A Little Bit of History
I have to laugh when you watch those crime shows and they have somebody in the hot seat asking them where they were/what they were doing at 1pm six years ago. I couldn’t tell you what I was doing at 1 pm last Wednesday! From time to time people ask me about previous layouts, when they existed, and what happened to them. Surprisingly it took more digging than I expected to find some of the dates.
Monon Limestone Region
Throughout my twenties I’d pick up an occasional modeling magazine and go to a show now and then but wasn’t really actively engaged in the hobby. I’d rate my modeling skills at the time as “below average”. For whatever reason, sometime in ’93 or ’94, I was just sitting around and decided to build a layout. There was a spare bedroom serving as an office in my apartment that would work but only if the room could continue to serve its original purpose. To make this happen the layout had to be elevated to a whopping 70 inches off of the floor! Although it looked “o.k.” in all honesty it wasn’t that great of an effort. The bench work height was totally impractical and the handlaid track was constantly buckling. Two good things came out of it. First layouts are totally underrated in terms of the “launch” they provide into the hobby and this certainly served that purpose. Second, Model Railroader ran a short article on it. Out of that I met Paul Dolkos who did the photography. Paul became my modeling mentor, introduced me to his group of exceptionally talented friends, and is largely responsible for my transition from being a fairly bad modeler to a a much better one.
Monon N scale
By 1996 I found myself owning a basement with a roof on top (i.e. a home) and was ready to become more serious in my modeling efforts. I was totally mesmerized by the work of David Haines and the Reed brothers and elected to move to N scale. The N scale layout provided many years of enjoyment and was really my springboard into becoming a more well known modeler. As successful as it was, I made one major miscalculation with this layout and that was how “huge” N scale is. I had looked at my space with HO scale blinders on. An 18 by 18 foot space in HO is considered average size. It didn’t sink in during the planning stage, however, that in N scale the space was comparable to something almost 40′ by 40′! Massive! It was a double edged sword, enough space to do anything and enough space to hang myself. By 2004 I was growing weary of the maintenance and never ending laundry list of projects in front of me. I’d always been interested in Florida themes and began casually looking around for prototypes to model on a small scale. As my interest in Florida themes picked up, my interest in the Monon layout began to wane and it became dormant. In 2008 I tore it down, sold the rolling stock, and kept the structures. With the room gutted I prepped the space with drywall and better lighting.
Although I was interested in modeling a Florida theme, I was struggling finding one that was a good fit. As luck would have it, I met David Orr and Bill McCoy, former SAL employees, at the Cocoa Beach RPM meet in 2006. David and Bill gave me a detailed explanation of the Miami rail scene, explained how it met all of the criteria I was looking for, and provided me with a seemingly limitless supply of prototype data. I made a trip to Miami to check it out in person and East Rail was born! I had so much emotional investment in my Monon layout that I didn’t have the heart to tear it down. East Rail therefore occupied a corner of my shop while the Monon N scale lay dormant in my basement. In terms of enjoyment provided this tiny switching layout ended up being my most successful layout I’ve ever had. With the Florida “proof of concept” established, I was ready to rip out the Monon layout and construct a much more developed Florida switching layout in it’s location, in this case The Downtown Spur. I sold the East Rail layout to Greg Luers, who transported it to Indiana and has maintained it in pristine condition.
The Downtown Spur is my “main” layout at this time. Although I haven’t written much about it on my blog lately, I still run it frequently. It’s about three fourths “done”. The LAJ layout is a side fling which I expect to wrap up in a year or so. At that point I’ll pick up the unfinished projects with the Spur. In terms of planning, modeling execution, and enjoyment I’d consider the Spur one of my best efforts. That said, it’s offbeat theme has proven to be a relatively unpopular “yawner” within the modeling community. Oh well, even ugly dogs are adored by their owners! After struggling so hard with the 1950’s research constraints of the Monon layout it’s been a joy to have a seemingly endless supply of prototype information as the basis for a layout.
As I mentioned, the LAJ is sort of a fling. I’ve been fascinated with the prototype since I was a teen and always wanted to model it in some form. Located in a now vacant bedroom it gives me a taste of LA while providing a test bed for new modeling ideas.
After taking a breather from the spur layout while I putter with the LAJ, my plan is to move back to the many unfinished projects and scenes on the Downtown Spur layout. I’d guess I have about three more years I’d like to dedicate to it before moving on to the next idea.
A Little Perspective
Looking back on this long journey it’s been a path that started out with, to be blunt, being a relatively shitty modeler to one of being much better. A path that snared many lifelong friendships along the way. If I had to pick the four things that ultimately led to achieving better modeling results they would be:
- I wanted to be better. It’s as simple as that. You can’t achieve something if you don’t have the desire to do so.
- Persistence. It’s been 22 years and I stuck with it.
- Great mentors. Part by luck, part through conscious effort to seek them out, I’ve had some great teachers. You can’t do it alone. Every skill I’ve picked up I learned from somebody else.
- Being a “doer”. Endless chat room and internet surfing, writing long winded, philosophical missives on forums about the latest conspiracy, analysis paralysis, none of that ends up in a physically tangible result. You need to turn off the computer, pick up the glue bottle, put in your best effort, and adjust as you go.