Sunday, May 20, 2018

To Each His Own Point of View

The way we interact with layout and model trains varies a lot among modellers. Like any subject matter on Earth, many people will like the same thing but for different reasons.

This is how I like to see my trains and be a part of the scene.

Last Friday I had the chance to operate the layout for the first time in about two months. A simple train from D'Estimauville to Clermont, switching en route the team track and the large paper mill.

While my freight manifest crossed large expanse of territory, I really was sucked in the miniature world when I was sitting in front of the 3 feet long team track and spotting 3 bulkhead flatcars full of lumber and a loaded ballast car.

Over the year, this feeling occurred many, many times: I had most fun while watching my train at eye level on a relatively small scenes (about 3 to 5 feet maximum). I can recall doing the same with my childhood train layouts. Regular readers knows too well how I have a fascination for smaller layouts and I must admit it isn't just for the sake of pragmatism. I truly need very little to be captivated in term of model railroading.

However, today a weird idea came ot my mind. I generally push forward the idea that I prefer when a layout emphasize the linear nature of railroads, thus implying a good layout would be long scenes with very little compression. This, honestly, can't always be done and I'm not sure it yields as much satisfaction one would want due to many other constraint. However, I thought what if someone would build a medium-sized layout by creating several vignettes of the road, each large or small enough to focus attention on what matters. It could be likened to a series of cameo layouts. Since each scenes would be self-contain, the distance between each of them would no longer matter nor the way the blend together (which is always tricky).

I'm well aware this design idea is absolutely not new and many have implemented it over the past with good success. However, it has some merit: first you have the chance to model various small scenes with a focus equivalent to a good quality diorama. Scene composition and operation are what will determine the size of a specific scene. Also, given railroads are quite large infrastructures, I see no harm in cutting them into small vignettes since it is how we perceive them when we railfan them.

Another interesting aspect is that some scenes can be completed and fully put into operation while others can be done later when inspiration, time and resources are available. Basically, the layout grows as required and few small  good scenes can provide a lot of satisfaction.

One of the reason why I put forward this idea s because I always struggled with Hedley-Junction when it was time to blend together several scenes. At best I got mixed results, at worst I was conflicted over the end results. Also, since our main goal is to replicate operation on this subdivision, a lot of compromises had to be reached to somewhat replicate the real thing. Unfortunately, we ended up sacrificing many interesting customers that define the nature of the line or geological features that set the locale.

Don't be fooled, this ain't a vary on the "I want it all" syndrome, but rather the fact I often found out many scenes on Murray Bay subdivision could be modeled as small switching layouts but didn't work when implemented on our main layout. I could distinguish both approach as the traditional one that tries to replicate a miniature open space world or one that that focus on specific enclosed scenes. You will notice I stressed "enclosed scenes" because I believe just putting together individual scenes together in an open air fashion is tricky at best.

Also, in a design, the layout would become something that would be quite similar to a storyboard. Each scenes being relevant in telling a story about how the line operate. In our case, I can easily imagine the introduction scenes at Maizerets, a second scene in Villeneuve focussed on the cement plant, then a third one about Dominion Textile and Montmorency Falls, and so on.

Very small scenes like Léo Cauchon sawmill in Château-Richer, Ste-Anne's feed mill or Cap-à-l'Aigle pier scenes could easily be implement since most of them don't need more than 3 to 5 feets to be modelled with success.

Thinking this way also enable us to figure out many long stretch of tracks are unrequired if your intention is about focussing on a few scenes. Indeed, if the layout goal is different and based on "running" trains, particularly very large one, the answer will be different to fit best.


  1. I'm certain your architectural training will be an invaluable asset.

    1. Mike, it will probably the case. I'm at the point I look at the layout, I see a lot of discrepancies that makes no sense with the story we are telling but also see untapped potential. This is the part of design I like, when you have to optimize something the best you can, streamline here and there, and try to bolster the main ideas.

  2. A good point relative to your reflexion is to see the HO Hagersville Sub. on Youtube. Trains circulate from scenes to scenes in shadow boxes.
    On my medium size layout, which is Layout Design Elements successions, I created 2 "time tunnels" to increase distance/time effect. train desappearing behind obstacles where they have to stop for a determined amount of time.

    1. Thanks for your input Yvan. This is indeed what I had in mind. I recall a gentleman in Ontario built a CN-based layout that was basically 3 shadow boxes stacked and linked by an helix. Each scene was meaningful to the railway operation. I'm not convinced about the ergonomics, but that was nevertheless a clever approach to model the essential parts of a line in a convincing way.