1, 2, 3, 4. The mockup edition.

hide-seek warehouse 2

In many ways, this is the view that excited me the most when I first started exploring this presentation style. Even as presented, I feel the border surrounding the boxcar could frame it more closely.

hide-seek overpass 3

Moving from left to right, the next scene is the view down the street. The track passes overhead, jutting out from one building before disappearing behind another. The bridge is really only inset just over an inch inside the face of the scene but it feels so much deeper. In addition to playing with the orientation of each viewing window, I believe we can play with the overall height and relative position.

In terms of colour and texture, I’d like the fascia to be treated in a muted tone not unlike older concrete. Colours very close to this should be used for the street and sidewalk, as well as the bridge sides. In this way, this scene is presented in an almost monochromatic manner that relies on form and shadow to describe the scene. Exceptions to this could apply to the inset building walls that line the sides of this scene. Perhaps two bands of lovely aged brick walls?

In my mockup and also in my vision for this scene, the bridge’s deck does not reach all the way to the back of the scene or touch the backdrop. This slim opening at the back of the scene might invite some overhead lighting to reach around behind the bridge and bounce of the street below. Though I didn’t include the form of buildings on this other side of the tracks they shouldn’t be rendered with the same level of detail as the foreground ones. Their mass and colour is their purpose and they should not detract from the detail and focus that is ultimately at the bridge area in the exact center of the layout and this scene in all planes.

hide-seek coal dealer

I love the idea of these urban coal trestles that were placed beside warehouses so that a boxcar could be unloaded into the warehouse or a hopper could be emptied into coal piles below. The coal trestle provides a chance for lots of black-grey coal dust. Little hints of stubborn vegetation peek in from the seams around the edge and perhaps even from between the ties. If possible, the detail could array back from the front of the scene to a median resolution at the track’s centreline, and fading as we move back through the scene.

hide-seek complete

The mockup is constructed of foamcore and is thirty inches in length. It is eight inches deep and I believe about twelve inches high. The stepping in the fascia is not intentional. I envision this plane to be a constant and regret that my stock of foamcore sheet didn’t provide a panel large enough to present it as I saw it being. As I mentioned in the original presentation of this idea, this is a layout I do not intend to build. That said, I had a lot of fun constructing the mockup and am excited to see my idea as a massing model. It’s fun to explore around it and test how each scene works.

I love the way the boxcar is framed in the first scene. I’d like the opening to frame the boxcar and to use that car to identify the railroad. This identity is both the railroad company and also a clue on the era and perhaps even the climate.

When I look at the layout, my attention and imagination are so drawn to the forms at the bridge scene. It feels like a classic, almost science fiction-like, view of the new urban place. Layers of transportation stacked over each over and threaded through one another. A quilt composed as much of panels of commerce as action.

That leaves only the coal yard. It’s the least expressive of the three scenes yet it depicts something that I just like and find appealing. It’s probably just me and my imagination, but even across this short distance, I feel like I’ve travelled much further on this trip, having followed the train past street-level warehouse and manufacturing lofts, breaking the silence of a busy midday street, until eventually arriving to deliver that single car at the end of the line.



Categories: How I think

15 replies

  1. That’s a fabulous idea. A problem I see is that when a train moves, it could be seen in all three scenes, which might look odd. A way around this could be to have the fascia at track height modelled and painted to suggest buildings. Suggest only; no windows or doors, no details, all one color with no weathering. This would tie the scenes together so that having a train moving in all scenes might look more natural.

    • There are points in this plan where a single train car appears in more than one scene at the same time.

      I like your suggestion. One alternate might be in the selection of prototype itself and chosing something with shorter cars, not to make up longer trains but something that was easier to hide?


  2. As a fan of British model railroading, I am sure you are familiar with BCN Pete’s Kyle of Lochalsh, which does very similar things with great elegance. It is bigger than you have room for and supports more sophisticated operation, but you are thinking alike.

    I haven’t found a single site for it but have cobbled together a bunch of bookmarks on RMWeb.

    Funny, the rear axle on my Opel Blitz is detached, just like yours!

