Agile learning…

Sometimes I just need to make something. A bad day, a hard decision, troubling news could all be triggers, the familiarity, the warm hug of Modelmaking a chance to soothe a busy and anxious mind…

Sometimes it’s difficult to find a task or project that is low risk yet of enough interest. Deep enough to satisfy, long enough to go the distance.

Flow, flow through the process, through the craft, through our hands, our heads and through our hearts.

Good friend Chris has been talking about using an ‘agile methodology’ with his model making in the past twelve months. It struck me last weekend as I wrestled with those same feelings again that perhaps I could adopt some of that thinking to a small test piece, just a length of OO track on a Mosslanda shelf, but built over a few modelling sessions interrupted by natural breaks such as coffee or the toilet rather than dictated by drying time.

Friday evening wood from the ‘bits pile’ was quickly marked and cut then glued. Whilst drying I tidied up the tools and saw. Filler was mixed and used to smooth contours and seal the ends, I love the gentle act of sculpting and smoothing this, it is incredibly satisfying. 

Saturday morning dark grey emulsion paint neatened the finish, yet dried quickly. Once the brush has been cleaned it was touch dry. Track from the offcuts pile was found, cut to size and then super glued in place. Acrylic Humbrol paints were used to paint track, sleepers and rails. A natural break point in the day followed. Ballasting started mid afternoon and was glued in place, whilst drying I added scenic ground foam at the sides of the ballast. 

Sunday and out with the static grass, the base of 2mm fibres mixed from various bags as I went and applied to scenic cement. Immediately I used lacquer spray to build up depth and variation with 4mm and eventually 6mm fibres through the morning with no break, no need to wait for material to dry. The only requirement was not to let the lacquer hit the first layer to hard as it can flatten the 2mm grass very easily.

Using methods, tools and materials that are comfortable in my hand, uninterrupted by the process, only life itself was no 'rest cure; but it was a balm, it did help soothe my busy mind. Painting, weathering and making structures are usually good things to work on in these moments, however sometimes you want to create something more natural - I had always ruled scenic work out, but now I see my own benefits from considering Chris’s approach. It strikes me that personally this is more about ‘flow’ than the technicalities of planning and sprinting and what not. Flow, flow through the process, through the craft, through our hands, our heads and through our hearts. Until next time, more soon…

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  1. Key to agile is the use of experimentation and the development of Minimum Viable/Economic Products . It is about learning as you go, hence my own decision to do something with at least one Mosslanda before returning to Gerralt Rd.

    But it also requires other changes to how you work. as I've been unpacking my old studio I've tried to repack things into boxes that can be used for specific tasks. So I have a tree making box, a ballasting box. I suppoise if Agile theory mapped ont to reality each box would represent a Sprint

    1. See this is where you and Chris loose me - you love the theory and persue the purest of applications to the hobby. I read and absorb and adopt to suit my own approach.

      Much of what I do fits your description anyway, from years of evolution and several moves - it could be better but doesn’t fundamentally change the enjoyment.

      For me, in this instance, agile was about getting closer to ‘flow’, that state of letting my mind calm in the task rather. Agile ideas as an enabler rather than an end?

      I love our conversations! Thanks for that James, it’s always appreciated. A deeper understanding follows. Very enjoyable.

    2. Ah, now we are talking Lean...

      There is something about having a box you can open and just get on with something. most of my rolling stock projects are in that sort of box.

      There is also the Theory of Constraints. Most of us have some job that is our bottleneck . For me it is usually ballasting track, but it can also be something like trying a new technique for the first time.

      I actually hate the theory despite being a certified "agilist" but sometimes you need the theory to change how you do things in the real world. In model railway terms I get immense value out of being in the Scalefour society without wanting to model to their standards.

    3. I used to work with lean and continuous improvement, teaching and coaching it in engineering maintenance and manufacturing facilities in a previous life. I wonder if this was because it naturally appealed, I found I was good at it, or it made sense. Either way it has probably infected / improved my modelling from a craft and organisational perspective.

    4. I like where this thread is going.

      At the risk of opening this comment by sounding like I was opening a presentation on Agile at work: I started my The Shove layout last summer to explore how Agile's method could change the way I work.

      The hobby regards time as a factor in the value equation. When we spend the time actively exploring ways to make, time when our hands and mind move as one feeling and modulating media we're measuring it well. When the time is just waiting for glue to dry, that's like a sentence with wayy too much punctuation.

      In Agile, we work in "sprints". It's not important we stud the thinking with terminology but it was sprinting that was very important for me. I looked at the layout, objectively, and identified things that needed to get done then ranked those activities based on "Is the problem me? Do I really just need to do (this)?" through to the pragmatic "Do I have the stuff?" Once I committed to my list for that sprint I assigned a date when I felt I could have the work done. Crucially, once I committed to my list I did not allow myself to deviate. I put my phone away when I was idle because I could see that same time was time I was taking away from a model railway I said I wanted.

