Thursday, February 6, 2020

Guilty Pleasure Layout Planning

Over the last couple of weeks I had a few discussions with fellow railfan André-Pierre Savard. He is your typical HO scale collector that buy a few brass locomotives, try to assemble  a fleet based on his nostalgia as a kid growing up by CN mainline in Quebec City and who don't model nor will ever build a layout on his own. I know, I'm painting him in black, but be assured he's the kind to like to be teased about his armchair modelling.

That said, André-Pierre has visited many layout and ran trains on them. Probably about 100 times much more than I did and I'm not exaggerating. Most people would be surprised, but I rarely visit or operate on others layouts. Interestingly enough, André-Pierre has come to the same realization that model railroading is a matter of "less is more" even without living the frustration of building a layout. Many people have great skills, but a lot are lost when it is time to select only a few idea. More than often, the "I want it all" mentality simply crushes their good intentions and skills.

Naturally, our discussion wandered on the subject of the layout in my new hobby room. As I told him, I had many ideas, but nothing very serious in mind. We convened the best choice would probably to keep thing generic and simple. In André-Pierre's words, "a team track is more than enough". He loves well made scenery, single track mainline and as little turnout as possible. I can agree with that. So I sent him a track plan I drawn a few years ago based on Erie Railroad's Dayton Branch near Springfield, OH. The exact location is where Maitland Interlocking tower was standing not so long ago.

Original "Erie-based" layout plan (2018)

As I told him, the location is irrelevant. I only found it visually appealing, "railroady" enough to make my modeller's blood happy and in fact, quite simple. He found it quite interesting, noticing that it could even be simplified quite a bit which I did today.

I'll be honest, I tried a lot of things for this prospective layout and I'm always back to Dayton Branch. I don't know why, but I feel this place is quite universal in its appeal and capture the essence of North American railroading as I like it. I would call it a "guilty pleasure layout" because it's a no brainer.

Revised track plan

However, it doesn't mean it is a stupid idea. Far from it. The focus is given to a single mainline track running through fields and woods. Only one large customer is there and cleverly located near a junction, which would be indeed a wise decision for a business.

Another reason why I call it a guilty pleasure layout is because you can railfan your trains on such a layout. A neat mainline run is always the best way to display your trains. You want a small steam mixed freight? You can do it. You want a 5-locomotive consist pulling 20 cars, you can do it. Canadian National, Canadian Pacific, Erie, Maine Central, why not? The track plan is so simple and generic it fits all scenarios. And don't believe this is laziness. In fact, it is more honest, I think, than taking a prototype you like then trying to shove something here and something there.

Not only you can ran any trains, but you can also replace the industry with something else. The footprint is versatile enough to model various structure you can replace. A feed mill, a manufacturing plant, a food processor... anything goes on. Even the tower can be replaced with different prototypes depending on era and railway.

I could add more things, but it is enough to make a point. It is enough to correctly model railway operation. Is it more than enough to care about details, track details, topography details, vegetation details... Insignificant stuff that makes a railroad real.

This is also the kind of layout that can evolve with you. You can replace structure and scenery as you get better. It is also possible to use all your rolling stock and motive power as you wish. Modelling a perfect prototype is an interesting process, but in all honestly, I like that simple vibe. You know, when you can sit in your armchair, look at your trains running by, as if you were standing at a nearby grade crossing and enjoying the moment. Which, incidently, can only reminds me of Mike Cougill's words in his most recent ebook "The Modeling Conversation", reflecting on his evolutive relation with his craft. Far from giving a recipe for success, Mike has once again touched that sensible subject: finding solace in your hobby should be of great importance... whatever the shape it takes, as long as you realize it is the one that fulfills you. To me something is missing, and I know it is being a spectator of trains... maybe it's why I often have more fun watching Jérôme operate on the Murray Bay subdivision than when I'm controlling the trains.


  1. I enjoy seeing the various layout plans you come up with.

    Given that you seem to get enjoyment from making and sharing them you might want to take part in Model Rail Radio's Layout planning contest - this year an 18'x12' room and the need to incorporate in some fashion the two listed craftsman kits.

  2. Nice article. Cheers.