I recently came across an interesting photo book whilst shopping for something else and to meet the minimum order requirement added it to the basket. Sometimes taking a punt on something like this really pays off as a window, a time capsule into another world. I’m always drawn by the idea of a down at heels line just scraping by, this book, based on short lines in Pennsylvania in the 1970s, is full of that! Single F units on short freights, poor track, old locos. Linking us back to the Maritimes, funnily enough a bit like the end of the Windsor and Hantsport in the early 2000s.James
The Wellsville, Addison and Galeton is one of those railroads I always hear about that makes me think I should look up more on it to get to know it better. That book of yours sure sounds interesting.
What’s sort of neat about these older books is how these railroads are paused in time and the inevitable hasn’t yet happened. There is a rose tinted romance locked in these colour slides that warms our hearts and fuels the fires of creativity. This despite the fact that in our lifetimes we have lived through either their closure, re-purchase or consolidation as many remaining short lines have died or end up orange and black.James
It took me a very long time to fully appreciate the moment these books represent. Painters paint what’s beautiful in that moment and that is “enough”. Photos like the ones you’re describing from the book are of that moment and removed from time altogether. Just as we apply selective compression to edit the footprint of design elements in our model railway we could apply it to lift our inspiration upward and out of time.
Chris that is exactly my sentiment – these photos capture a moment. We can paint that how we see fit, but it’s just that, a moment. Thinking of both my own ‘cameos’ or even larger compositions, when we tie down the inspiration to a series of photos of a set period we are in effect ‘painting a picture frozen in time’. Yes the actors can move around the stage, but the play is forever “that Indian summer of 1974” (insert to match the play you’re writing). To a casual observer our second hand (more like third hand!) switcher, tired boxcars on poorly maintained weed strewn track is a picture of dereliction and faded glories… but tell the story of how local businesses pooled their resources to buy the line from the faceless corporation and are making a go of it, full of blind faith and passion it’s a picture of hope, not hopelessness. Whether it succeeds or dies, in the moment we’ve chosen to recreate, it breathes and it’s heart beats with a hunger for survival (and we daren’t even whisper it but even growth and some money to spend on the track!).James
I fall in love with the image of a lone F unit lazily grazing on its grassy track in light rails pasture. Running the right trains correctly seems like our hobby’s fundamental goal but it’s also how our data driven approach restricts creative decision making. A change in the language of this work is not succumbing to nostalgia but learning to see the divine beauty in the fading bloom without needing the context of what it looked like before or what it will become next. No longer about a story of a timeline but now a chance meeting enveloped in an attractive photo we saw once upon a time in a book.
I think the wonderful thing about our layout concept ‘Rome’ is that in some ways nothing has changed. We can run F7s and old 40ft cars mixed in with new Incentive Per Diem 50fters and pretend it’s 1974. Switch them out for an RS18 or M420W with modern long grain cars and tired 50fters and you’ve got early 2000s. The trackwork isn’t in much better condition and the artist in us can paint it as unkempt or well tended as we like. Buildings and structures have stood still. In some cases even cars and trucks!James
It’s so easy to find the right photo from the right time to validate a decision we’re trying to make within the scene. Accessing these resources has become such a common part of our life in the hobby that we tap them without even thinking. Many of the common subjects are themselves now part of our language so knowing the era of a modelled scene almost becomes irrelevant because as presenters or audience members we already know “that” art of the story. Instead we can focus on the nuance of our present work. Certainly that’s one of the beautiful things about the ‘Rome’ layout. Its things plated in a personal style in the language of our own voice. Not about “before” or “later” but “present” even if that now was a brief moment in time a long time ago.
I’ve realised through these discussions, better understanding myself as an artist, that by connecting with prototypical elements we find attractive and recreating that in our own hand the result is an emotionally intelligent model. These engage both our own hearts and minds as well as those we share them with. A model railway, as art, is for me not an inch perfect recreation of the Great Western’s Paddington station in 1938 (a pure model) rather it is the imbuing of the atmosphere and portrayed time in a scene, no matter the size. Where Pendon can leave me cold in it’s physical railway modelling (as fine as the locomotives and trains are) it is the rural scenic structures and elements in the Vale scene which sing to me showing an artist’s love and passion through their hand in their form. As modellers we can learn from this in two ways, a painting is all of its creator, and so should be our models. Our hand in the trackwork, scenery, structures and stock. Secondly their passion for the subject, Roye England was an Australian obsessed with a countryside idyll that was being lost in the 1930s, driving him to passionately recreate this in miniature. If we can tap into our emotional connection with a subject then our models too can ooze that passion.
Note that both Chris and I have mentioned ‘the Rome layout’. This mythical beast is not some Italian based European cityscape, rather a New York State rural shortline that weaves our favourite scenes into a coherent whole that could be both great fun to rail fan and or operate, that in our usual style forms a blank canvas to our varied geographical and historical interests. More on that another time, we hope you’ve enjoyed today’s rambling.James
This latest instalment of the Hilton and Mears ‘blog casts’ follows a series of discussions on various more emotional elements of our hobby:
Categories: hilton & mears duo