Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Outside In

Not for the first time I've been doing a lot of thinking about layout design.

If I was to wind the clock back a couple of years and ask myself what is different about my approach these days I don't have any doubt that the answer is that I'm now "driven by the prototype."

Now bear in mind that two years ago I thought I was as well, so what has really changed is my interpretation of what that means.

Some of it is that details I once thought were unimportant now matter to me. I never thought that I would spend my time at a model railway show looking at point rodding, but I do.

Moe importantly though is how this makes me think about how to put a model railway together. My mantra is becoming  "Prototype down, trackbed up"

I suppose I need to articulate this a little more, though to be honest I'm struggling to do so.

I think we often fall into the trap, I certainly did with Apa, of beginning with the track plan, not the overall track bed within the railway boundaries. Yet so much of the atmosphere of  railway is set within that extended area. To get that right it has to be thought about at the very beginning because it is very hard to retrofit features within that space, or perhaps more importantly, to increase that space if you haven't allowed for those features. Anyone who has tried laying point rodding alongside a platform when you've already ballasted the track will know what I mean. Getting the track bed right provides the backbone on which the rest of the layout is built.

I was looking at a layout the other day and thinking that had the builder thought through the infrastructure needed to operate the full size version it would have fundamentally where he'd positioned lineside features and acted as a natural brake on his tendency to cram in too much into too small a space. That is another tendency we all have I suspect, to want to cram in that little bit extra, and it starts at the design stage.

That's the trackbed up part of the equation. The prototype down part is perhaps harder to explain. For me I think it has strong links with photography, because I know what I want to to create in a model is a scene that can be photographed to resemble the real world. That doesn't happen by lucky chance...except perhaps it did int he case of Apa. What I think we do too often is build up layers of scenery in the hope that the final effect will be realistic, rather than deconstructing a scene and thinking about how to recreate it.


  1. I always think that the more you know, you realise the less you know...and the hobby is so deep and limitless once you get into serious observation of the prototype. I am like you, I never thought about point rodding...now I delight in spotting it in photographs and noting the different types of proprietary equipment. Far from being limiting, as some people would say, it is liberating, because you know how it would be done on the prototype and that eliminates another doubt...as well as adding a level of authenticity, even if it is only for those who know what they are looking at!

    1. It is a good point that in some ways it is liberating. It also provides some structure to work around that I'm sure contributes to a more harmonious whole without needing to descend to rivet counting. The downside is being prepared to models something knowing the day it is finished an elusive photo will turn up to prove your interpretation wrong. Or worse still you'll notice something in an existing photo that is glaringly obvious once you see it.

  2. Iain makes a very good point, it's all part of the learning curve and whilst some of us are content to open boxes, have masses of track with several trains running at the same time, others delight in studying the prototype, settling for something simpler and well detailed but where do you stop ?

    For me, following what Iain Rice describes as a 'middle ground' approach works well, rather than descending into the world of rivet counting I stop a little short with some detail only being suggested rather than modelled in full, imagination filling in the gaps. If I get the interpretation wrong I put things right as more information comes to light and constantly try to improve my standards as I go along.

    1. Geoff, the elusive middle ground lies somewhere between "That'll do, nobody else will notice" and "I'll just try one more thing" It seems to move every time I look to put down roots there. The two words I keep coming back to at the moment, across the range of all my interests, are mindfulness and authenticity. It is so,so easy to inadvertently end up copying another model.