It’s pretty easy to sub-consciously buy into conventional wisdom without thinking through whether such an approach actually applies to our situation. It may or may not. The expected lifespan of a layout is one such example. For many of us, when we set out to build a layout, it’s with the thought that it will be something that is around for a decade or longer. If the model railroad is of any size at all, it would certainly take that long to get it to completion. Several things can come up though that may such a long term approach an ill fit for some of us. Our lifestyle may change long before we get close to completion. Moving to a different house being a prime example. The more likely issue though is that our interests may change. Three years in, something that holds more appeal may catch our eye. If we are so committed to our one or two decade project we may have to constantly brush aside other opportunities. Finally, if we put any time at all into the hobby our skills will increase over time. Five years into a layout, it will become painfully obvious that the portion we are working on now looks substantially better than the initial work done with older skill sets. Over time that can begin to grate on you.
Here’s where I’m going with all of this. For many of us, consideration should be given to layouts with shorter life spans, say three to five years. By keeping the layout size and complexity manageable, we can get it up and running quickly, flog every ounce of fun out of it, and then move on to a new and exciting theme. Such an approach will keep us energized and excited. Shorter term layouts will be put together with a more consistent look because they represent a narrower band of our skills progression. Turnouts, trees, bench work, and electronics can generally be salvaged keeping the cost down. To be clear, I’m not talking about getting two months into a layout and then constantly changing your mind and never getting anything up and going. I’m talking about driving a manageable model railroad purposely towards completion in a medium time span, and then re-stoking the fires with a new project.