the wing.

Mike Cougill wrote a fascinating article on reducing the weight of benchwork and I thought:

  • If we separate the structure we create to support the model railroad from the structure we create within its body we can tailor their design to suit their very different needs.
  • Fascia can create a ‘white space’ to focus attention the scene but it adds additional visual weight that distracts from the work being displayed.

in all ways attractive

There. I call it The Wing.

  • Separate the structure that supports the layout from the structure that supports the actual models.
  • The Wing has legs but is designed to rest on a window ledge, countertop, or something like Ikea’s Ivar shelving.
  • Eliminate the fascia completely.

Our friends in the radio control model airplane hobby build large flying model aircraft. They’re able to do this with a multimedia structure in the wing that allows the wing to hold its shape as the airplane performs its manouvers while flying. That airplane wing carries the entire weight of the model, while it’s in flight, yet does so in a form that is efficient while the model moves through the air. I’m not talking about small, rubber band powered, models but large ones. Their models are easily as large as some of the shelf layouts we create. Why not, almost literally, build a model railroad on one of those wings?

This form rests on a surface like a nicely finished table. It’s every bit as beautiful to look at. It’s almost like a pedestal that promotes or elevates our work into view. Light flows around this form just as air does. Our eyes trace those lines, joining our curiousity as we explore it. It looks curious. I would want to look at this from across a crowded room. I would want to introduce myself to it and makes its acquaintance.

Nothing subtracts from the story being told in the scene. It looks attractive. As we get to know each other I only learn more things that enrich my impression of it. I will remember this long after our first meeting. I love it.

We have lasers and CNC tools to cut plywood and, from that, we have some really cool benchwork kits now but they’re still just boxes. The tools don’t care what they cut so could we cut a different line? Those tools are complex and may be out of reach. They aren’t necessary here. The materials are light plywood in thicknesses of 1/4″ or less and those can be cut with a handsaw or, as the members get lighter, utility knife.

Categories: How I think, model railway design, My Favourite Prince Street, the wing

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7 replies

  1. Love this idea – feels more a diorama display rather than ‘layout concept’ but it’s an engaging way to share more of the ‘art’ of creating a railroad in miniature, rather than just displaying locomotives in cases!

    • I worried my sketch would imply a small thing with a single line of track that would be an ideal place to show off a static engine. This framing style is how real airplane wings are built so it suits as large a layout as we can imagine. Certainly, Victoria or Coy could have both been built on a Wing.

      What it doesn’t suit is a layout like Victoria where its form isn’t planned and needs to remain organic.

      I think where it really suits is the exhibition layout where we know what the plan is and building the layout is a project of completing a design scope. I originally envision it as a contained design but it could even be modules. That aluminum tube that I’m using as the spine of this frame could be joined to the adjacent one with a short length of the next size down used as a coupler.

      I think I need a mockup.


      • It wasn’t the structure I meant more the presentation.
        I think presenting something longer than a metre or so in this style visually might begin to be compromised…

        I saw a layout years ago, think it was a German exhibition narrow gauge behemoth.
        The rectangular baseboard was black. Plain.
        The layout was built upon this with a curved, organic form, floating almost on the canvas…
        The wing is in extension of that… floating… but does it give anything being ‘in the air’?
        Perhaps a mock up is a good idea!

      • I immediately thought of the Totternhoe Mineral Railway when reading your description:

        I think what the wing and a presentation like Totternhoe offer are subtracting the visual noise of fascia and the frame they provide. Because this can float it feels like it invites people into its space where the traditional style of cutting into the sides of the box tends to keep the viewer outside.

        Also, this is frameless—visually. Where in the traditional form we scenic to the edge of the board that perimeter really becomes the most influential design element and then everything within the box is reacting to it. In this case the edges of the scene wash in and out as needed by the scene and nothing else. Gone are shallow tips like nothing parallel or perpendicular to the edge because there is no edge.

  2. Hi Chris,
    You might want to check out the development on the SM32 layout “First Sunday in June”, it is a live-fire example of many of the “fascia-less” and “soft-edged” benchwork theory you’re investigating…

    Happy Modelling,
    Aim to Improve,
    Prof Klyzlr

    • Thank you for the links–I really appreciate that. The FSIJ concept is a stunning example of the potential of this style of modelling. In my mind, when I first started sketching around this concept was to consider as not only “fascia-less” but free in form both in plan and elevation views. If we consider that the scene draws to a line at the edge the scene when viewed either in the plan or elevation view but building it like this in a quasi-floating way, this line need not be a straight one as so often our traditional framing fosters. If we picture digging a shovel full of dirt from the ground it’s seldom a pure outline of the shovel’s shape and the Wing could work much the same way.

      In elevation this perimeter line would trace the topographical shape of the land moving up and down as undulations in the ground do so. We already do that with existing traditional fascia but unlike the traditional approach this suggestion, just as in FSIJ, there’s no panel of Masonite below so only this crisp edge of scenery.

      When viewed in plan this line also need not be the hard-edge of structural framing and could flow organically as land would as it traces the edge of a stream moving through it.

      Framed like a model airplane wing perched on landing gear it has structural form so is no less strong but that strength is maintained at the core and cantilevered outward not bridging from the perimeter in.

      I think it’s a beautiful concept and I’m grateful to see your comment here and the way it inspired time this morning to revisit this idea. Thank you!



  1. organic framing (The Wing part 2) – Prince Street

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