John's Jottings

127. The Orphanage - Jan 2017

Posted on January 1, 2017 at 2:40 PM

The other week Fred reported on a visit he’d made to the Wraybury club HQ. “We went into their storage area. It was full of part-built layouts. Each one had a story. Some had been donated by the widows of modellers, others by folk who were moving away, or by modellers whose eyesight had faded. But most were club projects that had stalled.


“It seems that whenever a layout met a technical obstacle, work ceased. Rather than strive, and use imagination and ingenuity to overcome the problem, another layout was started. It was like cross-word puzzles, where people give up as soon as they hit a problem, instead of backtracking, finding an alternative solution and then carrying on. The room was a jumble of junk. Fred shuddered to think how much time, money and effort had been abandoned there, deteriorating and gathering dust.”


Orphan layouts are always a problem. The donor is often a widow, keen that her husband’s last project should be taken through to completion, just as he had planned. For her it would bring some sort of closure.


However, what about the receiving club? Their interest may not be in that particular scale, region or period. If the layout is of a former member, then they might want to complete it according to the late owner’s plans. But they may want to make changes. Some could be made so that the layout can be stored more easily. Or to make the layout more appropriate for several people to operate at once. Or it could be to convert it to a format that is more entertaining for visitors at shows.


But what if the chap is still alive? Perhaps he’s suffering from a terminal illness. If the poor fellow’s afflictions are physical, then he might still be able to direct work from his home or, at least, be able to discuss it with visitors. If his mind is going, then what do you do?


However, if a club has too many layouts on the go at once, there is always the chance that skilled man-power will become so dispersed that progress falters on all the projects. Enthusiasm could wane, and in a self-perpetuating spiral, activities grind to a halt.


And what happens to a project that is refused? How will the member or his widow react to that?


At another club we know, there’s a trio that relish taking in orphan layouts and sorting them out. First they find out how the baseboards fit together. Then they try to get something running. Their ability to rectify badly-laid track is excellent. Their persistence in understanding wiring is exceptional. And once the mechanical and electrical challenges are solved, their skill at resuscitating scenery that most folk would instantly condemn is beyond belief.


The odd thing is, this trio have never built a layout from scratch. They’ve never started with a blank piece of paper and decided exactly what they want, devised how to achieve it, and then brought their scheme to fruition. When asked why not, they explained that they ‘couldn’t possibly do that, with all the planning and the like.’ Perhaps all they lack is that spark of originality to set them on their way. They certainly don’t lack the necessary practical and technical skills to bring their design to fruition.


“How should such rescued layouts be credited in show guides and the like?” our chairman asked. “Is it the original builder? Or the rescue team? Or both?” On this we had mixed views.


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