Some lessons can only be learned the hard way, through experience and by doing.  My son is now a sophomore in high school and is at that age where he is increasingly interested in the dating ‘experience’.   Without exaggeration I think it’s fair to say he has his eye on a new female ‘person of interest’ every week.  A few weeks ago one of those ladies showed reciprocal interest and asked, ‘Oh, by the way, can I borrow fifteen dollars?”  Uh, oh.  You can see where this is going.  Sure enough, in short order said lady and his fifteen dollars were gone, never to be seen again.  Upon repeating the story at basketball practice the other dads were quick to put it in perspective by stating that as you get older the game doesn’t change but you can start adding zero’s after the fifteen.  Lesson learned and off he went, wiser for the experience.

The same applies to model railroading.  You simply can’t advance your skills without jumping in, building things, making mistakes and learning from them.  When you look at a well executed model or layout it has to be with the knowledge that it took a lot of missteps, twists, and turns for the builder to get to that level.

When I meet a new modeler I’m always curious about their layouts, past and present.  It’s fairly common to have the person look down, shuffle their feet and say with some discouragement that yes, they recently built a layout but it didn’t turnout out very well.    I’ll follow up with a question about what they mean by ‘not so well’.

“Well, the curves and turnouts were too tight, the trains constantly derailed, the aisles were too narrow, and the grades caused a lot of problems.  The hidden track was a pain and I laid a lot of track too far from the aisle.  The ¼” plywood I used for roadbed warped”.  They’ll say the layout was a ‘disaster’ or a ‘failure’.   After that experience they are reluctant to try again for fear of experiencing similar results.  Maybe they feel they don’t have the skills necessary to participate in the hobby and should consider a different pastime.  Maybe they should  play it safe from now on and just watch others participate.

In these cases the modeler is absolutely, dead wrong.  It wasn’t a disaster, or a failure.  Just as Thomas Edison discovered a thousand filaments that didn’t work in a light bulb, the modeler has taken the same path.

They learned an enormous amount from these early attempts.  If they were to try again, the next result would not only be better but light years better.  They’ve learned what they didn’t know.  They’ve learned where the trouble spots are.  Now they know what skills and knowledge gaps need to be filled.  These are all valuable lessons that could never be learned had they not built the ‘failure’.

After 35  five years in the hobby, I still find a lot of ways ‘not’ to do things, that is, I still make a lot of mistakes. If nothing else I discover a lot of things I’d do differently the next time.   The one thing I have learned is to practice on a scrap first so the mistake can be discarded without damaging a good model.

The mistakes of accomplished modelers won’t show up in magazines.  You only see the things that worked, not the five that didn’t.  What these modelers have done is noted past mistakes, adjusted, and tried again.

Don’t fall into the trap of not starting until you can achieve perfect results.  Don’t wait on perfection.  Jump in and enjoy the process.  Evaluate your results with dispassionate objectivity making mental (or written) notes on those things that worked and those that didn’t.   The key skill is to be able to recognize and make note of the mistakes.

Beating yourself up or giving up does no good.  Not doing anything for fear of making a mistake is far worse.  Look back on your past projects as valuable learning lessons necessary to move on to the next skill level.  If a layout didn’t turn out, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, make adjustments and get back in the saddle.