by a number of people I know.
     A final stage can emerge, in which even the broad layout plan has begun to result in too many of something, or planned refinements begin to seem unattractive. I have a friend who shall remain nameless, whose layout was developing nicely, well focused on a particular railroad, except that it is set in an area fairly far from a second railroad which my friend also wanted to model. His plan had been to “imagineer” a kind of run-through arrangement, in which trains of that second railroad would in fact traverse the rails of the first railroad, thus permitting locomotives, cabooses, and specialized rolling stock of that second road to be built and operated. He has now reluctantly faced up to the unrealism of this idea, and has decided to stick to a narrower layout perspective.
     Is this a mistake? Obviously a layout builder can imagineer anything he or she wants. As the old saying has it, “it’s my layout and I can run it any way I want.” But I happen to hold with Tony Koester’s response to that saying, which essentially is that you certainly can have fun with models of trains any way you want, but if it’s not actually realistic, don’t confuse it with modeling a railroad.
     This is why operating a layout, or planning carefully to do so, will bring to light inconsistencies or anachronisms in one’s collection of cars or locomotives or structures or even scenic locations. Then what? I have a display case, which is one solution for those rolling stock items which just cannot be on the layout.
     I find myself occasionally deciding that something I have built, or intended to build, really doesn’t fit after all. Sometimes it’s a wrench. Years ago I bought the Durango Press kit (their DP-19) for an 1887-built depot called The Palms, that served Pacific Electric  for many years, because it’s really a delightful small structure.

But you know, it just doesn’t make any sense in the Central California setting of my layout. I guess it will have to find a new home, likely on eBay.
Tony Thompson

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