I often recall back to when I was considering building my first version of the Coal Belt Lines—actually I had not even thought of the name until much later, I was considering modeling the Great Northern Railroad. The idea of the powerful steam engines of the Great Northern tackling the killer grades of the mountains, and the grandeur of the Pacific Northwest as a real challenge. However, as all great plans go, I knew that I could not model the Great Northern without a lot of compromises; so there went that idea. I went down a list of possibilities over the course of time buying rolling stock, engines (I quit the idea of steam for several reasons and went with diesels), track, structures, some scenery—but no railroad name I liked. I finally for a while started modeling the Black River & Western Railroad of Ringoes (Flemington), NJ as the Flemington Central System. Eventually that led, in a roundabout manner, to what I have today.
Long story short, I must have gone through a ream of paper trying to work out a feasible track plan. The Phase 2 to Plan A: the Beginning. Don’t get frustrated if it doesn’t work out the first time around. It’s easier to sketch out the plan either on paper or CAD software than build it and discover the idea wasn’t so great after all. Also, the resources and online sites for model railroading and model railroading groups make it much easier for a beginner to find information and get help than when I and so many others were starting out. And research on what I wanted to model. Research probably makes up two-thirds of the first phase of getting a layout together. I don’t think I would have made half the mistakes I made then if I’d had the assistance of seasoned modelers in the hobby.
Of course on the other hand, it has been fun in a way being only one of maybe four or five model railroaders in Colorado who do the eastern region of the country and a coal hauling railroad at that.
I have not discussed the scale or gauge that is the modeler’s personal preference. The best thing to do is buy the hobby magazines which feature most of the popular scales: N, HO, O, and on occasion S. Included in the book section at the hobby shop is the Kalmbach Publication book on the definitive discussion on each scale and how it differs from the other. I settled on HO from the beginning and it suits my purposes just fine.
Once you have decided on what railroad you will model, the research shows what you need to make the layout believable and you have started obtaining equipment, where you will build the layout. Readers: include your spouse, partner, and mate in this critical phase of the project. Don’t do like one guy—and this was years ago—he took over the wash room in the basement for the staging yard: not a good thing to do without first planning and discussions: remember this is not eminent domain here.
There are several good books at the hobby shops on the subject of building your first layout. Visit the hobby shop—and best of all, take your spouse, partner, and mate with you and introduce them to the hobby. Maybe they will find something there too that will contribute to the layout.
Take care and happy model railroading …