      Sometimes, some things didn't get done. I noted in my journal what happened just like how I'd document to a client why something was, for whatever reason, not done. We talk a lot about how this is a hobby that wins or loses by just doing something but, equally, we're people and hobbyists who can act with respect to our own time, value it, use it appropriately.

      More than just an ethos for work I changed the methods I worked. We have instant adhesives that work every bit as well, often better, than old-fashioned slow drying options. Changing adhesives to favour variations on "instant" had nothing to do with impatience or urgency but simply because I acknowledge that when I am at the layout it is the desire to explore media with my hands. I want to feel the work and work until that feeling has left me. "Waiting for the glue to dry" is like being told "Not now. No, you can't".

      Collectively, the change in mindset was about starting the model railway because I realised there was no reason not to. Changing the way I worked to make myself responsible for its development, then interrogating my assumptions about process was simply making a plan to make this happen, make this a success. Planning for, designing even, a method for success also allowed to see progress flowing from my hands and onto the layout. I could see real change.

      This is empowering because not seeing progress leads to dwelling on feelings like inadequacy. Second only to advice on how to glue down ballast is a modeller apologizing for just "not having the time to work on their layout lately". We make these models as a act of love. It was because of this kind of love I wanted to be more active in my practice of love. Love, not just a phrase I said, but an act I was active in.

      Final thought, as I was about to click Publish: because I spent the time I did, adopting in this way of Agile thinking, I strengthened my identity as a modeller. I started seeing myself as more than just derivative of the models in my possession. My experience of the hobby became more a feeling of personal growth and way less about salving by consumption. As I'd tease, seeing the making of the models as a form of sanctuary or retreat from which I emerge a restored person.

      "and I'm rambling"

    5. Thank you Chris, this echoes a lot of our conversations and I can hear your voice sharing this - more though, the comment feels like a blog post in itself, as if you’re answering mine with your own…

      I think your experiences made me want to experiment and see if the idea of flow, perhaps rather than agile, could exist or improve my own craft. From that experiment I can see it holds promise, but I’m probably not your average modeller. I find flow in the craft in lots of ways, this adjustment of methods will improve that but my head (and heart) is already in that zone. If I start, I find that I can carry on working until time runs out rather than I’m waiting for something… is this a reflection on years of learning or otherwise an innate appreciation of working in this way?

  2. I'm not a great one for theory, my layouts are just fun to build and operate. I can do what I like, no-one else sees them apart from a non-critical six year old. I would like to tackle a single track layout but I cannot see the operating interest. Can you help me understand how you address this aspect? After 65 years of railway modelling I still want to try new things. Thank you for hours of interest from this blog(?), and three of your publications. At present I have a DB shunting HO layout, an OO9 pier railway, a superb Kato train set that runs on the dining table and goes away in five minutes when my grandson leaves and a G scale Thomas oval that runs on the patio, with a Feldbahn loco for when Ted has gone home. Thanks again, Charles.

    1. Hi Charles, think of a single track layout as a rationalised branch terminus and you realise it’s a compact home for an evocative DMU, Sprinter or perhaps even rail-bus or auto-train. Then it becomes an exercise in modelling - but the operation, whilst limited, is realistic. Until you’ve tried running a lovely characterful DMU in and out of a wonderfully modelled station a couple of times, savouring the experience, getting up close and peering into the scene, putting yourself on the platform, until you’ve tried that, even with just a mock up, you won’t know if it does anything for you or not.

    2. Thank you James, your explanation helps a lot. I can see that realism outweighs the need for complex operation. My layouts are freelance "in the spirit of___" so it would give me the chance to model a real situation. Henley appeals with its single track terminus and background of trees. My Malcolm Logistics diesel depot, two 66s and an OO8, is going on the back burner for a coulple of months, thanks again, Charles.

    3. Dapol n gauge 121 secondhand is on its way. Poorer but happier.

    4. Oooh I do hope you enjoy this distraction - start soaking up some inspirational photos and if possible video, of the area and you'll soon get into the swing of this! Wonderful!

    5. Great advice Jamas. I asked Ted his opinion and he was useless, just said "buy it grandpa".

  3. I feel I'm learning something here James. My modelling is very mood based but is also governed by how quickly or easily I manage to get results. I'm fairly disorganised despite efforts to keep things tidy. If things go well then I tend to be spurred on and get more done. If everything seems an effort then I down tools and read a railway book instead. Needless to say, I'm a sporadic modeller! I'm always amazed at the sheer amount of odds and ends model railways generate. Keep up the good work. Excellent shots of the class 31 yesterday too.

    1. Thanks Tom, I’m glad this has proven to be thought provoking. I hope it goes beyond thought to some experimentation…


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