Another layout sketch and some introspection

Layout 20130925
I’m at a bit of an impass. Before I start to get into that, I’d like to introduce a layout I have been sketching variations of for quite a while now. From the above, I’m convinced that I like the idea of an eliptical or at least, semi-eliptical, shape the the benchwork. Given that the area will the layout would reside, I feel this is a terrific way to inhabit the space while not literally stuffing it full of benchwork.

I visualise the above scene sloping upward toward the back of the scene. I feel that a gentle, vertical element to the layout is critical not only to provide an extra dimension to an otherwise small area but also to play to the layout’s siting in our living room. I want the layout to be a three dimensional picture when viewed from the front. I’m not planning on a back scene and would like this vertical approach to take on some of that role.

I’ve marked out an area for staging trains in and out of the scene. Trains cross the street before entering the staging area and pass between two buildings which I’d place pretty close to the sides of the track. The structure to the front of the staging could be built without a back to allow a sector plate to clear if swung to the front of the layout. The structures on the opposite (back) side of the railway crossing would all be built as a series of building flats. I’d build the first one, closest the railway line in full relief but then make them thinner as they move toward the back of the layout. Again, thinner buildings here will be space re-invested in staging and the sector plate therein.

The station area occupies most of the scene and begins immediately to the right of the crossing. I like the idea of using a turntable as the escape for the run-around loop in the same way that Bembridge on the Isle of Wight used one. This table isn’t for turning engines, simply moving them from one line to the other and is intentionally quite short – about twenty-four feet.

The run-around loop line to the front plays host to a pair of facing wye turnouts, each of which feeds a siding. Immediately in front of the station is a generic public siding where any type of freight car could be spotted. The longer siding, to the left of the scene, should have a proper industry located on it. This industry, ideally, should be tall enough to help obscure the staging area in behind and would also represent the true reason why the railway pushed all the way to terminate at this town.

I’ve drawn the plan to S scale. I’ve been a member of the S Scale Society now for about a month and am really getting immersed into the potential this scale offers. As for gauge, this line could be built as a narrow gauge line and populated with tramway-style rolling stock inspired by Irish three foot gauge prototypes (modelled as Sn3.5) but I had standard gauge, S scale, in mind when drawing this. I’m not sure how many of the notes will appear in the scan but I was trying to work out relative train lengths and some general depths for various layout elements, in S scale, and am worried this scene will get very busy very quickly.

I’m cringing as I type this, but the thought has occured to me that the whole scene might balance much better in 4mm (OO) or 3.5mm (HO) scales or, for that matter, even in N. I really want to try and give S a go. I’m very eager to build some scenery and structures for this layout and am as keen to settle on a scale so work can commence.

I’m also not entirely settled on the plan, though I do feel it is reasonably prototypical in appearance and would offer some pleasant and relaxing shunting opportunities. I really like the concept and am almost certain about the shape of the baseboard. I don’t know how to settle on a scale and wish I could just wake up settled on this point. I find O and larger scales really too large for the style of modelmaking I enjoy. I grew up on N scale and have harboured a very long passion for 3mm (TT) scale modelling too. I have found though that with my limited time to immerse myself in small scale modelbuilding that working in these small scales is more of an excercise in frustration than the relaxation I hope to derive from model railways. It’s not working in such small scales that I dislike, it’s that I find I need to be in the right “headspace” to do such fine work and in the small intervals I have it’s too hard to get “there”. I have tried a few limited models in S and find it really does offer what it’s strongest proponents argue. It’s small enough to make good use of a limited space yet just that much larger than HO or OO to be really enjoyable to work in. Also to S’s credit is the cohort of modellers currently working in the scale. In the short period since I started to get serious about wading into these 1/64 scale waters I’ve found a very welcoming group of modellers keen to share what thrills them about working in this size and the Society really does offer a terrific catalogue of parts to support working in the scale. Re-reading this paragraph I can see that I need to figure out how to cram a scenic layout, in S, in this space. Somehow.

So: Yes to S with some nervousness confessed. Now back to the layout, I’m really fascinated with the idea of trying traction in S. A gentleman named William Flatt, in Ontario, is actually selling some really nice traction parts and even a steeplecab in S and I think this idea has some real potential as an alternative to embrace this new scale and my passion for traction. A layout that I could easily see myself trying to replicate, in concept, would be like Andy Gautrey’s Wiley City layout as featured in this Youtube video:

Given the general arrangement of the above, any ideas?


  1. Chris,
    I really like the idea of your layout as moving 3-D art for the living room! That steeple cab is a strong argument for S scale, and if this will not be your only outlet for your modeling, I say go for it! S is a wonderful scale for capturing little interesting scenes, especially with figures. It is hard to get any more than a general suggestion of who or what a person is supposed to be in N scale. And the little buildings can be awesome with full interiors, lights, etc. Like a collection of individual pieces of art assembled into a stunning whole.
    :) Toni

    1. Good morning, Toni. Thanks for the comments. I think I’m almost there with this plan and think that with some carefully editing can get it the rest of the way.

