Friday, June 23, 2017

Story Telling and Layout Design?


The space in the basement for the new layout has been roughly defined, meaning it’s sufficient to start some rough sketches of potential benchwork shapes and the like. Or so I thought.
These sketches are nothing more than doodles … and attempts to apply the John Armstrong’s by the squares and “givens and druthers” approach proved equally unsatisfying.  It simply wasn’t working for me. 
Mike Cougill and Trevor Marshall have written extensively about their model railroading and layout design philosophy on their respective blogs.  Rather than attempting to review it all here, I’ll suggest you read them for yourself (See here and here for some examples, but be sure to look around at both of these excellent blogs while you're there).  
I believe the essence of what they’re saying can be boiled down to “What story are you trying to tell?”  While this is a novel approach to thinking about model railroading, military modelers and miniaturists have done for years. Meaning we might be able to learn something from them.
Typically we jump right into layout design by figuring out how to fit the longest possible run into the space.  The question of “why” is left unanswered.  Instead, thousands of gallons of ink are spilled on explanatory text “I’m modeling the XY&Z railroad from Town A to Point B…” I’ve edited and you’ve read more than our share of such exposes so I won’t belabor the point.  Instead I’ll simply ask shouldn’t the story we’re telling be painfully obvious with nothing more than a single glance?  For example, see Sheperd Paine’s “How to Build Dioramas” – a book that should be a part of every modeler’s library.  Paine was a master at crafting a storyline for each of his dioramas. Check out the cover photo of the diorama depicting an aircraft assembly line in WWII – what stories does that one image tell? 

Truly gifted artists and craftsman imbue their work with an indelible stamp.  And, while I think most model railroads fall well short of being “art” some model railroads do indeed cross that threshold.  These are the layouts built by excellent craftsman with a strong, well defined theme – a story they’re telling.  
Mike Cougill frequently refers to model railroading not as a hobby, but as “the craft.”  And I think it’s no accident that defining the story you’re trying to tell, not only about railroading but about yourself and your relationship to “the craft” extends far beyond the trains, curve radii, dispatching methods or other minutia that bogs us down way too early in the design process.
While it may be a little too philosophical for some, all this resonated with me to a certain extent.  I should add these same ideas are applicable individual projects as well as the layout. 
I don't know how much all of this will impact the ultimate layout design, but asking yourself “What Story do I want to tell?” is worthwhile. I know I’m going to come up with an answer before I cut the first piece of lumber for the new layout. And I'm going to keep the answer in mind throughout the process of designing and building the railroad.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Bye Bye Bye ....

After spending several hours hauling bits of wood up to the garage, and planning to rent a pickup up truck and make several trips to the dump,  I opted to solve the problem of removing the layout from the basement the American way and throw money at it. So first thing this morning this appeared in the driveway -
Add "cost of having a junk hauling company remove the layout from the basement and haul it off" to the list of things that cost more with a large layout. Less than an hour after they arrived what had started life as my "dream layout" looked like this:
I am still rather depressed about the whole thing, so I'm going to stop here and say this hereby closes the book on what will be from now on referred to as "the last layout."

Friday, June 9, 2017

Which way do I go?

When faced with a decision I like to outline the immediately possible choices, and research each of those possibilities to hopefully arrive at the choice that leads to the desired outcome. Sometimes there simply isn't time for deliberation, but in most cases there is at least enough time to consider various options.
And you need to take people's inputs with a grain of salt, since oftentimes their well-meaning inputs is really "This is what I'd do in your shoes based on my priorities, not yours."
Let's consider one decision - what's the next layout going to be? Instead of one question, it's actually a series of questions I continue to mull over as we box things up and get the house ready to list.
I've found over the years the typical "new layout" question starts with Joe Modeler sending a note to his friends (or posts on a blog) something like this:

"Hey Guys, We're moving into a new house shortly with a dry, finished basement perfect for a model railroad. Can't wait to get building. First I have to choose between <insert: railroad x vs. railroad y; northeastern vs. western; modern era vs. transition era, etc... you get the idea>. Thoughts anyone?"

