To see a finished (OK, reasonably complete) model railroad is to view an artwork. The builders have taken great pains to create a believable world in miniature. And the more believable the world, the more pleasurable to operate. Trains go to places: it’s very cool. Sure, some modelers dispense with scenery altogether and focus solely on operation, and others spend their time creating intricate and highly detailed structures and scenery while content to run trains for the pleasure of running trains through their world. All approaches are valid: liking for trains is the first principle, but most modelers seek to strike a balance between operation and scenery. It’s not only more fun to operate in a scenicked environment, there’s a justifiable sense of pride of accomplishment. A model railroad is a creative effort with the added benefit of purposeful motion.
As I’ve worked on the Northern Pacific project, I find that I’m more of a builder than an operator. The railroad has been operational since April, and the track plan has lived up to expectations. It’s fun to spend some time switching cars, but I enjoy the building more. As scenery moves along, the enjoyment in operating increases, but I’m looking forward to the next modeling project.
There’s a natural tendency for creative people not to reveal the process, but rather the final product. This tendency maybe doesn’t serve the community well. People are fascinated with how things are done. Factory tours exist for a reason. Documentaries are popular for a reason. I would wager that in any given forum, posts on the modeling process are far more popular than ones merely displaying a finished product. True, it’s a biased audience: modelers are always looking for tips on improving their craft, but I suspect that among the general population the statement would hold true.
I’d suggest that showing non-modelers a half-finished layout and explaining what you’re doing is more valuable to the hobby than working for years in secrecy before the big reveal. I’ve never met a non-modeler who wasn’t impressed by a finished scale model railroad, but how much greater the appreciation if they knew how it was done.