Desirée Gallant is one of the most fascinating creative people I know and likely ever will. The first couple of times I typed that sentence it sounded like “most gifted artist” and I still mean that but her gift runs deeper inside. She has a way of coaxing life from the work. To encourage it to stand proudly from the page. It’s a gift that extends beyond her paintings. That gift extends to subjects to which she has turned a camera, not so much to record but the way that those subjects were or to somehow involve them in her story but to help them find a voice that speaks through her lens. Her work touches me and it is with great pleasure that I have a photograph of hers to use here, to open this post. Thank you!
I’m drawn to a very localized style of railroading that easily translates into a smaller footprint and, more importantly, I prefer small model railways. I’m fascinated with the way they showcase their builder’s profound understanding of their inspiration and how hard it is to hide that relationship when it’s not there – I guess it’s the honesty that they convey whether we like it or not. It’s easy for me to advocate for things like this because I’m just making myself feel good inside by providing advice that might be little more than expressing a moment of self-validation. In these very small footprints I can imagine individual stories rich enough to invite me in and to live inside their moments. Of course, were more room available it could easily be incorporated. Not to welcome other stories or model railway sub-plots but for the way that more room could compliment and extend the initial vision. Like a second great kiss, somehow as good as the first.
But I know that’s just me. It’s with that sense of awareness I wrote my initial comment on Mike’s blog post and then reflected on in my own post last night. I didn’t then and don’t now want any of this to sound like criticism or negativity aimed at those who have pursued the basement empire. The direction I’m hoping to take this set of posts in, is to discuss the idea of modelling railroading where the context in which the railroading occurs demands a stage larger than we can sustain, either because we lack the resources to invest or the space to house this grand vision.
The big prototype
Desirée’s photograph is of the lead engine of a massive Canadian National freight train. It depicts a train that is hard to fit into the space of the four square foot micro layout no matter how small the scale. Standing trackside with my family as this train hammered past it’s hard not to be affected by sound, the vibration, the rush of wind; all the various parts of watching mainline railroading. No model train will ever match that feeling but we can create a miniature that provides queues to trigger memories of these moments and our rich imaginations can easily fill in the missing parts. That is, if we have the room for that large a train.
Where in Desirée’s photograph we’re provided with a train that just doesn’t fit, what happens when the train fits perfectly fine with our design criteria but the place where it is found does not? I’ve always felt that the hardest part of modelling Canadian railroading was not just finding models of the trains but communicating the distance that the trains covered in their daily operations. Sure, we can model the train at its destination but if our inspiration is finding the train out on the line we have a challenge: All that nothing takes up a lot of room.
On Prince Edward Island we have a railroad that provides the examples of the required short trains and even the small venues – to suit the smaller space. What I find so fascinating about Island railroading is the way that it prepared for and supported the potato harvest. With limited track and a finite number of cars to move the harvest the successful Island model is realised during the operating session in how we represent the almost perpetual re-staging of cars to respond to the needs of the farmers using the various public sidings. Space here is required not to represent the long trains. Neither, to represent the “nothing” but to count the number of local sidings and move the fleet around without feeling like one is just shuffling cars from one yard track to another. (I’ve picked the home team for this example but I’ll wager the local prairie branchline or coal hauling line in the Appalachians was playing the same game too.)
The big model
Elsewhere I’ve been proposing the hypothesis that model railroading itself has matured to the state where it no longer requires a direct connection to real railroading to survive – that we have so many examples of great model railways that we can draw inspiration from that we never need to learn about real trains at all.
Building on that idea, I believe an attraction to the hobby exists in the promise of camaraderie it offers. I enjoy participating in operating sessions on large model railways and consider myself so lucky to be able to have been offered these opportunities. To feed these, we need the layouts themselves. Ever the gregarious host, what if our desire is to host these bigger parties? Where? How?
I’ve wanted to have this conversation for a while now. I think it’s an interesting one and I’ll take advantage of the blog to at least voice my questions and to think out loud, albeit over the keyboard, on the subject. As I bring my second post on this particular subject to a close I think I have a better sense of the question. I do expect to refine the question further as I attempt to reconcile what I’m thinking to what I’m writing. So, with two blog posts now completed on this subject the initial question becomes two:
- We don’t lack ideas for how to use the space we have. We don’t lack the interest of those passionate about providing examples of what we could use the space we have for. How do we learn to understand our relationship with our inspiration so that we know how to best represent it in miniature?
- We have evolved so far in the hobby in terms of the quality and accessibility of the models yet our exhibition of them remains still largely fixated on the rule of private and permanent installation. Where that paradigm can’t be negotiated we must find a compromise. How?
I’m only considering this as a design challenge and a conversation to that end. I’m not trying to find an answer for my own situation, it’s just something that I’ve been thinking about and a conversation I’d like to be a part of.