Sunday, September 19th, 2010

image of model railroad

Gloomy & wet all morning, cold and gray all afternoon – perfect day to stay in the basement, playing with trains. Haven’t done that in quite a long time, and the neglect is apparent in one glance at the layout: track torn up, box cars lying on their sides. You wouldn’t look at it and ask to take one of the choo-choos out for a spin. More like, ask for the phone number of a good insurance adjuster, or the name of the Hurricane that blew in the day before.

Cleaning up should have taken all day, but I managed to pack and stow several boxes of kits and wires, then clear off the layout right down to the table top, in just a couple hours. Then, standing back, I took a long look at the layout and thought about what I wanted to accomplish here.

When I began to build the Lost Continent Railway, I did it the way I learned from back when the boys and I set up our Lionel train set: we cleared a big, flat space in the middle of the floor to work in and started piecing together lengths of track. There was never any plan. So long as the train could go around and around, turn off on a siding, and maybe cross over so we could crash them once in a while, we had a great time with whatever emerged of its own accord.

That’s pretty much how I started building a model layout, too, although I did have one or two must-haves in mind. From the moment I started, for instance, I knew what I wanted was a layout that was all about passenger cars and steam engines. I pictured a passenger terminal tall and grand as a cathedral, with a shed over a dozen of sidings in a yard that would hold dozens of cars, and a long, sinuous track leading away from the terminal and wrapping its way around the rest of the layout.

On the way to that dream, I ran into a few road blocks: First, I don’t have a basement with enough space to build a layout vast enough to comfortably hold a broad, towering passenger terminal surrounded by long, sweeping curves of glistening track. We have boxes filled with stuff that we store in the basement, because piling them up around the walls of the living room would make us look like hoarders. I also have a small workshop in one corner of the basement where I can pound nails into lumber and otherwise perform small acts of mayhem that I pass off as maintenance on Our Humble O’Bode. I’ve had to scale back the model train layout a bit to fit into the remaining corner of the basement left over for it.

Second, even if I did have the space to build a layout as grand as my dreams, it turns out that a model railroad is a money monster almost as ravenous as a sailboat or a high-maintenance mistress. I don’t have even a tiny fraction of the disposable income I’d need to build the layout of my dreams. With what’s left over from my modest weekly allowance after I buy a six-pack of beer and take My Darling B out for pizza, I could put together a small passenger station with a pair of platforms where I’ve built up a yard on one end of the table. On the other end of the table I think I have enough room to shoehorn another four-track yard into the foreground where I can model a commissary and other buildings that would make up a passenger car servicing department. It’s all about passenger cars, after all.

I can almost see it, squinting my eyes while I gaze long and hard at the now-cleared table top. But for now, the cleanup will have to keep me happy until the next rainy day.

All the live-long day | 6:18 pm CST
Category: hobby | Tags: ,
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