Tuesday, July 9, 2024

QSSR Mark VII - A Classic American Switching Layout

As mentionned in my previous post, I have been absent from model railroading for a few months. Sometimes, inspiration is just not there, and I felt I needed a pause. The last time I posted about layout design, I was making all kind of fascinating but reckless decisions about Monk Subdivision and I’m glad I didn’t pursue them right off the bat. That said, most of my reasons for staying away from the hobby were also caused by doing some home improvement, more precisely, remodelling my entire kitchen and getting rid of a lot of useless stuff accumulated in the house over the years. Pursuing many hobbies is never a good idea, particularly when they involve collecting items. Not that I want to criticize collecting, but they are contexts when this type of hobby is just the most unproductive way to waste time, resources, efforts and money. After a long period of deep thinking, I decided to just stop collecting. That said, it doesn’t affect model railroading and a core passion of mine.

With the kitchen project near completion and some space freed in my office space and basement, I thought it would be nice to move forward with the idea of a small switching layout on a Kallax shelf. I’ve explorer that theme countless time, but never fully finished one (expect maybe Glassine Canada).

The current module isn’t groundbreaking at all, but build upon my exploration of a rural branchline near abandonment. Add to that a discussion with Chris Mears about reusing old Atlas classic structures and assuming boldly their identities as informed by old box art.


The big difference this time is the template is as small as possible to be easy to move around during and after building process. I’m learning here from the latest QSSR iteration. The footprint is about 72” x 15”, which is more than enough. The track plan follows an inglenook pattern that serves a generic industry that will probably share a lot with feed mills or small industrial plants (agro or forest products).

A very condensed track plan

As for the Atlas structures, they are the ubiquitous station and the shanty. I’ve had these kits in my hands for almost 3 decades now and it was time to give them a new life… or should I say, model their end of life. The station is now a derelict and abandoned building slowly rotting away.

Structures are used to frame the train entrance (and hide it)

Those familiar with old section houses crumbling along the ex-MMA/CMQ lines and the old depot at Richford, VT, will understand what I’m after. This is a theme explored by Tom Johnson on his previous INRAIL layout and I want to give it a try. The station is in the foreground and acts as a view block for trains entering the stage. It’s also a fascinating place to stand and look at the action. While the building no longer serves a purpose, its grounds are used by railway crews and maintenance of the way, so there is still life there.


Atlas structures framing the layout entrance

Another thing I wish to experiment with is a raised foreground sloping down toward the tracks. This is something I really want to try because everywhere I did it on Murray Bay Subdivision, I loved the look of it. It’s a neat wait to frame a scene and smooth the transition at the end of the module. Consider it as an inversion of Stanstead, which had its hills in the background.


A raised foreground is a good way to frame tracks

As you can see, this is a very simple layout once again, more interested in colors, textures and framing the scene. It’s an artistic take on ubiquitous railway elements and for that reason, it follows no prototype in particular. It will be a home for my 1970s-2010s small collection of American and Southern Quebec rolling stock and motive power to suit the mood of the moment. For its name, I originally thought it could be Rockville to pay tribute to the classic Atlas station, but maybe I’ll be lazy and it will just become another QSSR iteration, probably Mark VII at this point! Some ideas refuse to die!

Mocking up the feed mill from recycled structures

At the moment of writing the article, most of the layout is now quite advanced: the recycled module has been disassembled and rebuilt in a lightweight version. Cork and tracks are installed and fully wired, including switch machines and frogs. Landscape is taking shape, with the raised foreground already in place. I don’t plan to work on the layout until the end of July as I will take the road on Friday to give a clinic, a week later, at St. Louis RPM convention. It will be a great occasion to visit more of Appalachia and discover the Midwest while meeting people I only know online.


  1. I really like the idea, a nice small layout where time can be spent on creating atmosphere while still providing enough enjoyable operating potential

    The idea reminds me of a British guy who is quite prolific in making small layouts on Ikea shelves that are very popular at various train shows over there.

    Anyone looking for inspiration of what can be achieved can check out his layouts (and occasionally some others) at https://www.rmweb.co.uk/forums/topic/94613-the-sheep-chronicles-the-adventures-of-a-sheep-the-works-forecat-and-the-works-apprentice-george/page/779/

    1. As you pointed out, most of the time, the inspiration for such layouts comes from the British Isles. A lot can be done on a small space and it's the best way to build up your skills without feeling crushed by the task. It is also better to stay active between large projects by doing smaller ones. Otherwise, muscle memory is lost...