Bigger and Better (Well… Bigger, Anyway)

I’ve been thinking about the hobby as a whole, and what my long-term aspirations are. The inglenook that I’ve built will be loads of fun, but at some point I know I will outgrow it (operationally and spatially). The intent of the inglenook–to build something portable and bulletproof, came about because I knew it will have to be moved around a lot. It’s been housed in a corner, but to really use it–to admire it–I have to pull it out from the corner and put it back when I’m done. With the bookshelves, desk, chairs, and other items in the room, there is simply no space for it.

Here I am, building fairly intricate models–which means the inglenook is intended for display as well as operation–only to slide the whole thing into an awkward corner when I’m done, where it is partially concealed by a bookcase. I expressed this concern to my wife recently. Well, I didn’t say anything about it, but she knows. She has caught me gazing wistfully at the latest Model Rail magazine, opened to a two-page spread of some massive layout. Last weekend, while I was out playing Magic: The Gathering with a couple of friends, she and my son spent a couple of hours rearranging the room in such a way that the inglenook was no longer in the… well… in the nook. It was a meaningful gesture. However, the rest of the room is rather crowded now, and now my desk is shoved into an awkward corner.

A few days later, I was contemplating this problem while leafing through issue 232 of Model Rail magazine. I found myself staring at a diagram of the Hemyock terminus of the Culm Valley Light Railway, admiring it, and–in the back of my mind–wondering how much space it would take up in N scale.

Culm Valley

Hemyock terminus as ‘advertised’ in Model Rail magazine.

Suddenly, I had a rare moment of self-awareness. I could spend my whole life waiting to build that ‘dream layout.’ Or I could stop dreaming and find a way to make more room and build it soon.

Making more room is not easy when you’re renting. I would love a shed in the backyard where I can run trains all day, but my backyard is shared, and the shed is leaky, filled with rock salt and rakes (and my old, rotten layout). All our closets are utilized, all our space is being used for this or that. It isn’t cluttered, per se, but I’d like to keep it that way. So, I will have to get rid of something big. Something that takes up about 5′ x 1.33′ (yes, that’s the space I anticipate I could squeeze Hemyock into, if the headshunt could be removed). Or, I could start thinking in terms of urban planning, and build up.

A couple of years ago, my wife was lamenting how much she hated my ponderous bookcases. Not the books (we both love our books) but the cases themselves. They are dark, cherry-laminated, particle-board monsters. I purchased them seven or eight years ago from an office-supply retailer, and paid more for them than they are worth. The shelves are bowing, the laminate is chipping, and they weigh a ton (even without the books). One is 7′ tall and 3.5′ wide, the other is 3′ tall, same width. In order to build a larger layout, these bookcases would need to go.

Q. But what would I do with all those books?
A. Easy: build a new bookcase.

Q. But how will that make more room for a model train layout?
A. Easy: build it on top of the bookcase.

I proposed this idea to my wife, and she seemed skeptical at first. After all, I haven’t finished the inglenook I’ve already started, and I didn’t finish the larger layout I started years ago (and which I literally left to rot). She’s right, and I was already wrestling with those thoughts. However, I’m not planning to discard my inglenook–I can tuck it away easily enough, and can use it to practice modeling techniques, etc. I may even bring it to the office as the good Lord intended, and attach it like a module to the layout we are building there. As for my old, discarded layout… well, that still haunts me, but I don’t think I would have thrown it in the shed if it didn’t seem so out of place–so in the way–once we started accumulating other furnishings (we had recently moved, and didn’t even have a sofa when I built it).

I spent the past 24 hours planning and estimating the costs of building a bookcase with a 5′ x 1.33′ removable top, and came up with the following plan (sorry for the poor lighting):

$134.00 for the whole shebang (minus track, structures, and scenery)? Not bad. It won’t be built with premium lumber, but who will notice after some filler and a nice coat of paint?

When my wife saw how much care I was taking to draft a plan, she gave her full consent. I don’t have the ability to run out and purchase everything right away, but I have plenty to do in the meantime (continuing work on the brewery, in particular).

I have also been working out a track plan based on Hemyock, with plenty of liberties taken. I will post that shortly.

2 thoughts on “Bigger and Better (Well… Bigger, Anyway)

  1. Alas, it sounds like the ultimate solution might be buying a house. It could solve your problems three-fold : 1) You’ll have plenty of space to set-up and spread-out a work-space and display-space, however… 2) You’ll be too busy with various house-projects/maintenance and 3) Too broke to have any extra money for hobbies. WIN-LOSE-LOSE! Hmm, maybe that isn’t the answer after all…

    Humor aside, it’s unique for me to see someone like yourself who is seemingly using the existence of the train + tracks as the catalyst to delve more into your higher interest of modeling (specifically “historically accurate modeling”) vs. approaching it the other way around (which I’d consider to be “the norm”). In my head, I think I’m always chasing the idea of a completed layout where I can sit back and enjoy a train meandering around a loop of some kind while I reminisce about the individual pieces and parts along the route (a collection of narratives, if you will). In all of the layouts (and proposed layouts) I’ve seen of yours, there’s really not much in the way of “moving train excitement”. Yet, the attention to detail you show in your modeling is extremely satisfying to follow and seems to make up for the lack of track.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Sean–glad you’ve been enjoying my posts. Sometimes I feel like I’m documenting “what ifs” more than “have dones” so it is nice to know that there are some satisfying aspects of the blog.

      Funny you should mention buying a house–the “American dream” has been an occasional hot topic for my wife and I (and our son, too), but our reasons for not buying are manifold, and largely revolve around the fact that we are both more interested in pursuing our hobbies than we are in owning a space that requires time and money to maintain (e.g. my wife owns a horse–her major hobby–and would continue to board him elsewhere even if we owned property on which to keep him, because she doesn’t have to worry about the “maintenance” stuff). Really, renting is the reason I am able to indulge in my hobbies as much as I do. If I had to give up “time,” “money,” or “space” for modelling, I would choose “space,” because–as you pointed out–I gravitate toward smaller layouts anyhow.

      You are right to note that my interests lie in details of operation, and not in continuously running loops of track. I wouldn’t go so far as to acknowledge the historical accuracy of the kind of switching I am doing (which is more akin to operating a slide puzzle than an actual rail-yard), but I am increasingly interested in modelling a scene in which the ‘broad-strokes’ are grounded in history. In fact, I could say the same for almost all of my hobbies. Modelling, for me, is really just a reason to indulge in my REAL hobby, which is research (but “research” in the mode of literary studies, not rivet-counting or civil engineering–because, like you, I also like to create a narrative of sorts).


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