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You've decided to build a model railroad. You purchased some additional track, Friday late afternoon, when you passed by the model shop. Most likely have a starter set, you purchased 2 years ago, somewhere at the bottom of your closet. Totally inspired by the store layout. You really fell in love with that engine, but the price was a little steep, not to mention the explanation you would need to convince your significant other of the "necessary purchase" ! The sales clerk convinced you: Your layout can and will be built this weekend. But by now you wonder, ponder and really don't know how and where to begin?

Start by asking yourself an important question: Which Theme? OK, What Theme? To start of with one difference of opinion: some argue that geographical location should not be entangled in "The Theme". I respectfully disagree. I do, on the other hand agree that it might be hard to explain in regular terms just what "Theme" is. Examples though make short work of getting the point across. e.g. If you like a German steel plant railroad and wish to model the same, you have made a decision about theme. If you love to model urban areas and the railroads that worked them, you have once again made a decision about theme. Mainline versus shortlines is largely a decision about theme. If you have decided to build a switching layout, you probably have begun the process of choosing a theme but are not quite finished yet. Will your switching layout focus on a small yard in a small town or will you attempt to capture some of the switching done near a large passenger/freight station in a big city

If your choice is industries your layout will likely be issued that specific theme. Are you interested in logging? Mining? Warehouses? Steel Mills? Auto Plants? Do you like grain silos? Refineries? This just to mention a few of the industries that can set the theme of your layout. Setting yourself free of duplication may draw much praise of other modelers who admire your creativity, but above all, allow yourself to select a theme that truly pleases YOU.

A sugar cane railroad in the south of The Netherlands has always been on my mind as an option. This due to the fact that my father was born in Dinteloord, home of the sugar factory. Another one is the harbor with a fish processing plant in Vlissingen, this due to the fact that my mother was born there. How about the year that you were born? The place you were born. Maybe these could serve as possible themes?! I could model after the postal rail service in Holland. This mainly because I was employed by them during my college years. Will you include a big city passenger yard in your layout? Will you model a passenger terminal? This too can be a theme. How about a wedding, funeral, a presidential election, a visit from King Ludwig/Wilhelm or Queen Beatrix?

The historical shipping out of a Rotterdam Harbor Scene of the newly painted "Northlander" previously known as TEE, or better known to Märklin as 3070, 3150, 3170, 37500, 39700 etc. Do you want to include tracks crossing waterways with sailboats passing underneath/overhead? Do you want to include a graffiti artist to assist you with your railroad's color scheme, or will graffiti be "The Theme"? Will you include a railroad car ferry, or do you prefer to model the Eurostar terminals at both sides of the channel?

You like bridges and/or tunnels? You wonder, is that really a theme? How about a scene where you model an entire tunnel accident? A  fog machine can have smoke pouring out of the tunnel entrance. Fire Department vehicles can be staged at the tunnel entrance, ready to save your Preisser friends. How about installing a new rail bridge next to the old one over the river the "Maas"? Märklin build "The Goliath", which together with the Roco NS crane might be able to assist you in this endeavor. Maybe you model planes too? How about an airport with station? Schiphol would be a nice two-level layout theme in my honest opinion. Paul Delcour loves a theme in which he is basically revisiting his childhood layout, (at least at the writing of this article). Or maybe his theme is/was a "Grand Layout". Märklin must have had him in mind when they designed the new Schimmel car

As a child one of the best things about visiting my grandparents was to stand on the balcony and watch the trains go by on the line Amsterdam-Rotterdam. My Grandfather even knew all the specifics about the trains coming by. If such a memory is one you'd like to revisit, you may want to create one visible scene with lots of hidden tracks. The hidden tracks provide a place to park the trains that will run through the visible scene. Model railroaders call the unseen portion "staging" since that is where we hold the trains that are waiting to come "on stage. When we were kids, we ran our trains round and around an oval of track. Would you find that same oval interesting now? As we get older we feel the urge for more complexity. Most of us are not satisfied with simplicity anymore. Sadly enough! Many people complain about the steep prices they have to lay out for this hobby. Yet this might be the greatest opportunity to encourage  our children/grand children to enlist themselves in this wonderful hobby of ours. A theme could be the solution. It builds towards a goal, does not have to be a large layout, and you can build a theme layout on a 8 x 4. How about only the Bietschtal Bridge with or without a staging area under it? Perhaps you love riding the trains. I always have and always will. You may want to model passenger service rather than freight trains. Decide whether this means lots of commuter trains or a long mainline with few trains but lots of stations (anything larger than N-scale might make this "a dream only" to most of us)  or, perhaps, a coach yard where head-end cars are switched out and diners and sleepers are serviced. How about a winter scene/theme? Besides choice of seasons, some modelers have even gone so far as to model the weather. A passion for steam might mean a complete steam yard, including roundhouse, turntable, water tower, coal, sanding, service and maintenance facilities. Stop, Think, Look, and Listen! If several of the above scenarios seem to fit you, try to develop a plan which includes your favorites.

If none of the above scenarios fit, stop, think, look, listen, imagine! Pay attention to what you like in railroading. Visit the local bookstores and browse through the transportation section. Visit the library.  Which articles do you turn to first in model railroad magazines? Where do you spend most of your time on a layout visit? Which model railroad conversations catch your ear? Which ones spark your interest?   Stop,  Think, Look, Listen, Dream and Think. Soon you will be able to identify your interests. You are doing this for fun, for your own enjoyment. The above is to give you an idea of some of the themes that are out there. Hold all thoughts that attract you and all sorts of wonderful things await you on this journey of theme choice. Once you have made your choice, Build!! Good Luck!!