This is a new feature on my site where I express a personal view, talk about the hobby, or perhaps just let
off a little steam.
Time is running out! If you want to get a Christmas layout finished in time for the holidays, the time to start is now. Don't hesitate. Considering how the focus of the holiday celebrating is now the period from Thanksgiving to New Years Day, most of our preparation needs to be finished by Thanksgiving. It takes time to order parts and supplies, and fix what's broken. Often the failure of the stuff that has been sitting idle for several months isn't realized until it operates for a few sessions. So you might just have to solve problems during the busiest time. Best to have spare parts on hand if you can anticipate the problems, but many failures aren't predictable. And considering the added work of preparing the whole house or apartment for entertaining, the available time gets divided into more and more tasks.
I like to start the actual work in August when the basement is always cool and the days are long. Something about the late nights in a cool basement in the Fall can get a little depressing. If you are in the position of building a home with hopes of a basement layout, include many large windows to allow the natural light to flood the space. Unlike our model railroading friends who usually don't want windows to interfere with backdrops and scenery, toy train people can have a lot of natural light. There is some concern for the UV rays damaging plastics and fading paint, but that can be controlled by the use of shades. You can always put a shade or blind over a window, but you can't easily make a window in a solid concrete block wall. Consider the stairs. Many people can't walk up or down a flight of steps, and even if your are young and in good health, the odd knee or hip problem can make visiting your own layout a painful experience. Best to have your layout on the main living level, in my opinion, so the elderly or handicapped guest can enjoy it also. Many physical changes occur as you pass out of your forties, so consider accessibility for yourself, too. Make sure the stairs to the proposed new basement can handle a stair-glide type of mechanical chair that rides the stairs.
Put your own mark on your layout. Make things, buy kits that need to be assembled and painted, and develop some family history. Don't let the perfectionism of the hobby magazines keep you from including your own work. I rather see a layout with personality than one with the "professional" look where pricey things are assembled with no imagination. Don't be put off by negative comments made by guests. A guest who makes a negative or unflattering comment isn't your friend, but do accept helpful, constructive tips from good people. And if you have kids, let them make things for the layout regardless of their skill level.
Now, get busy. The computer and internet are great assets for the toy train hobbyist, but get away from the computer and get some project started, now. And when you're finished and have some time when you can't work on your layout, make a Web site and share your hard work with others! Best wishes! Joe.