Enough Rope To Hang Myself

I was sixteen when the model railroad bug bit in earnest.  In the early years of the hobby EVERYTHING is interesting and we really want it all.  At that time my parents were on a two year overseas sabbatical and we lived in a small apartment.  Our Cape Cod house in the states, complete with basement, was rented out until our return.

While overseas, I poured through my Model Railroader magazines over and over until they were threadbare.  Since our apartment was small, and a temporary arrangement, I limited my hobby activities to building freight cars and small structures.  That was a productive enough use of my time.  So far, so good.   In retrospect I did have room for a small switching layout and should have built one as a learning platform.   We returned to the states my junior year of high school with my enthusiasm for the hobby at fever pitch and moved back into our old home.

That’s the point where my dad gave me the rope…enough to hang myself.  “I’ve been thinking.  We really aren’t using the basement that much.  I’ll tell you what, if you want a third of it for a layout, go for it.   I’ve got a lot of leftover lumber from my woodworking you can use for the bench work.”  Our basement was about forty feet long with a completely unobstructed run along one wall.

In a matter of days I had my track plan drawn up.   In this case the word ‘plan’ is a real stretch.  It certainly didn’t approach the most remote boundaries of anything that could be called a design with purpose.   I was going to fill every inch of that sucker up.  I’d read about hand laying track.  Nothing but the best for me, that’s the route I would take.  The fact that I hadn’t hand laid so much as an inch of track before was just a minor obstacle in my mind.   Having a forty foot long spaghetti bowl track arrangement laid tie by tie, spike by spike, that would be a sight to behold…onward soldier.

The bench work went up fast enough.  Soon, I was off and running to the next step, the track.   Hmmm, not as easy I thought.  After a few weeks I got the first turnout done.  Time to run a train through that turnout.  Well….that’s not working so well.  It looks like a turnout but is acting like a derail.   I’ll lay some flex track (which is what I should have done in the first place).  Some success, trains are running.  Second problem … where are they running to? The track plan was totally meaningless.

To make a long story short, the entire project collapsed under its own weight and complexity, lack of purpose, and wildly unrestrained ambitions.   It was a blessing though.  It was a critical lesson learned at an early age.

In terms of personality types I’ve been told I’m a “rescuer”, always trying to save people from themselves.    As you read through my blogs you might think I have something against large layouts,  I don’t….as long as the builder has some previous layouts under his belt and knows what he’s getting into.  Far too often though  I’m seeing an adult, new to the hobby,  stringing the proverbial rope up to my boyhood oak tree as they embark on that voyage to build the ‘huge dream layout’ as their first effort.    In these cases I typically have flashbacks to that first layout of my teenage years and have the impulse to scream “don’t do it. “    As I get older though I realize more and more you need to let people make mistakes and hopefully learn from them.   Some will leave the hobby in frustration, never to return.  Hopefully, more will learn from their missteps and adjust.