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What I am posting is just my experience and observations in our hobby. Hopefully this will enlighten other to achieve their goals. 


There is a dynamic to our hobby that is different from others. It not only consumes time but money and space as well. If it is not one hurdle its another and they continue to take turns impeding out ultimate goal. Have the money don't have the time. Have the time not the space and so forth. The layout is a challenge.


On another thread a new user expressed his future goal was to build a layout but his question at the moment was concerning a power supply. As I read his post I started to reflect back on my own experience this started me thinking. Do I warn him or be silent. I decided to warn him.


The internet allows us to see the ultimate layouts of the modeling world. The more we click, the more we see, the more we want. The quest for our very own layout ensues. With the vision ingrained in our mind we start gathering our weapons of choice. We will slay the layout dragon. The problem starts when the google's search of n-scale yields 150 million hits in .58 seconds. At this point our eyes glaze over and the warrior layout builder turns into the kid in the candy store. What was a quest for the ultimate layout build turns into the guess what I order today. Day after day the mail man becomes a close friend and the layout build becomes the dream of things to come. Our stash builds and our layout dreams grow.


In reality it will be extremely difficult to build your dream layout on the first try. There are just too many variables that will create problems for you. So the many years of collecting and stashing creates a mound of tasks that ends up being overwhelming and the layout continues to ponder in our minds.


So my contention is to avoid the trap and try to get that first layout under your belt first as quick as possible. Once you get a clear understanding of building a layout your goals will be much clearer. You will know the difference between a dream and reality.




Woodland Scenic "Scenic Ridge"


Although this kit may not have the best components/material it is a complete kit. It is all about synergies and objectives. The building process is straight forward with a lot of videos support that will help to build confidence in completing the layout. The user manual is straight forward and task oriented. You can walk through the build which will help in the synergies. 


The track plan is not the greatest but it is the experience that has the value. 



So, to any new comer I would recommend going after a build before you end up in collecting mode. It is easy to collect than to build I realized this anomaly myself after 50 or so locos and came to this conclusion..... you are better off with this layout than a collection of train/sets/cars/parts and a dream of a layout to come.





If the plan is an issue. I think this plan will fit. It will cost more.




Edited by inobu
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Your post is eerily coincidental.  I had mentally outlined a similar composition.  


The software industry uses faster – better – cheaper, you only get two.  For dating, sane – attractive – rich, you only get to pick one.  I initially thought along the lines of your time – money – space, but decided that time is not a constraint.  Instead, I think that skill - money – space and you get all three better defines the triad.


In regards to skill, would O or HO be a better easel to showcase your artistic ability for super-detailing?  Not saying that N scale is a limitation, but if we had the space would we make a different choice?  How would you balance modelling over operations or modelling over space?  Also, would you have a more autonomous layout if you could master DCC circuitry and computer interfaces?


Money is an obvious constraint, but it appears to also be bound by geography as well as desire.   From reading the posts from our friends in Europe, it appears that they have to pay an extraordinary amount of taxes that makes items that are affordable in the US very expensive there.   Money can also be a timing issue.   Had I discovered the Tomix and Modemo Hakone sets earlier, I would probably not have spent my dollars on other sets (bullet trains).  This impacted the space leg of the triangle and might have led me into less than desired direction at greater cost.


Space is a less obvious constraint.  Most of us think of tabletop vs shelf, permanent vs temporary, flat vs 3d, etc.  But space also includes storage of tools, and transportation of layouts and materials.  For a bunch of stupid reason, my original 2’x4’ tram layout evolved into a 12’x9’ bullet train L shaped layout that morphed into a 4’x9’ still-in-the-design-phase layout.  I’m now looking at a 6’x2.5’ layout because it fits on the standard conference table. 


There are some interesting posts that have subsequently influenced by thoughts on “newbie” railroads:


1.  I joined this forum about the same time that Pauljag900 started his Glacier layout.  He eliminated complexity and constructed a very enviable railroad.  I’m still designing mine.  The great thing about this layout is that it has a noble ending.



