Space For Your Model Railroad

Space for your model railroad, is one of the most important decisions you'll need to make. Let's face it, if you're looking at model railroading, you're just a big kid. It's the kid in us that looks at a model railroad and thinks, "That is SO cool!" It's also the kid in us that looks at an entire basement and thinks, "I want to fill this with railroad!".

I moved into my current house just under two years ago. One of the reasons I bought the house was because as soon as I saw the unfinished basement, I thought Railroad Room. The basement has a space that is 12 feet by 37 feet that is completely open, and without any obstructions. As I thought more about it, I realized I can probably take track around the back of the stairs, and into the area with the washer/dryer and utilities. This is the area I plan to make my workshop.

Now having never done anything like this before, I find the idea exciting and terrifying at the same time. At some point, I really want to fill this area with railroad, but I also have to ask myself, am I ready to take on that big of a commitment? As a first railroad, do I really want to plan and try to build something that massive, knowing that I'm going to make mistakes as I build?

Dream Layout Plan The other thing is, since the basement is unfinished, I would need to finish it before starting such a massive project. For this house, that would include replacing the current breaker box with something that isn't proprietary and 50 years old, running extra electricity to the basement, framing walls, insulating the outside walls, drywalling, and then figuring out what sort of ceiling to put up.

That's an awful lot of work before I can even think about starting to put track down. I know people who've done that, but I know that finishing the basement is probably looking at a scope of years, not weeks, and I want to run trains ASAP. This is exactly what causes Analysis Paralysis. It has for me. It seems so straight forward when I actually voice the question. Do I take a 12x12 section of the basement and build a Chainsaw Layout now, or do I wait to finish the basement so I can use the entire area for railroad? The answer is simple! I build the Chainsaw, right?

The straight forward, sane answer is yes, build the Chainsaw. Except I really want the larger layout because it gives me the room to do all the things I really want to do.

Does this sound familiar?

I want to get trains running as fast as possible, yet when I start thinking about the details of what it will take to actually build the railroad, building the benchwork, running the feeders, I start to wonder how capable I am. Not because I don't know how to use a hammer, or solder wire, but because I've never done anything like this before.

I realized very quickly that the smaller 12x12 gives me the ability to get a model railroad up much faster. It also gives me the chance to work on skills and perfect techniques before moving to the Dream Layout. Yet, for me it also means modeling only one industry, so there is only switching, no real main line. More importantly, it also means confronting my fear of messing up.

12x12 Chainsaw Layout

I have been in the house nearly two years, and I still have nothing to show for that time. This upsets me because by now, I should at least have a fully running railroad of some size, yet I don't. There are a million excuses I can come up with for not having started the model, the basement isn't finished, I only have one real electrical outlet down there, I don't have the time or the money right now. Those and a million more excuses are easy to grab ahold of, but it's taken me nearly two years to realize that the real reason I haven't started, is fear. I could go out and buy the wood for benchwork for the 12x12 space today. I have a three day weekend every week. I don't have to finish the basement in order to build the Chainsaw Layout, so why haven't I?

Because even though I know that the entire reason for building a Chainsaw Layout, is to make mistakes and learn how to do what I want, I'm afraid of making those mistakes. Even though it's meant to be a Chainsaw Layout, I still want it to be perfect. I want it to be something I can be proud of, and I'm afraid it'll be a piece of crap that doesn't measure up to my standards.

The really stupid part is, I also understand that until I actually start working on it, I'll never know for sure. It's not like I have no skills. I built models as a teenager, I learned how to solder in high school. Hell, right out of high school, I used the money from my first real job to buy and build a Heathkit Hero One robot! It's the idea of soldering track feeders without melting ties, and creating realistic scenery, that terrifies me.

It shouldn't, but it does. It's taken me a long time to admit this to myself. As long as I have big plans for the future, I can plan and plan some more. I can show complex and interesting ideas to friends, to prove to myself that I'm actually doing something, when really I'm not. I log on to various model railroad forums, and talk with friends from around the world, who are actually building, and I give opinions, and thoughts, like I know what I'm talking about, but I also wonder how long until they realize I'm a fraud?

How long will it take them to see that all the thoughts and ideas I type, have no basis in experience? It's not until I actually put hammer to nail, that I will be able to say anything about building a model railroad with authority.

I admit this to you because I know that there are a lot of us out there who want to build an Empire, but are afraid to, for a variety of reasons. I admit all this to you to show you that you are not alone. You are not the only one who fears the idea of actually screwing up. It's human nature. You've never done something, so naturally, you're afraid of messing it up.

But here's the thing I've discovered. It doesn't matter. What's the worst that could happen? You bend a few nails trying to make benchwork? Ok, keep at it. Practice will eventually get you to the point where the nails get hammered straight. Your benchwork wobbles because it isn't square? Ok, find out what isn't square, and fix it. You melt some ties trying to solder feeder wires to your track? Well...you can replace the melted plastic ties with wooden ties, once the track is secured, or you could spread the ties out a little more. There are always solutions, you just have to find them.

Be willing to make the mistakes, in order to learn some lessons. If something doesn't turn out the way you expected, or wanted, either figure out how to fix it, or simply remove it. I'm going to do everything I can to help you. I'm going to explain what I'm doing. I'm going to show you, with images and video. I will answer your questions, and I will do my best to point you to the best resources for things. I believe I have an idea of how you feel at the beginning of this undertaking, because I have the same feelings.

We are in this together, and I will show you every trick I learn, either by listening to others, or more likely, by doing it wrong. Mistakes will be made, but that is how I will learn, and hopefully by watching me make the mistakes, you'll avoid them. Because I am writing this as I plan, and later build the layout, there shouldn't be anything that gets missed in the process.

So, which plan am I going to work with? Well, the 12x 12 Chainsaw isn't what I really want in my Dream Layout, but it will get trains running much faster, and it will allow me to learn skills and practice techniques I will need on the bigger layout. That is after all, the entire point of building a Chainsaw Layout!

So, now that I've faced my fears, and found that they really aren't nearly as big as I thought, and I've decided on the basic plan, it's time to start putting pen to paper, and planning the Chainsaw in earnest. This doesn't mean I won't be working on the ideas for my Dream Layout. I absolutely will, but those will be put to the back burner while I actually work on the Chainsaw. After all, building the Chainsaw will only make the Dream Layout better when I'm ready to start on it!

Next, we'll look at the physical space, and how to determine what we can get in it. We'll have to overcome our desire for wanting too much railroad.

Planning Your Railroad