How's this? In the seminal movie classic "Monty Python and the Holy Grail", the knights' quest takes them to a towering castle facade. Each knight exclaims in turn...Camelot! Camelot! Camelot! A realist, the coconut-clopping patsy named Patsy, played by Terry Gilliam, derisively speaks his only line in the entire movie, "It's only a model." Finally, a realist.
And this? Our local newspaper includes the jottings of a religion columnist - a retired minister - who doesn't write about religion so much as he writes about his doubts about religion. In the spirit of both these viewpoints, I present my derisively-doubting realist approach to ten model railroad myths that are held up to us as the holy grail - but are really only facades.
I humbly present each myth, followed by a likely comeback from a hypothetical proponent, and my comeback to that comeback.
Myth 1: First, prepare the room! Paint. Install lighting. Hang valances. Build benchwork you can have a barn dance on. Lay roadbed, thereby forever condemning yourself to not easily changing your trackplan. Build fascia that dominates the scene and may diminish viewing of the trains. By the time all this is done, your enthusiasm is gone as is the chance of ever changing your trackplan. Build fascia that dominates the scene and may diminish viewing of the trains. By the time all this is done, your enthusiasm is gone and the chance of ever finishing this model empire is Slim to Nil. And Slim just left town.
Comeback - a beautifully-appointed layout room begets a great layout.
My comeback - a beautifully-appointed room can still house an incomplete, unsatisfying layout.
Myth 2: Big staging is critical to good operation. Noooo!
Comeback - we need staging to organize our trains before we 'bring them onstage.'
My comeback - unless yours is a really large layout, no ya don't. Build a yard, call it a yard, use it as a yard.
Comeback - these are limited-run items and I don't want to miss out.
My comeback - buy one locomotive and five cars. Have fun with them first.
Myth 4: Multi-level layouts provide more realistic-length train runs and operation. No, they may make you into a contortionist who has to bend down to knee height or stand on a step-stool to reach your train. Every layout does not need a helix!
Comeback - I need multiple levels to have more operation.
My comeback - Have you ever seen a multi-level prototype? OK, here's one, a copper mine:
Myth 5: Kadee couplers and uncoupling tools are the most realistic means of coupling and uncoupling. Have you ever seen a giant uncoupling tool come down out of the sky on the prototype?
Comeback - You use X2F couplers and I've never seen a giant 0-5-0 hand come down out of the sky and lift a car up to uncouple it!
My comeback - well, that's true. But I don't have to look for an uncoupling tool every time I am switching.
Comeback - why limit myself? I want big scope and the ability to model areas that are widely-separated geographically but still interest me.
My comeback - nobody will believe it, unless you are building a Disney-sized attraction in a building the size of Costco.
Myth 7: Great layouts need to be replicated on my layout. Be careful of this one. Are you creating your own layout? Or are you reproducing someone else's locale, concept, trackplan and/or the 'look' of their layout?
Comeback - the experts have some great ideas that I want to incorporate.
My comeback - do so! Just don't let your layout use someone else's layout as a prototype.
Myth 8: I am still refining my layout's trackplan using software brand X, specifically created for this purpose. Don't spend too long - you'll get bogged down as you drag curvaceous curly-cues all over your computer screen, and you won't even make it to the step in Myth 1 above. Either draw it on a cocktail napkin or just start building it.
Comeback - I need this computer-generated design so that I can guild my ridiculously-cetailed cardboard mockup of my layout room - the next step in the design process.
My comeback - that will keep you farther away than ever from reaching the step in Myth 1.
Myth 9 - I need car reversible car-cards with those little mini-cards showing lading, one for every car, so that each car has a believable origin and destination. Why limit yourself? Come up with your own operation system that is flexible and fun, easy, and likely much cheaper. Are you a gamer, or are you a model railroader, after all?
Comeback - I need my car cards, the fascia pockets to put them in, I need to hold them, my uncoupling tool and my throttle in my hands at all times.
My comeback - you are not a squirrel gathering nuts here. The train will run whether you have all the car cards in hand or not.
Myth 10: It's only craftsman structure kits for my layout. Expensive ones with excruciatingly exact detail. Are you building a diorama or a model railroad here? Decide!
Comeback - I enjoy building scintillating scale structures and they're necessary for prototype fidelity.
My comeback - build structures that represent your interest and add inexpensively to the feel of your layout. And for goodness' sake, if you do build nice kits, especially back-dated period structures, don't use Helvetica rub-on lettering to add the company name. This goes for cutesy names like I.M. Offal Meat Packing Company!
So that's it. Consider false-front buildings. Lots of western towns had them. They made buildings look imposing from the dusty street, but in reality they were just regular buildings with imposing fronts. Look past model railroad myths, just as you would a false front building. Get behind the facade and think. Consider whether it's a myth or reality, then really enjoy your model railway!
I can operate the Super Continental on the floor with my cat watching, capture it on video and post it on Youtube. This is actually true. A loyal Trackside Treasure reader has done just that, and it allows him and his viewers alike to relish the memories of the early VIA Rail era while getting scale wheels rolling. Well done!
Full disclosure: I've been a model railroader for decades. I've read and re-read stacks of model railway magazines. I've clipped articles about modelling ideas that interest me. Lots of stuff that doesn't goes right in the blue recycling box. I've built a few HO-scale layouts. They're not the world's best, but I have run thousands of trains, around and around or back-and-forth. And I've loved doing it. You don't have to be exactly like me, or share all my opinions, but consider some of the above. Keep moving along the mainline to modelling enjoyment!