The future home of the Kingston Subdivision… hopefully?
I’ve been a model railroader since I was four. Well, we got our first train set and put it on a sheet of plywood with a grass mat when I was four. I’ve known since then that one day I would build a model of the tracks between Toronto and Montreal, which I now know to be the Kingston Subdivision. I was scratchbuilding underbody equipment on passenger cars when I was 13, and as an adult I made model railroading my career.
And I am terrified of starting my layout.
So far the only action in the layout room is in this rod hockey game.
The Habs are beating the Leafs 8-0.
I have planned this layout for years. In my head, I have been thinking of ways to model the Kingston Sub seriously since I was about 12. We bought our house in 2007 and I have been planning my layout in great detail since then. Now, at age 38, the room has been built and I know exactly where each double slip switch will go, what my basic operating principle will be, what buildings I will need for my layout, etc. But I have been staring at an empty room for the last three months.
I printed out the layout plans and taped them to the wall.
Well, it’s almost like having a layout. Sort of. Not really.
I have visited so many model railroads, and every one amazes me. It amazes me that someone has managed to get over that hump, has got building, and has come up with something wonderful.
I think part of my fear is simply: what if I completely cock it up? Now I am no stranger to cocking things up. I had to redo just about every part of the coach in my basement two or three times because I had no clue what I was doing. But discovering I have to rip benchwork out after it’s got track and wiring and scenery and signals is, literally, a paralyzing thought.
Building a full-size VIA train in my basement was actually easier for me (despite the screw-ups) because it has never been done before. It’s OK to screw up when building a Canadian Car & Foundry (CC&F) coach vestibule – who else has built a CC&F vestibule except for CC&F? I made it up as I went along and in the end I was delighted with what I had accomplished.
A full size train vestibule: piece of cake compared to a model railroad.
Model railroading is a lot more complex than building a full-size train in your basement, believe it or not. I look at signal systems and think, “wow!” but then when the layout owner starts to explain how it works, the information goes right over my head. I look at the tangle of 8000 wires that someone like master builder Dave Gunn has under his layout and my first thought is, “if I run away now, I’ll never have to do this kind of wiring.”
And then, of course, there’s the “mine’s going to be different” dilemma. I see a layout that is flat as a board and I declare to myself that there won’t be an inch of flat ground on my layout. Right. That was dumb of me. There’s a reason that people use plywood, foam, etc. to build their layouts. Because then they actually build layouts instead of writing a blog about being afraid to start.
And then there’s the winter scenery. Dummy (that’s me) chose to model December, knowing full well that Dummy will be building bare trees into his 90s to put onto this hypothetical layout. Check that off as another excuse not to start.
And of course we can’t forget the sixteen double slip switches needed for my lowest deck. Dummy could have chosen any lovely stretch of the Kingston Sub, but Dummy decides he has to model downtown Toronto. Dummy now fears he won’t have his first operating session until he is 72.
Count the double slips! Oy vey, what a headache.
Photo courtesy Bill Morrison.
This leads to my biggest fear about building my layout. I love VIA trains. So I have fittingly decided to model the busiest passenger operations in Canada in VIA’s 35-year history: Toronto’s Union Station and Spadina Yard in 1980. I’ve devised an operating plan that involves making and breaking passenger trains, keeping in mind base consists, passenger counts, and motive power requirements. I’ve planned a western approach to Union Station that will allow operators to accurately recreate the 160-odd movements between the yard and the station every single day.
And I’m afraid that people will find it boring. Spadina-Union. Union-Spadina. Spadina-Union. “Anybody have a wayfreight I can run?” There’s a reason 99% of modellers focus on freight operations.
Pushing a Tempo to Union Station.
Photo courtesy Kaluza-Mueller Collection.
What do you do if you plan to build a specific layout for your entire life, you invest thousands of hours and thousands of dollars into it, and nobody enjoys operating it? I know this is what I want to build – there’s no question. I just hope it’s fun to play with, otherwise it will languish in the basement unused and unfinished and my wife will remind me with increasing frequency and vehemence that she “gave up a rec room for this.”
Hopefully by the time you read this I will have spent a couple of hours down there doing more than stare at the walls. I’ve got to just get it started, I know. But to all of you who have built a layout, you have my admiration. You’ve done something that, so far, I have only dreamed of. You have done something that I’m willing to wager more than half of North America’s model railroaders never actually get around to doing. You have accomplished something magical and I salute you.
Update: this morning (10 April) I spent more than two hours cutting wood and I have actually installed the first piece of benchwork on the Kingston Sub. I’ve called it Eunice. Eunice will support the west end of the west staging yard. It’s not much, but it’s a start!