Over the years, I came to realize any scene longer than 7 to 8 feet was too large to be fully appreciated by someone standing in the aisle from a static point. This applies to modules, switching layouts and larger layouts. Granted, very long scenes are wonderful to implement when the space is available and I certainly wouldn't discourage nobody wanting one, on the contrary. The observations I'm making applies to smaller endeavours. As such, with a small layout such as Monk Subdivision, I quickly came to realize 17 feet long rural stations were a little bit overkill. It was certainly prototypical in some regards, but it was also a waste of precious space.
For this reason, I went down to the basement, stood in the room for a good while and visualized the initial track plan and scenery. Quickly, it was apparent having a 20 feet long stretch of main line in the middle of the wood would have been cool on a large layout, but it was basically pointless. I know myself and I enjoy sitting next to the track and watching trains run by. 20 feet was not only completely outside of my fields of vision, but also a waste of opportunity to implement different scenes. It also greatly limited the operation potential by having only one town and nothing else. Running a local switcher is a favorite of mine and I thought these 20 feet would be better used if something happened.
I also came to the same conclusion looking at the other short wall where nothing happened. I was a little bit clueless about what to do with scenery there. It was so understated. On the other hand, the space itself was premium. Near the door, under cabinets, creating a nice alcove to stand in from of a scene wrapping itself around the spectator. Something could be done... and I quickly envisioned a major customer on an interchange, namely the John Breakey Limited.
After a while, it became clear the room could be broken down in 4 major scenes that would complement each other visually, provide a surround experience and offer a reason for trains to move. Let's take a look at these scenes to understand how they are designed.
Ste. Euphemie is a small village located East of Armagh, after a sweeping horseshoe curve. The station there was small, having one passing track, one long siding and a short spur to a saw mill, all not to far from a large concrete culvert. The area was interesting because NTR had to make several cuts and fills to maintain an acceptable grade.
For the layout purpose, considered Ste. Euphémie should be framed by the upper wall cabinets, creating a long and sweeping L-shaped alcove to railfan trains. As for operation, this scene would be used to stage meets, provide a destination for the local switcher, a stop for passenger trains and a long scenic curve to display lo trains.
In terms of inspiration, the saw mill was replaced by something similar to the Langlois feed mill in Armagh and my iconic Quebec South Shore Railway module. I wanted an enclosed water tank and a second class station.
The scene is framed at its left by a raised foreground that hides the end of the layout. On the right end, the scene disappears also behind a cut and trees, creating the illusion that Ste. Euphémie is nothing more than a small valley (which was the case on the prototype).
This long scene, about 16 feet long, is broken in two visual units: the station and the fill. The station takes advantage of a relatively straight stretch of track and is framed by two vertical elements: the feed mill and the water tank. These two structures created a clear boundary between the man made landscape and the wilderness. Between them, intense actions and interactions can occur and the small access road reinforce this link between human habitation and railways.
The other scene is on the contrary almost completely wild and depicts a main line crossing a valley. Everything there is mundane and natural, except for the steel ribbon, the concrete culvert and the fill that make clear the artificial nature of railways. The fill is not only prototypical and fun to model, but it provides an indicating this is indeed a significant valley. This raised embankment, about 5 inches at its highest point is also a perfect way to display trains. They float over the trees and the large curve makes them surround us, immersing ourselves into a silent admiration for train battling the grade before reaching their terminus.
Forests, distant mountains and the horizontal nature of the railways are the main components of this scene to always reinforce that illusion of a main line crossing a vast and wild landscape.
Monk is the heart of this project. Home of the largest station on the line and an important division point, it gets more than 20 feet, if not more, to stretch its legs. When you enter the room, this is the first thing you see and the large National Transcontinental depot automatically becomes the focus of the panorama.
However, this is a very long scene and it could be flat and boring if nothing is done to insert a hierarchy of spaces based on actions occuring there.
First of all, I must mention having a long straight scene wouldn't look good. I base my judgement on our club layout Villeneuve, which is as close as possible from the prototype, looks great on paper and is a little bit boring in real life. For this reason, a sweeping curve is implemented in the tracks to break the monotony. This curves means that both ends of Monk aren't at the same angle and this helps us to break the scene in two manageable halves.
It is important to mention Monk serves two purposes. First, it's a major passenger and freight station on the line, second, it's the division point and it's home to a roundhouse and a substantial classification yard. For the layout purpose, let's say the yard is less than substantial, but more on that on a later article about it.
|Monk Station is centered on a rural road|
What's important is that what happens at Monk station is not the same than what happens in the yard. Both of them are different sets of action and they can be performed by different people. That gives us a big hint. Someone working the yard should be a hindrance to another one running a train and doing work at the station. When can thus attribute the left side to the station and the right side to the yard/engine facilities.
