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Mike’s world Below: Standing at Joliet, Illinois, on his HO-scale Illinois & St. Louis railroad, Mike is shown with the rough- sketch track plan he used to build nearly all of the layout’s basic foundation. Though drawn to scale, it is only a generalization of the I&StL in terms of principal mainline routes, yards, and important junctions. Hand-drawn in pencil with aisles colored in blue, the plan was mainly a guide for benchwork location. As such, it did not include details of upper-level trackage. Most of the mainline routes were laid using only this basic plan, with adjustments made along the way as necessary. — Brandon Otterstrom photo


Mike sez… N


ow, now, Bill. Remem- ber, I’m several years old-


er than you, and, therefore, of course, much wiser. Right? Since I got into HO-scale model railroad- ing as a hobby in 1962 and then in part as a career in 1971, I have seen many, many layouts. As I re- call, a significant majority of them were layouts in planning — all too often to an agonizing degree. I’ve decided that a good reason for this — and this is not a criticism but an observation — is that most railroad modelers are left-brained people. Bill, if you’ve lived half- hidden under your benchwork for the last few decades, here’s the scoop behind left-brained versus right-brained people. Left- brained people tend to be “black & white” thinkers. They are often accountants, machinists, civil en- gineers, draftsmen… careers that involve detail and precision. Right- brained people are the “gray area,” creative, visionary thinkers. Think writers, artists, graphic designers, and actors. Of course, being some combination of the two is not too


unusual. An architect or photogra- pher might fall into this category. It stands to reason that, with the railroad industry itself be- ing a very left-brained institution, creating a scale model railroad in miniature will likewise be the do- main of the left-brained. This, to me, can be a double-edged sword. I’ve seen some really cool railroad modeling plans by well-inten- tioned friends and acquaintanc- es, but rarely, it seems, have they yielded the spectacular results that were planned. Engineer- ing minds, it seems, want every detail analyzed, drawn out, and then re-analyzed and redrawn ad nauseam before a single spike is driven. The result? The well- intended model railroad magnate finally drives himself berserk. His wife has him committed to a “spe- cial home” with daffydils planted around the front entrance, after which she uses his hundreds of track plans to toilet-train her new cocker spaniel and then sells his dozens of ExactRail cars and At- hearn Genesis locomotives for 99 cents each on eBay. (All you left- brainers reading this: Don’t say I didn’t warn you!)


So, here’s my advice: J.F.D.I.


(Just Freaking Do It.) Now, don’t get me wrong. I love


track planning. For the better part of the 1970s, I drew track plans for Kalmbach Books (Railroads You Can Model and More Rail- roads You Can Model were two of my favorite projects). I even served as editor for John Armstrong — the rock star of model railroad planning — on two of his books. Now there was a prime example of someone who was brilliantly both right- and left-brained!


When I began work on my cur- rent Illinois & St. Louis system (the first “test” I&StL layout, oper- ating from 1992 to 1997, proved its prototype-oriented concepts would work), I had a completely clean slate in the form of a 28 x 60-foot basement of a house I had built to my specs (including laun- dry and stuff upstairs, basement stairs that dropped into the center of the layout and not along a wall). I began drawing rough track plans that concentrated as much on where aisles would fall as where rails would lay — in other words, the overall routing of I&StL’s four main lines being modeled. Yards, junctions, and station locations (all real-life places, I should men- tion) were plotted out, and soon a much bigger vision of things was forming in my sometimes- twisted brain. I was really getting enthused and chomping eager to start building. Now, let’s go back in time for a moment, back to when I was an art student in high school and then college. I come from a con- servative city and went to a con- servative high school of some 2,700 students during a conser- vative era, the mid-1960s; my art teacher — may the kindly Mr. Martikonis rest in peace — fit right into this picture. My artwork from those days was precise, lit- eral, and...boring. Thankfully, the extremely open minds of my art teachers at Rock Valley College and Northern Illinois University changed all that. One of the most important things I learned dur- ing my college art classes was to throw your whole emotions into


80 RAILROAD MODEL CRAFTSMAN


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