    • bcnpete? I am such a fan of his work, it’s almost embarrassing. Between Kyle and his currently exploration of another terminal based on the station at Thurso I find constant inspiration and equally, examples by which I’m measuring my own work. I mean, really, posts like this to his blog on RMWeb just seem like a masterclass in design:

      In terms of space, I have more than I want to use. No great train room like but walls in places like our living and dining rooms that will always exceed my need and certainly my production capacity!

      That truck’s axle just sort of fell off – probably had something to do with being accidentally knocked off the shelf accidentally… The model is a neat little MPC kit that is itself quite old. I’m assembling it for my Dad and really need to get back to it.


      • I too have that post bookmarked and the photos backed up on iCloud should they disappear from the web. How paranoid is that?

        One of the early commenters on this project, Mikkel, wrote something that applies to what you and some other Canadian modeler so are working toward:

        “This is cutting edge in my book. The genius is that the presentation and layout design are integrated. Ie it’s not just about neat packaging, but about thinking trackplan, structures and presentation together.”

        Go for it!

      • Thank you!

        Given these layouts small size and almost perpetual presentation, I’m keen to explore forms that make you want to look at the layout long before you look at what’s on the layout.

        Having seen Pete Matcham’s work, as you and I have both commented, there’s really no going back. Nor should there be. His design ethic goes beyond simply good presentation to creating something you want to engage with.

        With a very real impending move facing us (from out of the blue) at some point in the next couple of months, none of these plans will be executed but I expect to continue to explore the forms. It’s work I don’t tire of and all of it feels like it makes me stronger as a designer.


  3. Hi Chris,

    I started a search through the records of my model railway documents and you will not believe the interesting story I unearthed about my humble Lionel HO T-20105! It had a storied history, an interesting career, and an ignominious end. But it lives on!
    Watch for an upcoming Trackside Treasure post…

    • That’s terrific Eric!!

      For decades now and well back into my youth I operated the layout at the time using car cards and switchlists. A very few of those have survived and since T-20105 is a singular favourite car I know it would appear. Your comment makes me want to dig out that book to see where it appears and how it was used.

      Not that it’s the same model, but wouldn’t it be neat if your T-20105 was being switched on opposite days from when my one was? If folks didn’t know better one could almost pretend the same car was travelling back-and-forth between our respective layouts.


      • Cool concept, Chris. I’m working on the post. But I can tell you that my T-20105 was purchased at my LHS here in Kingston on August 9, 1980 for a cool $2.25!

  4. Just as a thought, what if you increased the width of the fascia portion in between each opening?


    • It’s an interesting consideration. Currently the dimensions of the fascia area still largely based on what I think looks right but if we start widening those pieces used to break each scene I wonder if their width becomes more of a variable tied to the length of a rail car?

      I’m thinking that these dividers could be wide enough to completely block the view of a single car to better aid it’s transition between the scenes. For the sake of balance that means the two outermost verticals should be at least this wide. With so much more white space now surrounding each scene I wonder if the length of each scene should be lengthened proportionately?

      In addition to softening the transition as the train moves from scene to scene, this extra space behind the fascia could be used for a bit more trickery, such as:

      The track runs parallel to the front of the layout in all cases but a sharp reverse curve hidden in one of these spaces could be used to move the track forward or deeper into the scene.

      Perhaps even a turnout so that in one scene, it’s two tracks and in the others just the one?

      In terms of transitioning this from a concept to something more tangible, I think the entire scene should be a ratio of the typical rail cars being used in it. First, settling on the scale and then the single car. Then based on that car’s height and length, the size of each scene and it’s surrounding fascia (frame) is derived.

      The version I created is based on a HO scale boxcar. I like the way the model is still large enough that even in these limited openings I am teased to look under, over, and around the model. I believe, more so than I would in a traditional layout scene with miles of space surrounding the piece. What I’d really like to attempt is a version of the same mockup but in N scale. The smaller scale takes the focus away from detail on the individual model and more on the visual texture of the scene. Furthermore, I’m teased by slivers of light in that expanse of fascia…



  1. Back to the matchbox | Prince Street
  2. Split down the middle… – Prince Street
  3. the reach/circulation – Prince Street

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