Interestingly enough, it creates a small alcove in fron of the yard where an operator can stand. Even better, when you look down at your left, you see the tracks running toward the station which makes for a beautiful panorama of the entire railway property. This is not a small detail, because it means if someone want to fully appreciate Monk, he has to go to the yard alcove and look around. This isn't a view you will get from everywhere else on the layout.
|The yard is it's own world and benefit from a commanding view.|
Also, a two-part scene helps to frame a gradual transition in density. The station part starts with a track emerging from the woods and crossing a road and a sparsely populated area before encountering a freight shed, then a substantial two storeys station. Just like in Ste. Euphémie, architecture serves to frame intense railway activities. In this case, the farm scene and the station frame the human element. In the yard, the station and roundhouse are the psychological limits of a busy center of activity. It is also where a lot of structures and rolling stock can be found, further enhancing the importance of the division point. On the contrary, the station section is less crowded and more laid back. It invites to contemplation: be it a train departing the station or a small switcher moving slowly on the switching lead.
On the yard section, the roundhouse tracks are laid in such a fashion they channel your sight toward the building itself, making it a distant focus point where locomotives come and go on a regular basis. The idea being to let understand the roundhouse is outside the normal realm of the public railway, something to be discovered just as it was the case with Monk roundhouse back in the days.
I haven't yet decided how I'll call that subsection of Monk station scene, but you will find a small interchange track between CNR, Quebec Central and John Breakey Limited there. Generally, we try to not have trains running twice in the same spot for obvious reasons. Bear in mind Walsh/Diamond were more than 100 miles away from Monk. One is the starting point, the other one the ending point! However, space being at premium, this scene is nestled there.
|Diamond/Walsh is subdued compared to Monk Station|
To make it works, I took a good look at Bill Henderson's Coal Belt Railroad track plan. He used an outdated twice around plan to save on space and gets a longer main line run. Interestingly, he succeed by creating spatial separation between tracks. This can be achieved by several means. The first one is by making sure the track have sufficient distances between them to not look like parallel tracks.
Second, where tracks cross each others, Bill use vertical separation. It may seem obvious, but since tracks are generally quite distant from each others, when there is a bridge, it feels like another railway line is there.
|Bill's layout (Credit: A. Keller - Great Model Railroads Vol. 19)|
Also, never the vertical separation is done with steep hills and rock cuts. He keeps it simple, with natural grades. Only in one instance he use a tunnel portal in plain sight and even then, it makes sense. To make a long story short, Bill makes sure both track don't look to have been laid in a contrived landscape.
If you want a more modern example, just think about Mike Confalone's White Mountain Junction scene on his Allagash Railway. As Chris Mears pointed me out, you can barely imagine a main line is running behind the tree line. Yes, it's there and you would probably see the train if it was running, but it wouldn't matter at all, if not creates a sensorial interest.
|Bill's layout (Credit: A. Keller - Great Model Railroads Vol. 19)|
Finally, he use another level of separation which is scenic. The distant track is always partially hidden behind trees, buildings and embankments. He never treats it has a mainline, but as something running in the back ground. In some case, just having the track about 1 to 2 inches lower than the from one is enough to relegate a train running there in the background, both literally and visually.
|Red line is the hidden main line (credit: M. Confalone/C. Mears)|
For this reasons, I decided to keep Diamond/Walsh as simple as can be. The prototype itself was simply a junction in the middle of fields. Very little to no structures would be there, except for a very small shed. Tracks are limited to the minimum required; a passing/interchange track and the industrial spur. Fields and woods would surround completely the scene in such a way the interchange would be like a clearing between two small woods. As for the hill dividing Diamond from Monk, it would require some thoughts. Vegetation will probably play a big role and topography too.
John Breakey Limited
|John Breakey is yet another achievable paper mill scene|
The John Breakey Limited pulp mill scene is once again something that could be considered a module or a cameo in itself. It has a lot in common with many small British exhibit layouts. It starts on the left with a track emerging being a tree line and fields, crosses a small creek that indicates where the industrial realm starts and end with the mill buildings framing the end of the scene, as a backdrop.
Once again, like the prototype, the scene is kept as simple as possible. It also only emerge when it's out of the way from Monk yard so both aren't ovelapping. This is important visually, but also to ensure two persons wouldn't constantly interfere between them. The first rural part is a way to blend it with the end of Monk yard nicely. Only tracks in nature. As for the mill part, it isn't a problem if we can see a little bit of trains running behind the mill. This track will be slowly doing down toward the hidden staging. Add vegetation and structure nad you can think of the main line as a distant one, that you catch glimpses through a semi-transparent curtain of scenery. It reminds you the main line isn't very far, but yet that the mill is it's own thing, branching off of it.
I'm well aware of the limitations of a twice around track plan, however, I'm equally understanding the big advantages they can bring to the overall experience.
It forces me to break the layout into scenes, which creates a more dynamic composition and provides more variety. It also provides for railfanning alcoves offering various viewpoints on the train operations. Finally, as much as they can look quite close enough, the rural backwood nature of these scenes helps to blend them together. Truth to be told, the structure count is quite low, the main line dominates every scenes and vegetations gets the share of the lion. Imagine an unifying backdrop depicting Appalachian Mountains and spruces, firs, birches and maple trees creating an almost uninterupted ribbon of greenery. Yes, I believe with a unifying palette, these scenes won't look like a collection of independent elements, but rather like variations on a single unique and strong theme.