Friday, December 2, 2016

Inspiration and a clear path

While my approach to building, and rebuilding, my layout has given me a reputation of taking the “Ready, Fire, Aim!” approach, that’s not really accurate. 
Think things through before taking action, lest you find
yourself in an untenable situation.

I tend to approach designing layouts by defining a particular location in the basement where a specific scene will go, and then design and build that scene before moving to the next.  There is an inherent risk here – you can quickly end up with a finished layout where all the various segments don’t necessarily function together as a cohesive whole either operationally or visually.

The subject of much discussion on this blog, and in private emails with some of my friends, has centered on the section of the railroad where the White River Jct. yard had been located.  Although I’d made some modifications to the area it really wasn’t working (I won’t dwell on those issues here, as “whys” have been discussed ad nauseam in previous posts).

Prior to the inclusion of White River, the original plan layout design called for some form of Essex Junction, Vermont, certainly a CV signature scene, in this area. I ended building a version of Essex at the other end of the modeled railroad (Essex Junction v1.0?). This was subsequently removed when the neck of the peninsula was rearranged earlier this year). Through most of the summer and fall, while things have progressed well on the other end of the layout, I couldn’t really get the plan for Essex Jct. v2.0 to “gel.”  The solution, I thought, was to forego Essex and all its appeal entirely and instead include a “yard” (you know, since model railroads apparently have to include a “yard” if for no other reason to give the yardmaster something to do). 

I worked diligently on designing this new yard over the course of several weeks starting back in the early spring.  Luckily, I realized what a mistake it was before committing to actually building the thing.  Prototype yards, even small ones, are massive.  Model railroad yards tend to be fairly imperfect depictions of the prototype - 90% of the time we basically fill a shelf with parallel tracks.  I was in real danger of simply repeating the issues I had with the White River yard in slightly modified form.  Unlike the other sections of the railroad, this would have forever looked like nothing more than a shelf full of parallel tracks at best, or at worst some sort of out-of-place appendage to the rest of the railroad.  It would do nothing to complete the picture.  

So there this section of the layout sat, a sea of bare homasote awaiting some inspiration.

That inspiration arrived a few months ago in the form of some layout photos from Neil Schofield, showing his scene at Orleans, Vt. You can see one of them (taken by Neil and used with his kind permission) below.
Orleans, Vt., in HO scale as modeled by Neil Schofield.  N. Schofield photo, used with permission.
What inspiration could I draw for my transition era CV from a scene showing a street running in front of a couple of stores and clearly set in a different era?  Turns out, plenty of inspiration. Although there’s no denying the wonderful job Neil is doing creating his vision of upstate Vermont in the 1980s, what I found most inspiring was the sense of place they evoked and the way the prototype is driving the modeled railroad. 
A Google street view of the scene Neil has modeled.
This sent me back to the layout to determine if perhaps I gave up on Essex Junction too quickly, dismissing it as “too hard” to fit in my space.  I’ll likely do another blog post with more details on Essex Junction v2.0, but essentially the scene has two “sections” – the trainshed/station area, and a couple of blocks away a wye with several industries inside it and alongside it.  I know there’s an effective way to model the “wye” – simply leave off one leg of the thing.  After all, that’s exactly what I did with Essex when it was located on the other side of the basement.

Kurt Thompson works the Essex Junction switcher job in Essex Jct. v1.0. A workable track arrangement that captured the look of the prototype, it lacked room for the structures themselves so wouldn’t ever visually capture the look of the prototype.
The crews that operated "Essex 1.0" found it was an enjoyable job with the right blend of action and down time.  If I duplicated the basic approach to a "two-legged wye" in the new location for Essex I found I could include many of the buildings that had to be left out of Essex 1.0.
That's perhaps the biggest inspiration I got from Neil's photos. His railroad is firmly in context with the other elements that make the scene recognizable. I suppose he could have included a spur and yet another place for his crews to switch, but the resulting scene would have looked model railroad and not created the same sense of place.
Thanks Neil. I feel like I've gotten over a bad head cold!

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Housekeeping and inspiration

First, the housekeeping. Things were getting a little messy around here so I spent some time this morning cleaning up the blog. Also, a week or so ago I noticed all my Blog List content had somehow disappeared. So as I sat here sipping my coffee I (re)established the various links. 

This also gave me a chance to look at each of the blogs I follow, which naturally led me to their "Blogs I'm Following" list - sending me down yet another (always interesting) rabbit hole. 
Great fun. You can now (hopefully) click directly on the links on the right hand side of this page. 
While I find most of the model inspiration I find nowadays comes from blogs, there's still some interesting things to be found on forums. One forum I've followed for years is The Railwire. If you've never heard of it then it's likely you've never done any serious N scale model building. 
One of the most interesting current threads (click here) is Max Magliaro's ongoing build of a SP&S 0-6-0. 
This is not a "kit bash" or even a modification of an imported brass locomotive of a similar prototype. 
Here's the "strategic vision" for this project, in Max's own words:

"Right from the outset, I want to make it clear that a major building requirement, (a "promise to myself") is that I want to make as much of this by myself, from scratch. So use of commercial parts, castings, 3rd party casting or etching services, will be kept to an absolute minimum, if not zero. 
I plan on using a commercial motor, gears, and electrical components, and screws, but hopefully not much else from outside sources."

Perhaps I need to apply such "goal statements" to some of my own modeling. It's become way too expedient to take the easy way out and go with something "close enough" in the supposed interest of saving time. Ninety percent of the time it's not about saving time, it's about avoiding the challenge. Max has obviously faced that head-on. 
Will he succeed? The only way to really know is to tune in and find out. But indications thus far indicate he will. Max has built several other N scale steam locomotives I'm aware of, detailing one of them in a series of articles in RMC a few years ago. He's also learned how to use the tools and techniques to actually achieve his goals. 
If you review the build thread (and I strongly encourage you to do so), you'll notice this is not a "here's how to do it to get perfect results the first time." While the project is progressing nicely and Max's results to date are quite good, he's taking a "diary" approach to the build thread. Sometimes a technique works, sometimes not so much. 
It's really quite interesting to watch.