Wanderings – Four is not better than one

I was sorting some things in the basement the other day and I had an epiphany so to speak – why do I need so many of the same things?

Let me explain. One of my hobbies is model trains. No, not the cheap, around the Christmas Tree, plastic-looking trains. I am talking about highly-detailed, spend an hour attaching a 1/87th -scale wire, type of railroad models with all the bells, horns and lights. Some of these models cost a lot of money in parts and paint to build. There is some skill, and a lot of time, that goes into these types of projects. I think that is where my problem lies.

Between work and family time, sports and other activities, do I have time to build many of the same models? Up until now I thought so.

I focused on one specific time and space for my model trains. I won’t bore readers with the details but suffice it to say I have an exact idea of what I have on my basement railroad empire. To be “detail-oriented” and accurate, there are instances when I have felt like I have to have four of the same thing.

For example, my railroad of interest had one type of green locomotive with a yellow stripe. Those were distinctive, signature models that identified clearly what I model. Having four of these locomotives is accurate and appropriate for my railroad. But each one has its own unique features or details in different locations. For example, one model had wheel frames that were painted silver, the rest were black. Different feature variations can be accomplished, but it takes time to achieve this on my workbench. And it costs money. Paint may be cheap, but try sourcing an etched stainless steel walkway with a diamond pattern that’s only 3/4 inch square. The dollars and headaches add up rather quickly and I spend a lot of my time spinning my wheels. Very little gets accomplished.

The reddish-brown box cars on my railroad don’t need the same attention to detail as those locomotives. Good thing, because I need lots of those. Luckily those models are inexpensive, quick to assemble, and have no detail variations. So this means there is less work for me to do.

Back to those locomotives though. If I think about what I really do want – to accurately operate a 1950s train through a particular scene – I only need one locomotive, maybe 20 cars, and a caboose. I don’t need four locomotives that look the same or do the same thing. I want four locomotives, in part because if I look at what other model train enthusiasts do, they have four or more of the same expensive thing too. Need and want are two very different things.

Taking stock of what I want to accomplish and maximize the enjoyment I get out of the hobby, I need to simplify how I get there. Instead of building four of the same locomotives to do the same job, I can build one locomotive, and do it really well. It will save time and money not having to do the same thing four-times over. The outcome is still the same. I can still run a train with 20 cars through the same scene, just like I want to.

I feel enlightened in this epiphany. It is really freeing. In simplifying things, having four of something is not better than having one. Less is more.

I feel like there is a lesson to be learned here. That maybe in some instances, this has broader applications like in government or elsewhere in the real-world. Maybe I am on to something.

Originally published in the August 11, 2021 issue of The Morrisburg Leader.

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