It works. It doesn’t work. It works.

In not even the most chaotic attempt at chronological order here goes…

I love the look of that “road grit” that accumulates along the edge of the street. it’s a mix of sand spread during winter, crap that falls from cars, and a variety of like media that rain washes to the edges of each street. It’s such a fascinating spectrum of colour and texture and it’s one of those things I want to create with. The sight of it makes me want to make. Last summer I made up a short section of On30 track as an attempt to explore what it was like to work with as a scenic medium and the above photo is nearing the end of that exploration.

Last December I started working on Coy. Coy’s track still impresses me and leaves me thinking “I did that?”. I would have never figured any of it out without a conversation with Mike Cougill and his observations that we just don’t saturate our track with enough colour and texture. Mike’s dedication to studying our hobby as if it were real craft is the kind of passion we need more of…really, how will we ever be able to model buried track if we, ourselves, don’t bury it? Seems obvious. Well, now it does. I wouldn’t know this if Mike hadn’t shared it with me.

From Coy became Victoria. I see real continuity between each of these pieces and the movement from samples through various layout attempts and feel an evolution in terms of my relationship with the processes. I can see myself in this work and it feels like it’s of my own hand and bears my signature. As I learn to let go of model railroading and attempt to see it as more of what I do when I need to express creative energy it’s examples like this that matter to me because they are something I’m doing to create something that shows you something I see in my head.

Coy was supposed to be built in N scale. So much so that I’d even laid the cork roadbed down for N scale track but I started to think it wouldn’t work the way I wanted it to. I can’t shake my history with models that run on 9mm gauge tracks so did make up a sample to test the same colour and texture process on a length of N scale track. It never felt right. Materials, colours, processes, parts that all felt right when moving fluidly from HO to O did not scale down. While I’m certain I could do this in a much larger scale and just layer on more texture using other materials I’m convinced that, for me, it does not scale down smaller than HO. The small size of N really makes a spectacle of how uniform static grass is, how large even the finest grades of ballast are still too large, how something in the proportions of even the track itself just doesn’t feel right. None of those comments are “N scale is too small for my old eyes” but, I think suggestive that there’s a visual block, a creative block, where I just haven’t figured out how to synthesize this process to suit the smaller scale and distill those stimuli to trigger the same end result. The fault is mine; I’m moving on for now.

So it’s interesting that things are now back full circle. About a year later and back to a short block of scrap foam with a short length of track mounted to it. I haven’t “finished” anything in the model railroader style but I feel like so many things were completed and a real feeling of personal growth in terms of my abilities, working in this hobby. It’s interesting that this sample, above, is HOn30/OO9 (“scale agnostic” as my friend said in a blog post once) because it ties back to what I was trying to do. Those nostalgic words themselves are timely as I get one year older. Some random closing thoughts on my mind as I turn that one year older:

I love the look of track buried in the ground, becoming reclaimed by the Earth. It is the human’s laziest ability so the one we practice most easily: this ability to erect facades to prove our dominance over nature and yet nature itself evolves to find ways to reset the balance in its own more important way. While I’m attracted to most railways it’s those on the lightest of tracks I’m always drawn closest to. Perhaps that’s because they appear to disturb the land less? Perhaps it’s that these lightest of railways are ones that work with the land not in defiance of it? Perhaps it’s because they’re impatient construction often leaves them in more vulnerable positions? Perhaps it’s because they’re reclaimed by the land at a rate managed by the land and not the man?

When the urge to create hits me I need to run with it until it’s run out. Waiting for glue to dry is just injecting distortion into a moment that doesn’t need to be there. Each of these samples leverages hot melt glue for bigger surface areas that can tolerate sloppier adhesives and CA glues where more precision is required. Feeling creative, waiting for glue to dry so I can move onto the next thing, I ain’t got time for that. More than impatience this process I’m using is based on layer up on layer of material so even its natural flow would be disturbed by the glue drying. I want pieces of scenic material to be sucked into underlying ones as the glue contracts while drying.

The process of “ballasting” should start before rails are set into place. This makes it so much easier to get the ballast to settle in low and create that air gap between the foot of the rail and the top of the ballast. Some very cool light and shadow patterns form in this space when natural light hits it and it’s an important detail for me. I can see this in the HOn30 track and it was everywhere else too (well, not in the N scale bit but that’s irrelevant).

I can see continuity here, across each sample, and feel that sense of growth in myself. When I’m frustrated that I can’t “just finish something” I do like that there’s this evidence of something I can do. Sometimes it’s the range of things I need to do to finish a model railway that seems overwhelming and I shut down. I can make track. I can make track that works very well and looks very good. I can buy models that work well so there’s that fail point resolved. I’m figuring out how to do this this.

Categories: How I think

1 reply

  1. It strikes me that what you need is a club, or modelling friend…
    Someone who has complementary skills…

    As you say you can buy working stock… well detailed, wonderful stock.
    However, to truly appreciate the quality of your track you need the same passionate artistic approach in structures, scenery and stock… I have no doubt you would build a truly awesome layout if or when the stars align, and I will enjoy sharing in the journey with more of these wonderful blog posts.

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