Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Contemplative Process

As I forge ahead with my seemingly endless endeavor to rebuild my N scale empire, I'm discovering that the various phases of the project generally proceed along the same basic sequence.

First, I find myself standing in the train room, usually in my pajamas with a coffee cup in my hand, staring obliquely at whatever the current obstacle is that's confronting me. This process can be repeated for several days, or over the course of several weeks or even months. Usually these silent vigils take place in increments of about 10 minutes to an hour. It depends on how hungry I am.

During these periods, my mind will alternately slip in and out of gear. At the more productive moments, it's envisioning the finished scene, or the complex turnout linkage, or fully lit grouping of structures and vehicles. These thoughts are quickly replaced by a spell where I just stare blankly at the framework, as I go over the "to do" list that will be required to get from what I'm looking at right now, to what I fantasized about a moment earlier.

Next, I heave a sigh, scratch my head, then take a sip from my coffee cup, which has gone stone cold during the elapsed time.

If it's my day off, I may swing into action and start to tackle the list that will nudge me ever closer to the goal. This list may include actual model railroading activities, such as plugging in the soldering pencil, or moving some rolling stock out of harm's way, but usually it starts with such mundane activities as getting dressed so I can head out to the garage to find a piece of lumber or a box of screws. If my wife isn't home, I may bypass the whole getting dressed thing, and just put on my slippers for the trek across the driveway. (These are usually my least productive outings.)

The first trip to the garage is generally an assessment of the inventory at hand, which may lead to a safari to the lumberyard or hardware to fill in any missing gaps. There's so much stuff stockpiled, though, that this is rarely needed.

Returning to the train room, which is in the attic, a full three flights of stairs from the garage, I quickly realize that a critical tool or piece of material has been left down on the workbench. This scenario will be repeated throughout the day, and this constitutes the extent of my physical fitness regimen.

Another recurring theme in my layout construction is the law of "One Step Forward Requires Two Steps Back." This means that before any real forward progress can be recorded, some hastily concocted shortcut will have to be undone. Most recently, this involved the relocation of a turnout that I had installed to close up the long siding on the Connellsville Sub.

That's it there in the middle of the shot. When I did this, my main concern was keeping the turnout on the "fixed" portion of the layout, and not on the removable section I have to install in front of the window. I had neglected to verify that this location would provide the desired minimum train length of 30 cars, plus 2-3 locomotives and a caboose. Once the glue dried and everything was in place, I checked this, and was disappointed to see that I was stuck at around 28 cars.

I walked away, and resumed the ritual with the pajamas etc. for several weeks.

The other night, I resolved to work on the removable section, which involved re-working an existing module so that it would fit in the space, span the window, and provide the base elevations so I could make the final adjustments on the previous work, and set the grades for the sections beyond the window to the right. This was fun, and led me to a solution on the Connellsville Sub siding issue.

You can see the turnout will now appear on the removable section, which will require additional wiring connections, but I'll work that out. The worst part will be digging in to the old scenery, and making a hole in the plywood deck to make room for the Tortoise switch machine that will run the turnout. Not impossible, to be sure, but it will take a bit of head scratching.

So next time we chat, odds are I'll be in my pajamas clutching a coffee cup and staring blankly at a hole drilled in a bit of plywood.

And so it goes.


  1. Good read, Lee. All very familiar; I'm sure there are quite a few of us standing in our PJs, scratching our heads, and preparing for the one-step-two-step dance called model railroading.

  2. Great stuff Lee; I too am very familiar with the standing and staring at the layout, envisioning either the next step in construction, or the finished product in my mind, although I do it sans coffee. :)

  3. I found that using one of the $10 high Ikea barstools, I get the same perspective from sitting as standing, by my process is usually very similar (although usually with a beer instead of coffee... I'm a night owl).

    I swear Lee, you should have a column in N Scale.

  4. Sounds like we're all from the same mold! When I had my apt., that was an everyday start.
    I'm Secret Weapon.I love N Scale!

  5. Great writing, Lee! I'll be starting a similar process in reconstructing my layout in Ohio.

    And getting my blog back in shape.

  6. i think this contemplative state is part of the process that really needs to take place. there are so many external requirements to move forward and the kludges and shortcuts only seem to exacerbate the feeling of stalled progress. any steps regardless of perceived direction are in fact steps forward, toward that image you have transfixed your mind on while the coffee went cold and your hungry pangs went from a quiet din to an audible roar.

    there is a peace in being able to draw out your dreams while standing in a room. i think that is what the point of any hobby should be, not simply giving idle hands something to do, but also exercising the creative spirit and allowing yourself to be caught up in it all. sometimes i can see it so clearly i have to brush the images from my face. having that vision is what makes for incredible results.