Whatever Makes You Happy
Many modelers already have another name for this: Rule #1. It's your railroad, so do whatever you want. More and more I'm embracing this attitude, although not necessarily for the sake of doing any old crazy crap...
In the past, I've occasionally been inclined to do proto-modeling, or at the very least proto-lancing. But when I see proto-modelers verbally raise their noses and sniff at anything "unprototypical" (and I'll refrain from a lecture on the incorrectness of the term "prototypical"), I often feel an urge to do the opposite, if only to spite them.
Well, hindsight is a marvelous teacher. And what I've learned is that I've been paying too much attention to the opinions of others, and not enough attention to my own happiness. And proto-modeling simply doesn't make me as happy as modeling what I really want to model. That's not to say I have anything against proto-modelers; I simply object to proto-modelers who regard themselves as somehow "better" than those who aren't.
That said, I've always done my best to maintain realism with respect to real-world physics. I confess that I will scoff at crazy bridges that could never stand in real life, or structures that could never have been built. I've always had a critical eye when it comes to believability, even when it's outside the realm of identity or circumstance (e.g., such-and-such a railroad never ran there or owned an XYZ locomotive).
Consequently, as long as something looks as if it could exist in the real world, even if it never did—such as a passenger car that's too short, or a locomotive with the wrong lettering—I'm perfectly fine with it. Indeed, my next and final layout will feature a railroad that never existed: the Reading Central. I will argue, however, that it could have, under different historical circumstances.
I use this as a somewhat defensible excuse to model many other things that did not, or do not, exist. How could I possibly justify a metropolis that looks like a mashup of Jersey City, New York and Chicago? I briefly toyed with the idea of being a bit more "proto" about it, but then I weighed the return on that investment: going the semi-fantasy route offered more satisfaction than being slavishly accurate, because the latter meant forfeiting a great many things I've wanted to model.
I suppose I don't really need to go to great lengths to justify what I do. But I would like to encourage those modelers sitting on the proto fence to make the same pros-and-cons evaluation: do whatever floats your boat more. If seeing the precise consist of train #SAC-01 on June 6, 1997 passing through Podunk at 4:45 PM gives you a woodie, go for it! I guarantee I won't criticize you for following your passion. But please don't knock me if my layout has a non-existent railroad running through a fantasy city in a very rubbery temporal setting; the truth is, I won't live long enough to model everything I'd like to as it is...
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