2.  Not a ding on NJHA, but I find myself in a similar situation.  We can’t build our ultimate layout.   NJHA appears to be constrained by work related relocation.  I am mentally constrained by wanting to incorporate every neat ideal.  I can’t answer for NJHA, but maybe I enjoy planning over building.



3.  Quinntopia has an excellent article on layout design flaws.  Well worth reading for any newbie.



Philosophically, our hobby allows us to select multiple non-exclusive options.  Do we model a specific railroad? A geographic area?  Freight operations?  A historical era?  A mythical business?  Collection?  Some of us like design, research, electrical/electronic incorporation.  We each have our own combination of interests.


In hindsight, as a NEWBIE and given undeveloped /undefined skill, limited money and constrained space; I would have avoided bullet trains and the long straights and the required sweeping turns, and the eye –catching bullet train length stations.  Instead, I would focus on trains that are always going forward (i.e. they look the same coming and going).


RULES OF ENGAGEMENT:  If you personally attack me, you will hurt my feelings and I will be forced to open another beer, walk out into my front yard, and howl at the moon.   In all honesty, please don’t miss the opportunity to share your early successes and wish-I did-that-better experiences.



Edited by toc36
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Well written.


Please allow me to share some views and thought from my personal experience...


While I do agree on some points, it is the somewhat like a chicken and egg problem...


First if you think of a layout, you will need to 'foresee' what you want in that layout; like a snow scene? a mountain scene? a city scene? Max train lengths? These affects the size and layout tracks greatly. If you plan for a 4-car set and realise later that you want a 8-car set then you might need to change the layout altogether..  


Next, train releases are not exactly foreseeable. In that sense, you may like a 4-car train very much now and suddenly there is a release of another more beautiful 8-car train that you like then it is like WTF you have already made a layout that could only run a 4-car train....


Speaking from personal experience, I tried to make a layout first by estimating the type and number of cars I like. I loved the 500 series so that became my benchmark. I targeted a 8-car train in maximum and hence a R317 min radius is required for running. As I am urgent trying to create out the layout, I went with the fast and easy solution to get a basic oval and start running.  


1 year down the road, the basic oval gets really boring. And the interest grew so much it became an obsession. It is Truly very EASY to buy and collect over building the layout. But the growing collection blends an internal burning desire to run the trains again, hence the need to re-build the layout again...


It cost even more to me to re-build the layout again, buying the new track pieces and having to sell (or throw) away the old pieces at near to zero costs...


Despite all that, I still love model train as a hobby. It's expensive, time-consuming and require a large space like inobu san has mentioned.


But it provided an insight into a lot of skills that I did not have previously; like electronics, scenery building, modelling, even more in-depth train facts etc...


But most importantly, it taught me the most important virtue of patience. Lots and lots of it needs to go into slowly building up the layout and fault-finding. I still did not regret getting into this hobby and I think I will keep this till I die ~~  :P

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This is a great topic. It's the one that we all face! Just a few thoughts that I'm throwing out all the time.


I continually tell newcomers to get some sectional track and start running some trains as soon as possible, it always helps. Add some sidings and try a few simple variations, the track to do so is not so expensive. Kato unitrak holds its value pretty well here on ebay if you don't need it later. This will give you ideas of what design and functional aspects you will want in a track plan. Also gets you started at doing a little wiring and control and what elements of a track plan can be a headache in practice!


Grab a few building of various construction to see how much you like constructing them, detail levels, your skills, etc. once you have some structures you can start plunking them down with your track and start making some small bits of scenery to plunk down with them. Doing small bits of scenery is a fantastic way to get your feet wet trying different scenery techniques on a small scale where if you screw up no worries little lost but a lot learned. Keep varying things to figure out what works for you as scenery techniques are not universal to all Modelers,msomemresonate better with some than others. Simple brown or green cloth under everything can hide wires and be a scenery base. It's amazing how much you can play quickly and Inexpensively like this to learn a lot of basic as at the same time learning what you really enjoy in the hobby to focus on. Barry Lowell did a great article on this concept




It's best to figure out what you like to do and not to do early on so that you can make the larger plans handle this in the future and not derail you.


