Is versus Was

While sifting through the reference images I'd collected for the Jersey City Industrial Railroad looking for boring bridges, I was struck by a dichotomy that may likely have prevented me from finishing any big permanent home layout—or really enjoying it, at least. Before my recent health diagnosis, I'd developed the Reading Central, an attempt at scratching as many itches as possible. After a time, I saw the folly in that dream, and switched to the Black River & Western, basically as "something to do" that was different enough from the Reading Central to (theoretically) distract me.

But if I'm being honest, neither the Reading Central nor the Black River would have done the trick. Because I have far, far too many modeling interests for one layout—or even a bunch. It's bad enough that I have a huge triangular region of interest that spans from Portland down to Baltimore and out to Chicago. Worse: from Class I mainline to two-foot shortline; from heavy industrial to mountain logging. Still worse is my temporal setting: from the 1930s to the present. I would often joke: I want to model everything. My insane White River & Northern II might have done the trick: five different northeastern railroads, set in four seasons and four eras from the 1930s to the 1980s, from backwoods logging to heavy urban industrial—including a steel mill—and from narrow gauge through dual gauge to standard gauge, all on one 18 by 24 foot layout. But I'll never know; divorces can be seriously disruptive to a model railroading career.

Likely the biggest obstacle to my satisfaction is modeling what it was like back in the day versus what it's like now. I'm drawn to big industry, especially steel mills, but ask me what time setting and I cannot answer; I'm equally attracted to our industrial heyday (when humankind was ignorantly exploiting and willfully destroying the planet) as I am to present-day abandonment and acute decay—indeed, the bigger and rustier, the better!

How could I have ever chosen? The answer is I couldn't. In order to be the slightest bit productive, I'd have to make multiple impossible choices. Thus the White River & Northern VIII is turning into a mishmash of strange stuff. Sure, it's a nice layout and all, but it's just a way to kill time while I await the inevitable. Meanwhile, as I build it, I flip through my reference images (>32,000 of them) and pretend I'm really building something else entirely.

In a nutshell, I enjoy both sides of multiple coins—an impossible conundrum that one layout could never satisfy. I was tempted, while designing the Jersey City Industrial Railroad, to make it one era when viewed from one side, and another era when viewed from the other side, but this would have required far too many compromises—although I confess this layout remains my favorite of all 37 layouts, modules and dioramas I'd attempted to build so far.

Thus, I'll die an unsatisfied modeler. So what? The dead have no regrets, so until then I can pretend I'm building whatever I might conjure up in my fevered, decaying brain. At least perhaps my readers will now understand why I've been such a restless, waffling modeler all of these years—the first to start new layouts, the last to finish them.

—DKS, 19 June 2020


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