Friday, March 29, 2024

MMA Blues - Or Repurposing The Overlap

Once upon a time, Chris Mears invented The Overlap – a clever compression of two distant scenes in one small layout. The goal was to depict two ends of a branchline or an operation, while providing a visual break on a cassette which was to be understood as miles travelled. Recently, someone dug the concept from an excellent James Hilton’s inspiration book and it got my brain working again. Kitchen renovations have taken me away from modelling, but the train bug never dies that easy, so I started to exchange ideas with Chris, including how The Overlap could become a nice little paper mill based on Donnacona, or more likely, East Angus. Recycling old ideas is a trope of this blog, so with not indulge in it!


An early sketch

The idea evolved when YouTube decided to suggest a few videos of two turnouts layouts which sparked again my creativity because of there closeness to The Overlap. All featured a cassette or staged the train directly on the layout. I’ve never been a big fan of both ideas because they feel artificial to me and seem like artifices created to compensate for a lack of oversight. That said, it’s my own prejudice because I’m well aware these designs do work well and aren’t the result of poor design. However, rethinking about my interest in Southern Quebec railways, I wondered if I couldn’t combine these basic ideas with The Overlap and, probably, a pinch of British design.


The overall layout should be self contained, able to run train of 3 long covered hoppers and a caboose/shoving platform. The template was the top of a set of IKEA Kallax shelfs, providing for an 8 ft by 14 inches footprint. From experience, I knew it was long enough for operation.


Two separate scenes for different experience

Then, it was time to develop the idea. The key element was to stage the train out of our view so the distant originating point would be invisible, creating a surprise when it enters the scene and getting rid of selective compression. In that regard, the staging area would be in fact a UK-style hidden fiddle yard at the back of the layout.


MMA train over St-Pie bridge (credit: unknown)

The junction between the hidden staging and the layout would be a heavily forested area as is so common in old Southern Quebec villages. On the right would be the switching lead, disguised as a chunk of the mainline. It would be, in itself, a scene that I would call the “Bridge” or the “Mainline”. It is a place where you can railfan the train as it moves over and over that 36 inches stretch of track. Inspired by Ste-Pie, an agricultural village once served by MMA, that mainline could be a long bridge crossing a calm river. Both ends of that scene would be hidden by mature trees, making it truly a window through which you can admire the rolling stock and motive power at work. To enhance and dramatize that setup, the track would be angled toward the viewer, adding an element of dynamism, both visual and auditive.


Refining the concept

The train would then reverse course to reach an industry – probably a feed mill and a lumber supply. These mid-size mills and elevators were a common sight on MMA and having that rural hardware store is always a neat way to frame a scene. Once again, trees would surround that piece of land to create a railfanning alcove or bubble. Here, cars are spotted and shunted. While the river scene is distant, the feed mill is at the human scale, directly accessible and open toward the public and the operator. When direct human contact is required with the train, the scene naturally opens toward the people in the room. On the other hard, the river scene, which probably would feature a truss bridge, would be “distant” with the train running behind trees, over the water and shrouded by the bridge metallic structure.




  1. I really like this idea Matthieu. Having recently come back to the hobby, this would work very well in the space that I have.

    1. Glad to hear it can inspire you! Wish you the best with the hobby and don't be afraid to experiment! That's the beauty of working with much smaller spaces, it doesn't break the bank and there is room to make mistakes and start again!