I believe it didn't take very long after I decided in my early teens that model railroading would be my hobby for me to start planning a dream layout. You know, the one that would fill my parents' basement and then some, requiring an addition to the house (not to mention a Lotto 6/49 win). I've been carrying that dream around from country to country, house to house, for 30 years. Have I built that dream layout? Of course not.
Reality in the form of a fairly nomadic professional existence, a wife and four children, and the lack of free time that all of that entails, has limited me to starting several roughly 5'x9' layouts. Two ovals of track so that my sons wouldn't necessarily crash into each other all the time, and a chance to practice building benchwork, laying track, and wiring up a DCC system. Good experience to gather, but nowhere close to a dream layout.
So when we recently moved back to Ontario, I found myself once again in a rented home, no dedicated train room space available, but this time with two advantages that allowed me to start what I would call a long-term, serious model railroad. Firstly, I now lived closer to the prototypes that I've always wanted to model, which is a huge source of inspiration. Secondly, I happened upon first the blog and then the books of Lance Mindheim, and through his writings to other folks sharing many of the same thoughts.
Lance's philosophy that immediately caught my attention was that you didn't have to have a huge layout to enjoy the hobby. I'm a bit of a lone wolf modeller anyways, so I doubt that I would ever be able to scare up a bunch of people to run a regularly scheduled operating session. But I knew from being a member of the Nordel Model Railroad Club in Hockessin, DE, that operating was hugely fun. Operating what is basically a switching branch, following Lance's inspiration, should provide the ideal amount of railroading to fit my budget, inclinations, and schedule..
Budget: there's never enough money available for a model railroad(er). Narrowing my focus down to one branchline in a specific time period suddenly made it possible for me to shed all the interesting but now extraneous models that I'd collected over the years. In theory it should also keep me on the straight and narrow should I wander into a hobby shop or show. And the freed up funds would allow me to build a high-quality, highly detailed small layout. Bingo!
Modelling inclinations: I hold myself to very high standards. I want to build close to museum quality track, have very detailed & weathered cars, locomotives, and buildings, and really believable scenery. Frankly, the only person I trust to meet those standards is me. If I don't, I won't have a problem ripping it out and doing it better the second or third time. I'm a perfectionist, which means I frustrate myself and others as I strive towards perfection. It's unattainable, but in the striving comes the learning and improvement, and for me, the fun.
Schedule: I travel a lot for work and also have four small children, so my hobby time should be quite limited. Only by grace of an incredibly supportive, understanding, and patient wife am I able to devote as much time to my obsession as I have. A small layout means that I will better be able to balance family, work, and hobby, while living within my means and being more likely to achieve a certain degree of completeness in a reasonable timeframe.
With all this in mind, I was able to settle on a prototype (CN), location (Waterloo spur St. Jacobs & Elmira for now), timeframe (1988 - 1993), and layout style (sectional, around the walls on shelf brackets). That's pretty much the hardest part. 30 years on I'm ready for some serious modelling! Let's go!