Getting going on the first real layout can be so daunting and like Mark and inobu mention you can get lost in an internal loop of wants and never get much done. I've again recommended to new commers to the hobby they look at a little modular or sectional layout to move to the first set layout. Let's you do it in small bits, takes up little room and is pretty inexpensive. Ttrak is an option,mbut something even simpler can be done that can have some spectacular results and this kind of success, even on a small scale, can really boost your enthusiasm and determination for a larger layout. Again it's a great test bed to learn more techniques and what you are good at and what you don't enjoy. Ulrich Abramowski did a great article on doing a little modular layout on a shoestring budget.




Starting a small layout is another option to get going and experiment. The layout inobu pointed to is one that can give various running opportunities in a very small space while allowing a lot of flexibility in things to try out when building it. Again Nick Yee did a great article on building a small layout like this that is super fun and a great learning experience as well as a great end product!




The important is to just get going on small bits as soon as you can. The more you delay the more caught up into the larger wants and you never end up getting going! Collecting is fine, but there is a lot more great stuff in the hobby and way too many end up just collecting by default when they want to build and run trains but they just never get out of that initial want loop.





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Thanks for joining me in this little row boat. I was a bit concerned ....  perhaps I was thinking out loud which can be dangerous (men in white coats wanting to "just" talk).



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I feel much better now. lol    Thanks guys for the input.


it took a lot of guts to do this......Quinntopia





but if you have done it once you can do it again better.


well I guess Nike said it best





Edited by inobu
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What I am posting is just my experience and observations in our hobby. Hopefully this will enlighten other to achieve their goals...


....If the plan is an issue. I think this plan will fit. It will cost more.




Good points Inobu. My experience started with the Woodlands Scenics Scenic Ridge. It was great to learn on and after laying the track we (my son and I) pulled it all up and doubled the size of the table. He has now taken over that table and the layouts change constantly. Or, it all gets ripped up and thrown together on the floor in some gigantic layout.


I've built a small shelf layout that's been a work in progress for a few years now. I've finally begun to add scenery as I've refined the track plan to something I've had in my minds eye since the beginning. I needed that time though, to distill my ideas down to something simple enough yet complex enough to encorporate what I wanted to build. Having that space already built though, was great. I had a shelf space within which to develop. I knew my limitations and had to work within them.


As an aside, I find the Kato layout picture you posted quite appealing for some reason and spent the past half hour looking for its track plan on Kato's website. I found it, as well as another that my son may want to try. Thanks for posting that.





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it took a lot of guts to do this......Quinntopia

Just a remark: never destoy a perfectly working layout and try not to build one that can not be moved without destroying it.


I have a few really small layouts (in N and Z) that aren't used that much anymore but i'm not going to destroy them, just packed them away.


Starting small is ok, but instead of jumping into a small oval it's better to do what most japanese do and run the trains on the floor (or table). That allows us to try new layouts until we decide to finally glue one down. If that never happens that won't make one a collector as long as the trains are running somewhere, even if the layout is just a temporary one, set up and then packed away each time.

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I too just marveled at that plan. It is the best small layout I've seen. There is another thread where I priced out the cost for the 03-6 layout. The suggestion was made to place a hidden yard under the station to the north. You can manipulate other trains into the scene with a schedule. 



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There has been a redraw for Tomix tracks too, which makes controlling it much easier. (due to the fully power routing feature of Tomix turnouts, that make reversing loops easy to wire)

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Interesting thread... I started off about 18 months ago with not much idea what I was doing; Kato Unitrack (and Tomix Finetrack) are excellent for experimenting with and getting a feel for various aspects of things. It took about a year to work out what I really wanted to do and what space I would realistically have available, and decided it made sense to start off with the smaller part of the layout on a 210cm x 30cm shelf, rather than the main part (which will be ca. 300cm x 90cm). Starting from a basic track layout and a vaguely plausible concept of the location (small town in the mountains with a bit of declining industry) I'm quite pleased how it's fallen into place; the individual bits of scenery have come together as I've progressed along the shelf. If I knew 8 months ago what I knew now, I'd have done some things slightly differently but on the whole I'm surprised how well it's going, even though all I'm doing is arranging bits of plastic etc. from Tomytec, Kato, Greenmax etc.


