Why I Enjoy Model Railroading
You may think of them as toy trains, or you might make fun of me for never growing up, but no matter how you feel about the hobby, I truly do enjoy Model Railroading. There are so many different skills needed to build a model railroad, especially an operating model railroad, that everyone can find something enjoyable about the hobby. So, before you discount the model trains as something the kids can play with, take a few moments to find out what model railroading really is.
Planning and Design
If you ask any serious model railroader, they will agree that the hobby requires a lot of artistic thought when planning and designing the railroad. Proper planning for optimal use of the space, a vision of what the final product will be, and thoughts into how people will interact with the railroad are all important aspects of the design step. You can design your railroad using pencil and paper, computer aided design (CAD) software, or just trial and error. No matter the method, the better you plan your railroad the more enjoyable it will be for you and anyone you invite to your new world.
The planning doesn't end when construction begins either. There will be changes and additions to the plan, modifications to the scenery and structures, and gotchas that even the best designer cannot account for. One of the most important skills needed when designing and building a model railroad is imagination .
One of the first steps in the construction of a model railroad is a solid foundation to build it on. The bench-work is generally the first step for a model railroad after planning and design. Over the years, many methods have been developed for building solid bench-work, and the method you choose will depend on the scale you are modeling, the materials you have available, and influence from fellow model railroaders.
Until a few years ago, I would never have used plywood and drywall for my bench-work, but I have seen it in use, and have also participated in the construction steps. It works well, and goes quickly. The plywood is cut into strips to replace dimensional lumber, and the drywall is used as the sub-roadbed material. I have also seen foam insulation used in place of the drywall, and both seem to work equally well. The only thing I would recommend against is using pre-cut dimensional lumber, such as 1x3 and 2x4 lumber, as it tends to warp and bow over time. Plywood construction nearly eliminates that problem.
The prototype railroads have the daunting task of changing natural land forms to allow their railroads to pass through the scenery. Cutting down or building up hills, digging through solid rock for tunnels, and building bridges are all a part of the process. The goal of the model railroader is to build scenery around this or her railroad to simulate this prototype construction method.
But model railroaders have more than enough products available to do this. Some of the most common items are foam, ground foam rubber, paint, stain, and even natural materials such as dirt and stone. Imagination is a key ingredient here as well. Finding creative uses for natural and man-made products allows every model railroad to be a signature of the person building it.
Structural Design and Construction
For the prototype railroad, servicing industries and towns and transporting the goods needed is the goal. Of course, the prototype has a much easier job, because someone else is going to build the structures and the railroad just needs to provide a track for them. In the model railroad world, not only do we have to plan the businesses and towns, we have to build them as well.
Fortunately, there is a seemingly endless supply of structure kits and material to build just about any structure needed for our railroads. Scratch-building, such as the example in the photo, allows modelers to construct buildings that are not only different from what everyone else has, but also that fit into the limited space we generally have for our railroads. In the case of the photo here, the building also hides a hole in the wall that provides access to a staging area for trains.
As you have probably noticed, the theme of this hub is that you will need to use imagination while designing, building, and even operating your model railroad. Whether you have room for a 4' x 8' layout, or you have an entire room or basement to use, designing your railroad to fit that space is going to take a lot of imagination and a little bit of engineering.
And that is why I enjoy model railroading so much. Every part of it requires using your imagination. Designing, building, and operating a model railroad allows us to create our own little utopia in miniature.