Thursday, October 16, 2014

Too Much

I have a confession to make. I considered giving up the hobby recently. Now, lest you think me fickle, let me explain. My story might help if you've had the same feelings at some point.

After making lots of progress over the summer, I found that I'd hit a roadblock unlike others I've confronted before. Like many layout builders, I've had to work through a variety of obstacles, but this was different. I started getting this growing sense of dread just about every time I'd think of going into the basement. There was just Too Much. Too Much to do, Too Much to build, Too Much to plaster & paint. Just. Too. Much. Instead of being fun, the layout started feeling a lot like a second job.

Some folks embrace this - Tony Koester comes to mind - explicitly stating that you have to have the mind of a project manager in order to stay disciplined, on task, on budget, and on time, or else you'll never finish. This of course makes lots of sense considering the magnitude of the project he's taken on. But size of project is relative. Depending on the level of detail you want, for example, even a relatively small layout can become overwhelming. Either way, building a layout starts feeling a lot like work and you'd rather model from the armchair - or worse, watch TV - than go back to the basement.

Most folks - especially model railroaders - believe you can never have enough. You never have enough space, rolling stock, engines, etc. So whenever you can, you buy, Buy, BUY and if you're blessed with a large space - especially a basement - You Must Fill It with all the layout you can. Sound familiar?

But this is a grave mistake. You end up with Too Much - a basement full of benchwork, but no scenery; shelves full of kits, but never enough time to build them all; grandiose plans, but little enthusiasm or energy to seeing them through to completion. And the hobby press sometimes - perhaps unwittingly - adds to the discouragement by highlighting impossibly large, beautifully finished layouts.

Is it any wonder that, in trying to figure out how to convert one's growing pile of stuff to the masterpiece in one's mind, so many of us throw up our hands in frustration and begin looking longingly at the armchair?

That's where I've been lately, but I think I'm finally starting to come out of the funk. I just wish I'd paid attention to all the advice out there to start small, build modules, or - most drastic of all - do a "chainsaw layout." But while it's too late to start over - and yes, I've considered it - I can change my mindset about what I have. I can treat each town on my layout as its own module, and concentrate on that. That'd certainly be less overwhelming than feeling like I have to build, scenic, and "structurize" all the way from Hartford to Middletown all at once and right away.

You can even eat an elephant if you do it just one small bite at a time.

So, I've stepped back from the ledge of layout oblivion and have, hopefully, rediscovered some of the motivation I've lost. I've taken a deep breath, reminded myself that this is supposed to be a hobby, and am focusing on doing smaller sections - and smaller projects - one at a time.

A couple of other things have helped as well:
  • Seeing some layouts on Facebook and such that are more "accessible" - by which I mean, are in a state where I find myself thinking "hey, I could do that" rather than "OMG - I could never do that!"
  • Discovering some new photos of and information on the line I'm modeling, thus rekindling some of the passion for why I started this project in the first place (bonus: this can be one benefit of taking a sabbatical as an "armchair model railroader")
  • And, perhaps most important, calling on a few friends to help me out.  Too often we consider ourselves "lone wolf" modelers when sometimes - if not often - what we really need is the benefit of another set of eyes, another perspective, and - yes - another pair of hands helping out. I've been the beneficiary of this sort of help & support in the past; I just have to remember to tap into that whenever I'm feeling in a funk. Actually, that's pretty good advice for life generally. And with the internet and social networks, even the most remote of modelers can avoid being a lone wolf.
While you might sometimes find yourself under the burden of too much stuff to do on your layout, one thing you can truly never have too much of is the camaraderie, help, and support of your fellow model railroaders. Thanks to the readers & commenters on this blog - as well as to others who share their experience on their blogs, FB, etc. - for being such a big part of that network.

So stay tuned for more progress on The Valley Line - it may be a little slower, but it will hopefully be a lot more sure.


  1. Hi Chris:
    Although I have a small layout that appears to grow a bit every so often I look forward to a break from modeling during the late spring, summer and early I am up at the lake on my sailboat...I think I would feel the same as you by mid summer if I was plugging along on the layout 12 months a year. I currently am looking forward to get at it again as the boat cover is now on and once home from a fall road is good to take a break from time to time...all the best through the winter modeling season....George Dutka

    1. Thanks much for the encouragement George, and also for stopping by. I think you're right - sometimes a hiatus is just what's needed to recharge he enthusiasm. Looking forward to keeping up with your layout as you get back into modeling season!

  2. A friend of mine, who took early retirement and often fits modelling into the time he used to spend at work, has a prodigious output. However, a while back he faced a similar problem, so he took a break from it. The break turned out to be three months, but he wasn't concerned. As he put it to me, "This is a hobby. I shouldn't feel that I have to do things, so if I don't want to, I won't."

    That's a good mindset to have, I think. Model when you want to.


    1. Hi Simon and thanks for stopping by the blog and leaving a comment! I think your friend has just the right idea and there's a lot of wisdom in what he says. I'll try to remember it - it's very good advice! I hope you're enjoying the blog and will stop by often - and I hope to have some more progress to post soon!

  3. Chris, I know exactly what you mean. My hobby experience over the last (ugh!) four years has been one of constantly simplifying my layout - "Right Sizing" the layout for me at this point in my life is perhaps a better term. There have been times I've thought about stripping it out completely - the best thing to do at those points is to step away from it for a while. With the latest funk I indentified the things that were bothering me the most about the layout - in my case it was one of the towns that was too much track and the two staging yards. I've made the changes to the town, and know what I plan to do about the staging yards. I've also decided to give myself a break about all this - and suggest you do the same! Marty

    1. Yeah I'm with you - I've thought about stripping it out completely too. But you're right, time away seems to be the best and most common advice. I still can't believe you ripped out that 2nd deck after you built it. I'm still in awe and give you proper kudos for taking such bitter medicine. The fact that you made the right decision is evident in how much happier you are with the result - despite the latest funk! :^)

    2. I'll take the compliment - thanks. I wish I hadn't built the damn thing in the first place...

    3. Hey Marty - I'm just now replying, but have to say that when I first saw this comment of yours last Wednesday I about spit out my afternoon coffee! :^) Hope you just meant that 2nd deck and not the layout as a whole (or else we'll need a small intervention.... :^)

    4. Yes, I meant the top deck….
      Sorry if I made you spill coffee on your shirt….

  4. Chris,

    Even the late great John Allen got the funk now and then. Of course he was a bachelor with time and money and only had to work when he wanted, leaving plenty of modeling time. I have found my own modeling break built in by our weather in the Pacific NW - when it is sunny in the summer, get outside and work in the garden, mow, etc. But also, my youngest has a birthday in September, followed by my oldest in October, and recently I've been building Halloween props for our yard haunt, so that takes time away from the trains. At a recent ops event someone asked me what was new on my layout. My answer - dust!

    Glad you pulled yourself back from the edge. I enjoy your blog.


    1. Thanks so much for the reminder Galen - I didn't know that about John Allen, but that certainly puts me in good company. Having heard from a lot of folks on this post, it's clear that this is a pretty common affliction, which is encouraging. Thanks especially for taking the time to comment - I'm glad to hear you're enjoying the blog and hope you visit often. And I'll do my best to have some more progress for you to see too!