Losing Control

Welcome to the "Twilight Zone" of modeling, a.k.a. Modeling Hell. Ever since I learned I had terminal heart disease, my modeling has become rather erratic. I'd keep trying to model, but I simply couldn't stay focused. I meandered aimlessly from one thing to the next; I'd launch a "My Last Layout" project, only to scrap it and launch another. And another. (Isn't the definition of madness doing the same thing over and over expecting a different outcome?)

Specifically: I'd just zeroed in on a permanent home layout, the Black River & Western. I'd spent months researching the history of the railroad, as well as all of the towns and industries along the line. I had everything all planned out down to the millimeter, including highly detailed lists of structures, the kits that were required, benchwork plans, the whole shebang. And that's when my life abruptly went sideways.

My first thought after that bit of news was that I'd never be able to complete the BR&W. Hell, I might not even be able to start it: the layout room was still studs and insulation, with no sheetrock.

So I decided to build (yet another) mini-layout, and my quick napkin scribbles yielded the Mountain Vista Railroad. It was one of my more unusual layouts, given that it was point-to-point instead of roundy-round. Having stockpiled supplies for the cancelled BR&W, I had more than enough stuff for the new layout; indeed, I had so much stuff that I started expanding layout. But it became a victim of scope creep and, growing dissatisfied with the direction it was taking, I threw in the towel.

At one point as I tore the Mountain Vista apart, I stopped and stared at a handlaid curved turnout in my hand. Pow! I was inspired to reproduce the original White River & Northern, but upgraded with handlaid Code 40 rail and super-detailed structures. Oblivious to the fact that a nearly identical sequence of events resulted in the never-finished Greystone & Rock Bottom (a.k.a. the eighth WR&N), I ordered the Gatorfoam for the base, and excitedly began building the tenth WR&N. Note that it also constituted my second "Last Layout." Hmmm...

I should have seen it coming, but true to form I didn't: I eventually reached a point where the new layout just wasn't scratching the itch. But what exactly was that itch I've been obsessively attempting to scratch? After staring at that half-finished round thing, I thought I'd finally figured it out: all I really wanted was to build animated dioramas!

This notion emerged from a pattern I began to perceive in my dismal layout-building track record. Although I'd long accepted I was a roundy-rounder, with no interest in operations, this was frighteningly radical new approach to the hobby that meant, quite possibly, I wasn't even a roundy-rounder. This gave rise to a modeling existential crisis: I was faced with the fact that I've only been in love with the idea of building a layout all this time.

Convinced that I'd finally figured it out, I began chopping up the new WR&N into chunks, with the intention of turning said chunks into dioramas. The first speed bump I encountered was that my head was exploding with ideas for diorama projects; indeed, at one point I had so many of them sketched out that, all together, they nearly constituted a full-sized layout. I couldn't possibly finish them all, or even half of them. So I put on the brakes, and cut the list down to what I felt was a manageable number.

Then I hit my next speed bump: I was losing fine motor control, and my hands had started to shake. Modeling was becoming progressively more challenging—to the point that I stopped modeling altogether, and pursued other interests: music, art, writing, among others. And so it went for months.

During this time I entertained visitors, some of whom were model railroaders, so naturally I had to play show-and-tell. And each time I did, I could feel the old urges bubbling to the surface. One day I optimistically dusted off a couple of projects. Alas, it did not go well: thanks to my new physical limitations, I broke the first two models I touched. Despondent, I quit, convinced this was it. For good.

But here's the thing: I've been a modeler for sixty years. The only things I've done longer are breathe, eat and sleep. Modeling was in my blood, and I noticed that I must have been going into a form of withdrawal: I lost interest in everything. All I did was mope around the house, watch movies, stare out the window, surf the web. Every so often I'd poke around the Railwire to see what some of my asshat buddies were up to. Well, wouldn't you know it, every time I did, my "need" for a modeling "fix" got stronger.

Eventually it reached a point where I was willing to model in any capacity I could manage. As I slowly worked up my nerve and inched back into it, I realized what I'd done wrong the last time, when I was twice met with failure: I was attempting to pick up where I'd left off, which was doing some of the most demanding work of my life—the equivalent of a retired gymnast getting back on the parallel bars, expecting to be able to do all of the extraordinary routines that earned him a gold medal. In essence, I needed to do some stretches, limber up, run some laps, and gradually work my way back up to the parallel bars. So I did the modeling equivalent: I planted some weeds, weathered some models, wired up some controls, and did other simple stuff to build back my confidence.

It proved to be the right approach, because I actually finished one of my six planned animated dioramas: Where She Sleeps.

But who was I kidding? I'm constantly wrestling over what constitutes my ideal modeling goals. I once remarked that modeling is so ingrained in me that I'd probably die with an X-Acto knife in my hand. However... I will also probably die never having figured out exactly what itch it was that's bedeviled me my whole life. Which is another way of saying, there's a non-zero chance I may abandon the Animated Diorama concept and pursue something else. All I can say with confidence is that I will more than likely be modeling for the rest of my days.

I tried to break the habit. I couldn't... thankfully.

—DKS, 22 June 2022


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