Tuesday, October 18, 2016

"Too Much" - Two Years Later

I just realized that this past Sunday, October 16, marks exactly two years since I had a minor meltdown crisis in the hobby. I was about to give it up - I'd gotten in over my head and felt overwhelmed by the scope of the project I'd started. I thought I'd taken on way too much.

This feeling of being overextended in the hobby is pretty common and is fueling the popularity of starting small(er) and building layouts that are actually achievable. Admittedly, setting realistic goals based on your available resources of time, money, and help is critical to avoiding the indigestion of biting off more than you can chew. But what if you find yourself already in the middle of a large layout project?

Thankfully, I came out of the other side of that long tunnel and actually managed to expand the layout (actually, almost doubled the size), thanks to a little a lot of pushing help from my friends. But I had to go through a bit of a mental process before proceeding. If any of this sounds familiar to you, and you're considering giving up, I hope you find this (re)post encouraging.

(originally posted 10/16/2014)

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. Chris -

    Boy, do I EVER know what you mean! I have not operated my layout since the NJ ProRail event in 2013! Yeah, THREE years, almost four! About a year and a half ago, I thought about repurposing the layout by not switching eras or railroad (thus saving serious $$) but rather locale and scope.
    You may have read it on my blog, but it would have meant "Byebye Jersey City, hello Allentown"...Basically, an industrial branch instead of a large yard for a layout. I would have kept the basic benchwork (again, saving those $$), but I would have been able to pare it down a great deal.
    I won't go into the details (again, its all on my blog), after a lot of soul searching, I have decided to give the current layout "one more go" after I finalize my parents estate early next year. If at that time I'm still unhappy, THEN I'll "abandon" the railroad and switch. But regardless of WHAT I do, at least I'll be doing SOMETHING, and that's what's important!

    1. Absolutely Ralph! Just Do It (with apologies to Nike) - I'm glad you're going to give the layout another go. Looking forward to following along on your blog! Thanks for taking the time to stop by and leave a comment!