How It All Started

The Problem

Honestly, it all started with my first layout, because I've had this problem building layouts all along, and the Animation Collection represents my finally coming to terms with it. Regrettably, it's taken my whole life to realize what the problem was in the first place, and indeed, I've arrived at the solution much too late.

I was struggling with the White River & Northern X, what I'd declared to be my "last" layout. As with so many layouts that came before it, I reached a point where I just wasn't willing to see it through. Sometimes I'd power past that point and wrap it up just so I could say I finished something; other times I'd throw in the towel and sell it, give it away, or destroy it. Then start the process all over again.

The WR&N X was pretty well along when I hit that wall. I was feeling satisfied with enough of the layout that I didn't want to destroy it, but it also wasn't the type of layout a new owner would understand or appreciate. So it sat untouched for months.

Then, on the morning of 8 September 2021, I awoke with an idea: chop the layout into pieces, and save the best of them. That was halfway to a much better idea; I only arrived at the solution after I got brutally honest with myself about my problem.

One of the more difficult truths I've had to come to terms with is that I'm not really a model railroader, at least in the classic sense; I'm a modeler who happens to like railroads. But I'd convinced myself I was a model railroader almost from the day I began building layouts.

One might have thought I'd learn something from doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results (which, incidentally, is the definition of madness). After an enthusiastic start, I usually just wind up piddling away on buildings and scenery, turning the layout into an elaborate, albeit incomplete, diorama.

Thing is, I'd already built dioramas, and one of them was even made primarily from leftovers. Yet, for some reason I didn't catch on—most likely because I was still brainwashed into thinking layouts were the only way to go.

I had to look back on that embarrassingly long list of projects objectively to realize what my goal was each time I embarked on a new project: I wasn't building layouts, I was building scenes. My focus has always been on the stuff that made up the railroad's setting; the railroad itself just happened to be there.

Oh, don't get me wrong, I enjoy watching model trains go round and round, but reaching that point was never as enjoyable as I'd expected, surprisingly. I liked the idea of building a layout, but it wasn't why I modeled.

 I'd much rather count trees than rivets. 

The reality had finally sunk in: as much as I love trains, model railroading in the classic sense just didn't do it for me. Operation never had any appeal at all; indeed, I disliked it. And I have zero desire to don the engineer's cap and toot the horn; I'm much happier standing trackside and watching the cars roll by.

The Solution

After hours of careful study, I determined how I'd break up the WR&N X. I found it helpful to visualize it first, and this is what I came up with:

1. The firefly/spillway scene is the heart and soul of the layout, which I'd carefully extract, square off, and finish up, to keep.

2. The enginehouse/engine facilities scene has a bunch of nice structures and animations. I'd probably keep this chunk intact as well.

3. The station scene might work on its own; I'd have to see.

4. The gas station scene was a joy to build, and maybe there was something I could do with it to flesh it out.

5 - 8. These structures would become orphans, and I'd have to think about what to do with them.

By the end of the day, 8 September, I'd finished making Gatorfoam dust. I was most pleased with the biggest chunk, the firefly/spillway scene: it was now easier to see my favorite parts. But once the dust settled, I started thinking about the "orphans." What if I combined them with some of the leftovers from the Mountain Vista Railroad to make new scenes of their own?

 Animation was the overarching theme. 

When I realized that animation was the common thread among the dioramas, that's when the idea for the Animation Collection was born.

It was 1 AM the next day when I sat down and started sketching out a diorama. I liked what I saw, and after a few hours of sleep, I started documenting my idea. Thus we arrive at the present.

The Outcome

 It's the journey, not the destination. 

So, that's it? I'll just build little dioramas for what remains of my life? Well, yes. But I've always gotten more satisfaction from building things than having them, so in all likelihood I'll sell my new creations. Except for the field of fireflies—you can pry that one from my cold, dead hands. (How come? That could take a whole page to explain.)


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