In the meantime I've been refining ideas for the main part of the layout, and more importantly how to go about building it. One thing I did realize early on is that given the space available and my eclectic interests, 4-car trains are pretty much the maximum I can run while still having an interesting variety of routes and stations etc.,. Another thing which occurred to me is that I don't need a double-track main line for running Shinkansen, a single-track outer loop around the inner insanity will do me fine and I can pretend it's a fictitious Shinkansen branch line which neatly explains the short formations. Not everyone's cup of tea but compromises I can live with.

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We've all made mistakes in the past.  After 2.5 years I'm finally puting my first layout together.  As you can guess by the extra scenery posts I have been making recently.  I changed my wants so many times I just couldn't make a start due to being scared of wasting money.  But that also slowed me down so much that I couldn't enjoy model trains also.


My advice would be to jump in and just get started.  Things will evolve over time.  You might waste some money, you might not.  But at least you'll enjoy the process as you go.


Japanese train modelling I think can get tricky.  Many (like myself) are lured into Japanese trains by Shinkansens.  But they are also the hardest trains in the industry to make a layout for unless you make massive concessions.  If I did it all again.  I probably wouldn't by one Shinkansen.  And stick to urban, local and rural trains.  Curse you 800 series Shinkansen. haha


I would recommend buy the basics you need to build a layout from the get go.  Things like fine ballast, blended green turf, bushes etc.  These are used on all types layouts and you wont waste money buying them early on.  Even if you change plans many times over like this said poster.


Even building a boring oval roundy-roundy is better than making no start at all.  A boring oval is more fun than having nothing.  Then you can build bigger and better later on.

Edited by katoftw
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Doing little scenery bits first is really the best way to get started. Keep the bits on a small scale for your first try to figure out the dos and donts and get use to the process and modify as you need for your skills, materials, etc. If you screw up its very little materials and time wasted and you did not ruin part of your layout. I am amazed at how many folks ive run across that have gone all in and tried a new technique on part of their layout! Its one of the most frustrating moments ive seen folks hit.


cool thing about little scenery tests is that they become great little samples to use later when you might be thinking of putting a certain type of scenery in a place on the layout! sort of like paint chips...



Edited by cteno4
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I started nearly 30 years ago, when I was living in Tokyo, with two small pieces of plywood covered with a grass mat. Used the old Tomix sectional track, Kato trains, some Tomix buildings and Greenmax kits (that's about all there was at the time). I later built a narrow switching layout that fit on a bookshelf, and then a 2.5' X 6' layout.


As better buildings, vehicles and figures became available I ventured into t-trak and Unitram, and worked on a club layout. Learned a lot about scenery and detailing along the way. Decided to try DCC. Concluded that I didn't have the skills, interest (or time) to do the benchwork and electronics for a large layout myself. So I hired out that work in order to focus on what I enjoyed.


Some of the original structures from the grass mat stage are on my room-sized layout today, as are buildings I detailed for Unitram. So are details and vehicles I've had for decades, but I sometimes think of the hard effort I went through to acquire taxis or buses not so many years ago which are easily available today. There is no way to know what might be available tomorrow, but if you keep waiting you will never start.


I also learned that one of the things I enjoy most is simply the sound of the trains running, and relatively slow speed freight was the most appealing to me. So that is mainly what I have now.


Most of all, I learned to take the advice of Rick Nelson:


"You see, you can't please everyone, so you've got to please yourself."

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Doing little scenery bits first is really the best way to get started. Keep the bits on a small scale for your first try to figure out the dos and donts and get use to the process and modify as you need for your skills, materials, etc. If you screw up its very little materials and time wasted and you did not ruin part of your layout. I am amazed at how many folks ive run across that have gone all in and tried a new technique on part of their layout! Its one of the most frustrating moments ive seen folks hit.


cool thing about little scenery tests is that they become great little samples to use later when you might be thinking of putting a certain type of scenery in a place on the layout! sort of like paint chips...


