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The Time to Learn is Now!

Model Railroad Design Service

The "Skills Builder" model railroad design above is meant to be a platform for learning the crucial skills you'll need to build a larger model railroad layout in the future. It will also give you insights into how long various tasks take which will result in much better designs when you are ready for your dream layout. The best time to start acquiring these skills is now, not at retirement.

Designs aren’t meant to be intellectual exercises nor are they meant to be wall art as per my previous blog. Their only purpose is to provide a roadmap for producing a layout that actually gets built. When you do eventually build that dream layout, the path should be one that is relatively free of obstacles and entail a layout construction process that proceeds smoothly without constant roadblocks. Construction momentum is crucial for maintaining morale and the lack thereof results in stagnation and frustration.

In order for all of this to happen, there has to be a mental link between understanding how long various model railroad construction tasks take (which is often far greater than you think going in) and your overall design. Therein lies a subtle problem, designing a layout that you don’t have the time or skills to build, a three headed monster that looks “artistic” on paper but collapses under its own weight when the rubber hits the road and construction starts.

How do you avoid the landmine of getting mired in the swamp of construction complexity? By gaining construction experience that gives you that A to B link in your mind as the design takes shape. “A” being the design element and “B” being the steps, skills, and time needed to build it.

Retirement, or partial retirement, often coincides with financial security, a nice layout space, and finally..... more free time, free time to finally build that dream layout you’ve always wanted. What happens though when those resources finally manifest themselves but the skills needed to make the dream a reality haven’t been acquired? Your options are: hire me to build it or part of it, start the learning process from ground zero, or simply not build the layout at all (which, sadly, is often what happens).

All of this can be avoided if you start acquiring the requisite modeling skills BEFORE retirement. Shown above is a basic “skills builder” design. As simple as it is, it would teach you many of the skills you’ll need to know when you have the resources to build a larger model railroad. Pick up some Sievers bench work. Paint the legs black. Lay your scenery base, get your hands dirty, and make your mistakes. Learn. Gain an understanding of how long individual tasks take. Take those locos out of the box, rev them up and run them. Bang some cars around. Have fun.

Basic skills you'll need include:

-Laying your scenery and track base (plywood and/or extruded foam)

-Laying cork (or other) roadbed

-Laying and working with track

-Possibly hand laying turnouts, a subject I see of growing interest among my clients. (It will take you several practice runs to get a useable turnout. After that it takes an experienced modeler a day or two to build each one)


-Turnout throw methods (finger flip, choke cable, or switch machine)

-Comfort with DCC systems and programming

-Of specific importance, gaining a sense for how long things take to build

Having this knowledge and experience is a powerful asset on several fronts. First, most people find it takes, far, far less layout than they thought to keep them blissfully occupied for years. Second, it keeps them out of trouble, from “outrunning their coverage”. By that I mean it reduces the chances of coming up with a design they can’t build. It keeps them from embarking on a path that’s going to end like the Titanic voyage. Having that A to B link of knowing how involved a modeling task is, multiplied by how many of those tasks there are, will result in a far better design, a design that is a better fit for you, and gives you the degree of enjoyment you envision.

As a side note, I have a five part book series on Amazon on designing and building small layouts that you may find helpful on your skills building journey.

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