Inevitably well-meaning modelers, and non-modelers provide answers based on what they have done, or would do, presuming that if it's right for them, it's right for everyone.
I recently had this very experience on an email list I regularly participate in. I don't know everyone on the list personally, but I do know most of them and consider all of them friends. When I outlined a few possible themes for the next layout I immediately got feedback that I can sum up as "bigger is better": Gotta have room for those 2-10-4s, White River Junction, lots of trains, and a large crew. Some of these thoughts were well-meaning from fellows who aren't model railroaders (read, they have no idea how much work, time, and expense are involved in "building White River Junction," so I take some of it with a grain of salt!)
But one of them, my friend Trevor Marshall, who knows well the frustrations I've had and continue to have with my last layout, took the time to offer his thoughts based on his experience with his layout. Trevor's note, included below:


Marty,
I’ll argue in FAVOR of the Richford Branch. I model a one-train-per-day operation in my basement and I love it. Here are a few of the reasons why:

1 - 90% of the time, I run the layout by myself. Any more than one train would be too much.
2 - The smaller physical plant required for a branch like mine means more space can be devoted to each scene. The main yard of my layout - the terminal in Port Rowan - has a grand total of five turnouts, and I’ve been able to model it roughly 2/3 actual size. It looks great and is actually a lot of fun to operate.
3 - I’m 50 years old, so I’m possibly one of the younger people on this list. Yet, I find that between work and home commitments, other interests, and just getting older… I don’t want to grapple with a huge and complex layout. I was able to go from empty room to running trains with all track hand-laid and wired in about a year. Since then, I have had almost no maintenance issues with the layout. Plus, I enjoy zero derailments and no electrical “table-thumping” or “locomotive poking” issues. In short, the layout runs perfectly - with the exception of operator error - 99% of the time. When there is a problem, it’s easily spotted and fixed in next to no time.
4 - I enjoy scratch-building - everything from structures to the more than 200 trees I’ve added to the layout - and it all takes time. A simple layout, with no maintenance issues, means I have the time to do that.
5 - I have many projects in the hobby that I want to explore and my small, simple layout means I can do that. For example, I belong to a group that exhibits a free-mo style layout in S scale. I am also learning to brass-bash, with an Overland S scale 2-8-2 being converted into a CNR S-3-a. And I want to scratch build a Jordan spreader (type A) and a crane similar to the Tichy 120 ton model, both in S scale. These are all projects that will take up considerable hobby time - but thanks to having a mostly complete, easy to manage layout, I can indulge in them. - Trevor

Trevor posts regularly on his blog which I find very informative, link below...and thanks for the thoughts Trevor!

Port Rowan in 1:64

While I haven't made a decision, I know which way I'm leaning - very heavily.


Sunday, June 4, 2017

Status Report - 3 June 2017

After a long day in the basement, disassembly of the peninsula is complete. Next step is getting the remnants upstairs and out to the garage. 
The massive amount of wood currently leaning against the walls and piled on the floor present the perfect argument for smaller, simpler layouts! 
Ugh, none of this was any fun, but having a good friend over to help at least made it seem to go a little faster! And we did enjoy a nice lunch trackside in Old Town Manassas - where we discussed plans for the next railroad! 
Thanks Stic!

Friday, June 2, 2017

New England Prototype Modelers Meet, June 2-3 2017

Work has been insane lately. And, as regular readers of this blog know things at home are certainly less than calm as we get the house ready to put on the market and deal with the issues of selecting items for the new house. To top it off, we will be helping my parents move from Connecticut to South Carolina later in the month.
All of these events conspired to keep me away from one of my favorite model railroad events of the year, the New England Prototype Modelers Meet, going on today and tomorrow (Jun 2-3, 2017) in Enfield, Conn. http://nerpm.org/index.html
A couple of weeks ago it actually looked like the timing of all these events might align such that I would be able to get up there for at least some portion of the meet, but it's not going to work out.
So, take this as a hearty endorsement of the meet if you can get there, and as a virtual "hello" to all my friends up that way. File this one under "Road Trips that didn't happen!"
Have one for me at the bar, I suspect I'm going to need it!