My scenery testing module :8



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I think Jeff already summarised it for starters, so I'm not sure if I can contribute to this topic, since I've never actually finished building a 'proper' layout. Then again, what is a proper layout? If you'd consider a circle of low profile modules a layout, I made one, but that was more than half a decade ago when I lived in Germany. During that time, I learned a lot about making scenery and techniques. Money was very limited, as well as Japanese model train resources, so I resulted to making cheap-and-cheerful a mantra in my general approach. Now that I live in Japan, I'm mostly limited in space. Not really because we live small, but because of a little kid that likes trains as much as his papa. Time is aplenty and money is never enough anyway, so that's a bit of a moot point.


Anyway, because I moved to Japan, I initially went crazy when buying trains. Collecting whatever I liked, not thinking about the space at home. Luckily I have places to run my trains once a while, but not at home. That is why recently I got myself together and started focussing on downgrading my interests. Not in the sense of my collection, but in the sense of the length and size of my trains. Firstly, I maximised the length to 8 car trains (Keisei network), then thought about downgrading to 4 cars (Kantō Railway) but now I'm at the point of focussing on narrow gauge in N scale, reducing the space needed to run trains even more, as well as increases possibilities in creative expression.


Hopefully when we decide to have our own house, I can create a little layout on top of some bookcases. For now I'll limit myself to one or two T-Trak modules and so on. Little bits of fun.

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Martijn Meerts

One thing to keep in mind.. No matter how many layouts you've build, or how experienced you are, you WILL make mistakes with every layout you build :)

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Having started modelling in HO (US B&O circa 1950s-70s) I came in to Japanese trains with some experience. For me it's really a night and day difference. I was working with Atlas track then and it was, to say the least, a nightmare. Switches were a constant worry, track needed constant cleaning, separate roadbed made changing designs frustrating, wiring was a nightmare. 


Flash forward to now. Unitrack and Fine Track allow you to make a flexible layout with pretty much no issues. The downside to this is that you kind of limited by track pieces (especially with Unitrack) but really that's not too much of an issue for me. The biggest adaptation for me was that most of the 'operations' on a Japanese style layout revolve around passenger movement whereas the operations I'm used to involved freight (though my layout does heavily skew toward freight operations) and the idea of loads in-empties out industries and interchange tracks (which you don't really see too often on Japanese layouts but it seems they're implied). 


Back to the 3 original things brought up: time, money, and space. Time is the one you likely have the least control over and thus should worry least about. Just because you don't have all the pieces for your dream layout right now doesn't mean you can't enjoy your trains and even a simple station-to-station roundy-roundy has interesting operating possibilities and doesn't take a long time to put together. The other 'time' that I view as an issue falls in with 'money' - there are more than a few models that once they go OOP you might not see again. To jump or not to jump? It's easy to be impulsive and buy everything you see but a good way to weed out some of this is to ask yourself 'how is product x going to benefit my layout once I get it?'. 


Money is actually a strange one for me because I find Japanese N scale to be one of the least expensive of the model railroading 'genres'. My Hokutosei car set, EF-510, and 2 DD-51s cost LESS than some HO diesels and steamers. The cost of HO is crazy now (thanks Walthers) and there's no more inexpensive Athearn cars and locos. DCC is driving the cost of motive power through the roof. Thankfully we get spared that since our locos aren't DCC equipped and most aren't made with compatibility in mind. The biggest issue with cost is debating when to import versus when to buy local. I've bought most of my Unitrack local but I wonder how much I would have saved buying it straight from Japan. Ultimately though money is going to likely be the biggest factor in what you can do so it helps to have some plan in mind or idea what direction you want to go.


Space is a tough one. The good news is you don't need much of it. The bad news is you might not have any. to be honest I have the least amount of advice here since I've always had at least a 4'x8' to work with. The only thing I can offer is that a small layout can give you more chance to work on scenery. 

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