Monday, May 26, 2014

Less is more?

IT has been awhile since I last posted a report on the Bogong & Geehi. I would love to say that I have been madly working on the layout and I have lots of new things to show you.... but I would be lying if I did. Unfortunately life has been ridiculously busy over the last few months. Autumn is a very busy time on the farm with us sowing our crops. My wife has been travelling a lot for work and I have had a couple business trips as well. Add to this weekend sport for the kids and something has to give and that means the hobby has to take a back seat. It is right that family and business come before my hobby but the recent lack of time has meant that progress has been very slow.

This lack of action isn't all bad though. It has given me an opportunity to think about what I am trying to achieve and to review where I am at with the layout. When I started building this layout in February 2011 I had some very grand plans and some expectations that I now realise were unrealistic. I thought I would have all the track laid in 12 months and not the three years it actually took. I know I took some detours along the way but the reality of the workload of building a large layout by myself is really hitting home.

The recent inactivity has me thinking that some times less is more. It is a message that has been promoted by several blogs I read. Modellers like Trevor Marshall, Lance Mindheim & Mike Cougill have realised that time is often a limiting factor in our ability to build a layout and that a simple layout can be very satisfying.

This little station (yet to be named) was always going to be a simple passing track with a simple station, water tank and yet to be built set of stockyards. It is on a peninsula that is about 25 feet long and the only other structures is a farmyard and yet to be built farmhouse.
The scene above has come together reasonably quickly and I expect to finish it this winter. It won't take long to put a layer of static grass down and cover the hills with trees. The most time consuming task will be building the farmhouse. I have always planned for this scene to be reasonably empty and I am happy with how it looks. I wanted a spectator be able to stand at the end of the peninsula and feel like they are standing on the hill looking down a country valley. I had some guests this past weekend and it was a popular spot to watch the trains go by. It reinforced what I have been thinking lately that "less can be more".
Let me explain further what I mean. When I designed my layout there was lots of scenes and structures I wanted to include. With a reasonably large space it was easy to find room for lots of buildings and stuff that fills up the room. The irony is that most narrow gauge lines ran through country that was sparsely settled. Part of the attraction of modelling narrow gauge is little trains running through countryside that was reasonably empty - just like the scene above. When planning I had designed my towns to have lots of interesting buildings, in fact I need to scratch build another 60 to 70 structures to complete the layout. At the rate I am currently building there is a fair chance I will never finish the layout and that is a bit disheartening. 
So what does this mean for the rest of the layout? I could make the layout smaller or reduce the number of towns but most of the heavy work of bench work and track laying is done. Rebuilding the layout would only add to my workload.
Well what if I made my towns a lot simpler? They don't need to have lots of buildings to be attractive scenes. Would it matter if the stations were surrounded by grassy paddocks? Compared to building structures scenery is a quicker and lower cost alternative. Looking through my library it more common to see emptiness than lots of buildings. 
I have looked at each town on the layout to see what I need to have a satisfying layout and I have reduced the number of structures I NEED to build, to just 20. That is a number that I can achieve in a realistic time period. I can easily surround my towns with paddocks of static grass so that the layout will have a completed look a lot sooner. There is no reason that if in the future I want to add some more buildings I can't scrape away some grass and find a place for them.
So if you are still with me after this long ramble, by making the layout simpler I hope to have a satisfying layout that looks completed sooner. I want to take some self imposed pressure away so that I can enjoy myself which after all is what hobbies are supposed to be about.


  1. Hi Murray:
    This is a great example of smart thinking. I love the idea of taking an existing layout - with 60-70 structures planned - and knocking that number back to 20. I think you will be much, much happier with the result for several reasons:
    1 - You've just removed 67% of the pressure on you to get things done. It's a hobby, so it should be relaxing. And as you note, grass goes down really quickly.
    2 - Instead of building what will look like a model railway when it's done, you will instead end up with a model of a railway. Each scene will look much more realistic.
    3 - The structures you DO build will be better appreciated by your visitors, because they will not be placed in visually cluttered scenes. (And by doing fewer structures, you can focus more effort on making each one a masterpiece).
    I've thought about my own layout, and about what I would do if I had more space - and I realize I would resist temptation to fill it with busy scenes. Instead, I'd use the extra space to lengthen the mainline run between stations, broaden curves, and generally make the layout look more realistic. So I think you're on the right track - so to speak.
    Thanks too for the shout-out for my blog: Much appreciated. I have yours on my RSS reader and it's always great to see a post from you.
    - Trevor @ The Model Railway Show

    1. Hi Trevor,
      thanks so much for your thoughtful comments. I have enjoyed watching your layout build via your blog and it has proved to me that a simple layout can achieve a lot of what I want. You are right that I don't want to compromise on the build quality of either my structures or the layout on a whole. At my current stage of life the only way I can achieve that is to make things simpler.


    2. That's one of the reasons I'm building the layout that I am. I have a busy life outside of the layout room - and I'm not willing to give up those other things that keep me busy in order to spend more time working on the trains. So, a simple layout was the answer for me. (And it was immensely gratifying to build two turnouts in one evening, and realize I was 25% of the way to finishing turnouts.)
      Rather than adding complexity to my layout in the form of additional trackage or structures, I've been looking to the prototype to adopt operating practices that will extend an operating session - from an estimated 15 minutes if operated as a "train set" to 75-90 minutes if operated as a miniature of the real thing. So far, it's working for me.
      Keep posting - I'm enjoying your layout from the other side of the planet.
      - Trevor in Canada

  2. I did the same thing, I didn't want a complicated layout but a simple as it would appear in the real world. My grandfather was the track gang foreman at Beech Forrest in the 50's so I like to keep an eye on the narrow gauge Aussie stuff and your layout is something for us all to aspire too.

    1. Thanks for your kind words, John. I have had the pleasure of visiting Beech Forrest and your Grandfather would have had a big job looking after the track through that beautiful but rugged country

  3. The exact same thoughts haunted me for the last year. When I designed the new layout version, I reduced things to the minimum. As you said, most of the time, tracks are running through nothingness. Most stations are always lost in the middle of nowhere. Yes, they are in towns, but when you look around, with a model scale in mind, you quickly find out where trains are travelling isn't very build up, expect if you are doing an urban layout.

    Having reduced my ambition, I feel less pressure and more fun to do a good job on the significant things I have to do. Recently, I started to model a bridge scene. On paper, I drawn a lot of stuff, but when things started to take shape on the layout, I found out most of that wasn't needed. In fact, leaving thing more "empty" gave the impression the layout was in fact larger.

    You're definitely on the right track!

  4. Less is always more but why not start with a grass field around a station - enjoy the scene and have the town grow around the RR as it would have in real life - Gary