Common mistakes and oversights by beginning layout planners

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Common mistakes and oversights by beginning layout planners

Beginning layout planners often make more than one mistake. That is the nature of this and probably every other hobby. Accept it. That you are reading this primer is a good indication that you might make a few less mistakes than the other fellow.


The first mistake beginning layout planners make is to fail to plan adequately. They are in such a rush to get a train running that their planning is only cursory. However, don't take this advice as a license to never build a layout because you have spent a lifetime in the planning stages.


The second major mistake is to fail to adequately prepare your layout room in terms of creature comforts such as adequate lighting and ventilation. This is among the most common mistakes. Failing to adequate prepare your room will make it miserable for you to work on the layout. This failure will also handicap you in you efforts to enjoy the layout once it is built. Your visitors won't want to stay very long in the room either. Other chapters of this primer adequately address this and should be carefully consulted.


A third mistake is to fail to research the prototype. This research takes time and effort. Failing to do so, especially when so many resoources are now available on the internet, robs the prototype layout of validity. Research should not be short-changed even if you are free-lancing. A free-lanced railroad will require research too if it is to be credible. Just don't let research be an excuse for never getting started on the construction of your layout.


A fourth mistake is to fail to respect the pluses and minuses of the often-useful helix. Helixes are fraught with as many hazards as they provide benefits. My chapter in this Primer on the pros and cons of helixes may help you understand these issues.


The fifth and possibly most fatal mistake is to plan for a layout that is beyond your modeling and/or physical capabilities. Ian Rice makes this point in his book about mid sized railroads. Be realistic about your modeling skills. Don't be ashamed to make swaps. If you have plenty of money and precious time, pay folks to build those things that either do not give you pleasure or are beyond your skill levels. If you make friends easily don't be shy about asking your friends to help you where your mechanical skills are lacking. Take inspiration from the too-many-to-name modelers in England and the Continent whose small layouts are superb and give their builders countless hours of enjoyment. Too many modelers have never gotten started on their layout because they realized that they had planned for a masterpiece far beyond their abilities.


The sixth mistake is like the other side of the coin of mistake number five. This sixth mistake is to plan for a layout that is so simple that once it is built it offers no operational interest and is quickly abandoned. Take your time planning your layout and get input from others who are knowledgeable.


A seventh mistake is to plan a layout that your wallet can just cannot afford. Remember this is your layout. Your friends may have spectacular ideas for your project but are unlikely to open their wallets to make your layout dreams come true. Layout Design SIG publications have occassionally published estimates of what you can expect to spend on a square foot basis to build a layout. Heed these rule of thumbs.


An eighth mistake is to fail to consider or plan for others to assist you with building your layout. It seems few of the great layouts that grace the pages of the major hobby magazines were built by a lone wolf. Mind you, I am not saying that it is impossible to build a great layout by yourself. In fact, it is not all that uncommon. What I am saying is that the average Joe needs some help if his dreams of a nice operating largely completed layout are ever to materialize. Don't let pride in seeking to do it all yourself get in the way of realizing your dreams.Ê


A ninth mistake in planning a layout is to fail to consider your spouse in this. How does she (or he, in some cases) feel about allocating a considerable amount of space in your home to your hobby? Can you get your spouse involved in the hobby doing something they enjoy? Consider what trade-offs (read here "bribery") you can make with your spouse to insure her (or his) happiness. Don't forget to ponder this last question.


A tenth mistake is to just give up on building the layout of their dreams. This can happen for a variety of reasons. I would preach that if you have been in the hobby for some time you should be able to plan for some layout, any layout, that meets your time, budget, and room constraints.


An eleventh mistake made by many beginners is simply fear of making mistakes. Don't allow yourself to fall prey to "paralysis of analysis". Nearly everyone makes planning mistakes. Everyone will also make all sorts of mistakes in executing their layout plan. Don't fear the trashcan. The worst that can happen from a mistake is that your efforts go in the trash bin.


A twelfth common mistake is to exist as the proverbial lone wolf. Instead join your local model railroad clubs and your local NMRA Division. These folks can critique your plans and keep you honest with yourself. Visit every model railroad you can either by finagling a private visit, as part of an operating session, or an open house associated with your division, region, or national convention. A final common mistake in approaching layout design among first time layout planners is to build a spaghetti bowl track plan. Failing to account for over and under grade crossing is also common to first time layout planners. What the planner does is provide for too steep a grade on the track that crosses over the grade. This results in limited operational capabilities and an unrealistic appearance.


While most of my comments about common mistakes have been of a general nature, we should consider some of the "nuts and bolts" type of mistakes. Model Railroad (December 1964) on page 62 notes that one common mistake is to use a left-hand turnout where a right-hand one would serve better. This mistake wastes space and creates an unnecessary S-curve. Instead use a turnout that bends in the same direction as the curve beyond it wherever you can. Another common mistake is to buy too many of an item before one has done enough research on the uses to which one would like to put that product. My own personal bugabear is a layout whose benchwork is simply not tall enough to give the visitor a realistic viewing angle.

OK. So now we have confronted the many types of mistakes you can make. Go and get going on your layout plans. Good luck and have fun.

About this content:
Original author: Nicholas Kalis. Last revised in September 2004.
This LDSIG article is ©2004 by Nicholas Kalis (email).
Questions/comments may be posted in the discussion tab.

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