Sunday, January 15, 2017

A Discussion About Layout Design

Layout design can be the most intoxicating aspect of this hobby. To be sure, once you start doing it, there's no end. I can testify about that as my sleep hours are quite shortened by storming ideas that make my night shorter. Every moment becomes a good time to doodle some track on a piece of paper.

But we all know it's fruitless without some other form of validation. Many layout designers stree scene composition to be a kew element to build credible railways. Often, a few will say you've got to try it for real in 3D and see how things work together.

When you are unsure about a project, you hardly have any incensitive to strat building a benchwork just to test a few ideas. Some people just try doing it with a computer 3D  model. Even if I have the skill, I quickly learned that was time consuming and restrictive. You can't fudge with a 3D model, you have to know what you want to do. Hum... no grest if you want to try different landforms.

At this point, the last - and best - resort is to make a scale model of your scale model. I've learned this old trick from British modeller Gordon Gravett and made a good use of it. When I wanted to convince Jérôme we got to scrap Limoilou yard and build Villeneuve and Maizerst instead (Hedley-Junction layout), the scale model convinced him in a matter of seconds. I know it would have taken months and a pile of drawings otherwise.

Now, as you know, I'm actually in the process of rebuilding my home layout. I've often complained I couldn't do nothing with the space available, but I decided this time to build something for "real" and see if there are opportunities. To make it clear, I've been designing dozen of layout EACH year since 2009. Nothing came to fruitition except for a few that actually went as far as the benchwork stage.

Two major pitfalls plagued the project: finding a suitable prototype and getting the idea the train is truly going from point A to point B.

To be honest, the hardest problem to solve is finding a suitable prototype. Dozen of prototype caught my eyes and would be suitable, but very little stood the test of time. But it doesn't mean these ideas have some major trends.

Most ideas have in common a set of consistent parameters:

  • Small steam locomotives (2-8-0, 2-6-0, 4-4-0, 4-6-0) and/or early diesel (EMD/ALCO/MLW).
  • Canadian Pacific, New England neighbouring railroads (MEC, etc.) or Temiscouata Railway.
  • Set in the 1950s or early 1960s.
  • Rural location on a branchline set around farming and logging.
  • Short trains and mixed trains.
  • Located in Quebec South Shore, mainly the Appalachian Mountains.
So far, two prototypes are constantly appearing in my design:

  • The Hereford Railway between Lime Ridge, QC and Beecher Falls, VT.
  • The Temiscouata Railway located on Quebec, New Brunswick and Maine boundary.

Thus, I decided to mock up both prototype using a 18" x 10' shelf as starting point with the possibility to add a small extension if required.

Hereford Railway

I already introduced this excellent prototype recently. To make it workable, I'd need to protofreelance the line so it could be fitting my era of interest. No big deal. I'm not trying to model a specific location but to get the general feeling of the area between Cookshire and Beecher Falls: rolling country side.


The first option is straight forward and represent a generic city located along the line. Some hills in the background hide the track leading to the staging area. The town is rather simplistic, which is realistic. With this scenario, the town serves as the terminal for a local mixed train. To turn a steam locomotive, it is required to go back to staging where it is manually reverse with an amovible cassette. No great, but an easy way to save space and wiring issues. I feel the big issue with this layout is the pulpwood loading siding which is near the layout edge and leaves very little scenery opportunities.



This layout takes very little real estate and have a lot of operation opportunities (team track, pulpwood and feedmill).



The second option replace the pulpwood loading siding with a wye. Makes for the interesting possibility to reverse steam locomotives directly on the layout. To be noted, the scenery wraps the L-shaped benchwork which fools the eyes in believing the scene is larger. I like the idea to model a lot of fields along the line and a wye almost buried in vegetation isn't a bad idea to me. Unfortunately, this layout takes up a lot of space. I'm not sure the extension would fit well in my room. Also, I'm not very fond of obstructing the wye with cars. I'd be glad to get your feedback on that matter because maybe this version is actually over reaching.


Temiscouata Railway

This little independant railroad in Eastern Quebec and New Brunswick has always been a favorite of mine. Years ago, Trevor Marshall included it in his "achievable layout" database. It was only an idea but I always thought someone should build it some day. I've design many version of this layout in the recent years but I think I finally nailed it this morning. Cramping a small terminal in 10 feet including a locomotive facilities isn't a piece of cake. Here's the result:




Honestly, I'm more satisfied than I thought. First, this layout breathe. No cluttering, no overdone details and for once, gigantic and believable fields of grass (+ cows!). The track plan is so classic it fits any place in North America (and elsewhere in the world). The downside is that there's no specific industries at Connors, NB. Lots of wood products (pulpwood, lumber) were exported, but the industries weren't trackside. Only a long but busy team track was available.



On the other hand, the engine facility provides enough action because there was a coaling track to refuel engines. On my mock up, I didn't model the engine house, but if someone would extend the shelf up to 11 feet, that would be perfectly possible. Another option would be to compress the scene a little bit to save some space for it. I think modelling the complete enginehouse isn't required. One could only build a part of the building and bury it in overgrown vegetation to hide the trick.



A good point for this prototype is that information - including motive power, rolling stock, structures and timetable - is available online. Temiscouata ran 4-6-0 and 4-4-0 and some interesting combine car and caboose. Everything should be kitbashed or scratchbuilt, but that would provide countless hours of fun. The big question is that I'm not sure my heart's beating for Temiscouata, the project risk to be shelved one day or another. Also, Temiscouata as we loved it ceased to exist in 1948.

The last word

I certainly believe both designs are worthwhile. At some point, onw could expand them as fully-fledged layouts if that notion truly means something!

To be honest, I have a preference for Hereford Railway because it isn't set in a specific location and time, which is a good thing when I want to run my diesel or my steam locomotives. I know myself and can't hardly be dedicated absolutely to one project. Having a layout that has enough flexibility could be a good thing. The wye idea isn't half bad and I like how it breaks the perception of looking at a scenicked plank of wood.

On the other hand, I like the striking realism of Connors. That layout is as simple as one can wish yet still perfectly full of action to operate for a 45 minutes to 1 hour (similar to Hereford Railway). As one forum member on Big Blue Trains - a real railroader - once said:

"Having spent many months off and on, trying out different track arrangements for my switching layout, I've come to the conclusion that the simplest track plan is going to work the best and be the most realistic. It's not how many tracks/industries/switches you have, but what the industries are and how they are switched."

At this point, I'm curious to hear your comments and feedbacks about these options. Feel free to share your observations and impressions.

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