      It’s that question of “outlet” that I’ve been trying to rely on as a guide for scale choice here using a variation of the old Hollywood-style question: “…and if I didn’t do this, would I wish I would have?”

      I never expected committing to a layout in a different scale to be such a scary leap of faith going from something that I know in so many ways to something that just seems to work better. I joke that this must have been like leaving the horse for the car.

  2. Hi Chris. Firstly really like your blog and really like the plan and drawings. I also am feeling the need to have a dabble in S as its a scale I have long fancied the size of it. The only thing I can see on the plan would be to save a bit of space would be to put a double slip in instead of the 2 switch on the bottom road. The radii should be fine. Hopefully we well see this progress :)

    1. Thanks for the comments on the plan. On Stroudley Green, the inspiration for my plan, Maurice Hopper used those two turnouts back-to-back with a crossing on the then intersecting lines. I’m worried that the crossing, while very fun to build, would be too much for such a humble terminus and perhaps that a slip might be just as much? The two turnouts are intended to be #5 wye turnouts so should eat too much space.

      In my post I mentioned that the plan was conceived to be run in steam and then can use the turntable as the release for the run-around loop. The alternate is traction, but this option starts to eat up space as I can’t use the turntable release and would need to then use a fourth turnout and a short headshunt – replacing approximately 5″ for a twenty-four foot table in S with about 12″ of track for the turnout and headshunt option.

      It’s a delicate balancing act for sure.

      1. Chris,
        A double slip was the first thing which crossed my mind. By the way, the “turntable” at Bembridge, and at Ventnor and other places on the IoW, wasn’t a full table: it was a centrally pivoted sector plate, with very limited movement. This arrangement meant that less effort was required to align the table with the other road, as the engine would (hopefully) be balanced thereby requiring less effort – the good old “law of moments” in action!

        You might also look at pknd or traction kits:


      2. Hi, Simon. Thanks for the correction regarding Bembridge. I knew that their “table” was never used to turn locomotives but hadn’t realised it was designed as a sector plate. That’s neat to learn.

        I had never heard of the PKND kits before. They have quite a nice line of motors and cars and the prices seem very reasonable. More temptation, all of which I enjoy.



  3. Damn, Chris…! That’s the second time you’ve given me a heart attack when I’ve seen my name mentioned….!! I like the Iain Rice style plan you’ve drawn with sweeping lines and curved baseboard edges, and It’ll be interesting to see how Wiley is interpreted in this form. I actually did the exact opposite, and kept the running lines parallel to the baseboard edge (as I thought it looked more American), with a slight curve into the staging yard.

    1. Ha!! I can’t remember laughing so hard as I did when I saw your comment. That was awesome!

      I really like the baseboard in this form, not only do I find it’s curvilinear footprint nice to look at I think it would really work well in the space I’m planning to use. If I did it right I’d like to project those same radius arcs throughout the layout, projecting them from the baseboard edge to parallel arcs and then inverting them for the opposing roads.

      I really enjoy watching the Wiley City videos. It’s superb modelling. The layout, as in your previous iterations, looks “right”, seems relaxing to operate and I could just go on and on.

      Thanks for the note.

  4. Yes I agree that the slip would be out of place and would take up more room. Guess if you are hand laying the track you could squeeze valuable mm out of the space. Course you could always do it in Nn3 :)

    1. Ah Nn3. I wish I could make an engine in Nn3 run nicely enough for switching cars. It’s not that it can’t be done but more a failing of skills on my end.

      Handlaying would allow me theoretically reduce the distance between frogs and points for pairs of turnouts bringing them closer together. In both the staging area and the run-around loop these lengths are governed by my anticipated minimum train lengths more than locations of turnouts.

  5. Chris, I envy your scalelessness. You’re not committed to any one scale. With a fleet in a particular scale, HO in my case, one invests a lot of time/purchasing/painting/decalling/operating in that scale and I feel committed to it. Having said that, I think a foray into N would be interesting. But back to choosing a scale…I don’t think it should hem one in a way that limits modelling.

    Clearly, you’re able to think scalelessly. You’ve got a lot of great comments from your readers that should help your decision-making. I know you’ll keep us posted!



    1. Good evening, Eric. It’s really great to hear from you. I really agree with your comment: “I don’t think it should hem one in a way that limits modelling.” and I really, really like the term “scalelessness”.

      I’m really enjoying this project even as a design exercises alone and I’m in no rush to move past this phase. Some things, like the space I have available are factors I just can’t change. I’ve had the pleasure of working through so many different scale and gauge combinations to get a real sense of what I enjoy and what I don’t. Like so many other modellers I carry around a catalogue of memories of things I’d really like to get around to modelling sometime.

      So, really, I think this is why I enjoy design so much. Things we want to do, things we can’t change and knowing how we want to go about marrying those two worlds together in the best way.

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