End of the Line and “Creeping Normality”

24 Jul 2015


Recently, I re-watched “End of the Line” in the March, 2014 edition of TrainMasters TV. As the title implies, it’s about dismantling a layout – or, more specifically, three of them.

These layouts, all quite large and complex, came down for various reasons. But one learning point I took away from the segment is to stay on top of those little maintenance tasks required on all layouts – regardless of whether they’re built to fill a suitcase, a shed or a stadium.

It’s easy to say, “I’ll get to that sticky switch machine during my next work session” or “I’ll repair that broken billboard on the weekend” – and then forget to do so. And that’s perfectly understandable.

  • Who wants to spend their time checking wheels and couplers on existing rolling stock, when there are new rolling stock kits to build?
  • Who wants to vacuum cobwebs off the layout when there’s a train to run?
  • Who wants to touch up the chipped paint on a locomotive’s handrails, when there’s a new locomotive to get ready for service?
Don Railton's fanatastic bait shop diorama

What’s happening here is known as “Creeping Normality” (also called “the slippery slope”). Creeping Normality refers to how we are willing to accept major changes to our situation if they happen incrementally, even though we would resist that same change if it happened all at once. A good example is the gradually deteriorating vision most of us experience as we age. Our 20-year-old selves would be appalled if they woke up one day with 70-year-old eyes. But because the process happens over time, we adjust to the new reality – for example, by buying reading glasses.

It’s not the only reason why layouts are dismantled, but Creeping Normality on our layouts can – eventually – make us lose interest. At that point, the layout is no longer fun – it feels like a big job! We may even find ourselves looking for ways to avoid the hobby – such as flipping through TV channels to watch something that, let’s face it, really doesn’t interest us.

And that’s a shame, because even a modest layout represents tremendous investments in effort, time and money.

Don Railton's fanatastic bait shop diorama

Tearing down a layout as the result of Creeping Normality is a negative outcome. There are positive reasons to tear out a layout, too, of course – and I’ll suggest some of those in a future posting. Meanwhile, having re-watched “End of the Line”, I’m doing an audit of my layout so I can write up a list of those little maintenance projects that need attention – before they become overwhelming!

Trevor Marshall

What examples of Creeping Normality do you experience in the hobby? How do you combat Creeping Normality on your layout? Share your stories in the comments section!

Read the comments about this blog post over on the MRH site: click here.


Well, glad to say I haven't got there. Building my first layout, a 12x20 HO scale transition era freight & logging railroads. Still figuring out how to put it all together......... Happy RR!


I am getting there.  I have a 30 x 20 N scale layout with 225 turnouts.  It is about 16 years old and is all DC with all manual Peco code 55 turnout throws.  I must say I am really surprised at how reliable all the electrical has been over the years.  I get some errors with expansion and contraction...gaps closing, especially.  When this happens I make sure that the repair is better than the original installation.  The idea is that I won't have to fix that again.  Power routing is no problem but sometimes I do hsve a control panel switch that needs replacing.

Still, some things in life drag me away from trains more and more.  I don't know what to do except get very determined to run the layout a little every day even if for only 15 minutes.

I've gone from a 9x9ft N scale layout to a 9x9 HO scale layout. I've also planned ahead and am also building and getting my mind's eye into large scale in the garden. Large scale is soooo forgiving on aging eyes.I might add, it sounds awesome to fading ears too.
Though, any of these still harbours creeping normality. I still find myself happy to step over a fallen on the floor something or other in the shed.
Outside though...it isn't only normality that creeps. Everything creeps!  Weeds creep. Ballast creeps (who knows where, but it slinks off when you're not watching) and erosion, leaves, twigs, horrible things pets leave behind. Then the day comes,where you decide that the "I'll run the engine up and down this section of track", because all the afore mentioned is over the rest of the line just doesn't cut it as far as MRRing fulfillment goes.
I force myself to go the garden shed, bring out my outdoor MOW equipment and start clearing off all the normality that's crept about but let me tell you, it's cathartic.
I've found, you don't have a garden railway if you don't like being in the garden. So, doing MOW is enjoyable and it also teaches you about your railway. Where more drainage is required, or a complete regrading of the ROW because a joint is kinked due to mismatched grades. I make my own turnouts and use 12x12mm pine sleepers,creosote or similarly treated of course. After about 4 years they need looking at.
Nothing bugs me more than errant fronds and branches catching a passing train. Nothing reduces the imagined train out there on the high iron than a frond the size of a city block caaaaaaaaatching and *snap-ping* back after losing it's grip on your now very obviously plastic train... or worse, it having a bit of a win, vis a vis, catching the train and not letting go.

Remember how good it feels when you've got the dust off, the turnout motor coaxed into active service again, the debris and dust off the floor and the fronds well out of the way. Keep that thought and reality creep won't be so much of a ball and chain.