I've noted in the past on this Blog the advantages of having something to run while building the larger basement empire. After reading this thread in the modeler forum of Model Railroad Hobbyist magazine (a fine - and free - online publication, I might add) I finally decided to get off my duff and start a small Inglenook Sidings-based switching yard. I've always wanted a portable switching layout to take to shows and exhibitions, and have a hardwood baseboard at 12"x52" that has been lying around for a few years unused. With the larger UP-C&NW pike a number of years away (well... at my pace it is) from being operable I am making the move towards becoming an active operator versus being perpetually stuck in the civil engineering stage.
An added bonus is the ability to do some modeling and operating in a different era and with a new prototype than the basement-anchored layout. Well, the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad - aka The Milwaukee Road - isn't really a "new" prototype for me. I grew up in the '70s watching the Milwaukee pass through and switch my family's hometown in north-central South Dakota before the Embargo of Lines West at the turn of the decade. Now armed with a pair of EMD switchers, some MILW rib-sided rolling stock and a smattering of SOO, CNW and other connecting foreign-road equipment I can somewhat relive those idle days of youth with my micro-sized "time-machine." A few Peco code 75 Electrofrog turnouts, a small number of "sticks" of Atlas code 83 flextrack and my NCE PowerCab and we're soon in business.
More to come on the Milwaukee's early-'70s era vest pocket yard switcher once it's a bit along. For now just consider the advantages of building something small and portable - whether to hone skills before committing to the larger pike, embrace a smaller budget or to get something operating now when space or available time is at a premium. You can still crack a throttle and move cars around - and quite realistically - within not much more than four-square feet.