Create a model train layout — for fun and for the challenge!

Before you retire, try to find at least one — preferably two — hobbies that you find both fun and challenging. After all, you can’t play golf more than 5 hours a day (which came as a big surprise to a couple of men I’ve known who thought that was all they’d need).


Let me introduce you to one of my favorite hobbies — model railroading. And, no — it’s not only for men(!) though I’d guess 95% of those in the hobby are men. It’s true I don’t share many of their interests — such as operating a train to pick up a load of coal and transport it. But I love creating the scenes. And the scenes are so much more interesting when you have cute little trains — sorry, guys(!) — running through them.

Model trains are for women too!

If you’re a woman who creates those little Christmas villages with lights — you would love model trains! You’re creating your own world, and it’s up to you what

kind of world that is. Many men in the hobby are nostalgic and recreate a time and location from their childhoods. Reliving my childhood is absolutely not a dream of mine, so I created the magic of a long-ago trip to Japan. I’ve got a downtown Tokyo-type city on one half the layout, as well as the temples and old fashioned houses of old Japan on the other half.

If you’re a man who never thought about this hobby, find a local train club and attend a time or two. You might find a growing interest — and you might really like the male bonding thing of hanging out with other men working towards a common goal. Interviews in Model Railroader magazine typically talk about the friendships developed through the hobby. Also note there are senior living communities now that have train rooms where you can continue the hobby.

Lots of learning challenges(!)

What will addict you to the hobby is how it challenges you. As you grow and improve your layout you find yourself struggling with — then achieving — so many new skills. You learn how to “pave” streets, use products which simulate water, make trees and bushes, build houses (or buy them already made), design towns, and build mountains. You can run lighting to all the houses on your layout, not to mention street lighting. You can add moving gondolas or wind farms.

There are a lot of products that make this hobby as difficult (or as easy) as you want. For example, some men love “laying track” and putting in the railroad ties by hand. I struggled with and hated flex track (it was supposed to be the easiest) when creating my first layout. But now I use an aptly named E-Z Track from Kato that just snaps together in the curves and shapes I want. In other words, you can suit yourself where you spend a lot of time and where you don’t. For me, I’d rather spend hundreds of hours building elaborate models of Japanese temples, and planning more interesting train layouts.

Introverts AND extroverts both welcome

Another wonderful thing about the hobby is that it’s for both introverts and extroverts. You can spend hours alone working on your railroad. Or you can join a club and work on a club railroad with others. There are clubs everywhere. For example, I live in a town that’s under 10,000 people. And we have a great model railroad club. There’s even one other female member in our club, who joined with her husband.

If you want to see what all the fuss is about, check out one of the world-renown miniature worlds listed below the next time you’re nearby. There’s nothing like seeing these in person. Or… check out, where you can see video clips of these (and more!) in action.

  • Northlandz, Flemington NY
  • Roadside America, Shartlesville, PA (8,000 sq. ft)
  • Miniature Railroad & Village, Carnegie Science Center, Pittsburgh PA
  • The Great Train Story, Chicago Museum of Science & Industry, Chicago IL
  • New Orleans Train Garden, New Orleans, LA
  • San Diego Model Train Museum, San Diego CA (2,700 sq. ft.)
  • Hara Model Railway Museum, Nishi-ku, Japan
  • Miniatur Wunderland, Hamburg, Germany (50,000 feet of track)

I visited the Northlandz miniature world myself and it was amazing. It took about 2 hours to walk through it all and it was astonishingly detailed with funny vignettes throughout.

Here’s a one minute video clip of my current model train layout in action:

What do you think? Let me know if you’ve tried it and loved (or hated) it. Maybe we’ll see each other some day at the NMRA (National Model Railroad Assn.) national convention. It’s in Kansas City in 2018 and Salt Lake City in 2019. Or at the Trainfest expo in November 2018 at the Wisconsin State Fair Park.

Dr. Marlene JensenAuthor bio
Marlene Jensen is a 70-year-old full-time marketing professor. Previously she was a VP at CBS and ABC and spent decades as an entrepreneur and pricing author/consultant. Sadly, none of these prepared her for the onslaught of marketers who now think her daily interests/needs consist solely of hearing aids, wheel chairs, adult diapers, medi-alert buttons, tons and tons of medications, and bath tubs you walk into.


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