My time trackside is typically here in Halifax and one of my favourite compositions is this view looking up Ochterloney Street. I like the way the train bisects the scene as if somehow this transverse or perpendicular view makes the contextual elements like the street, the waiting cars, the buildings into static items and the only actor, our train, appears on stage to deliver its monologue. An act of motion portrayed by the main actor shuffling one heavy foot at a time from left to the near and far right. Spoken by motion not words and I love it. It’s also the same sort of way we design and most often look at our model railways. A long thin shelf along which the track runs basically parallel to the straight front seam of the layout. So we don’t break the facade of pretend we never penetrate this line, breach this imaginary wall, and enter into this scene. It’s sort of like a television isn’t it? Kind of flat and less interesting maybe?
When we tell the story of the railway we build our story of rails as tools of motion, the rail way, so from there it’s interesting to see a train in the distance and look into it as it comes to you. When our view is perpendicular to the track it is passive in terms of the direction of the train’s motion so equally passive in terms of seeing the path of the train but viewed from the end there’s a certain kind of more personal observation familiar to watching a friend walk toward you. Eyes connecting to eyes.
So, I’ve been playing around with a simple sketch of a layout based on the same premise. Exploring the idea of inviting the railway to break free from containment on the wall to enter into the room and host a train that moves into the space we normally occupy alone to join us on new terms. It sort of reaches out like a fashion show runway into the audience instead of trains traversing the scene as in traditional design.
Silo is at E
Out in Bedford there’s a cement transload. You can watch the train shunting into and out of this location but you never see that end point where cars are collected from or placed at. To observe this operation your vantage point places you viewing into the scene.
I think it would be visually interesting to add a second siding, off the cement siding, where some random railway cars could be stored. A track not so much for operations but a track to reinforce the line cast by the mainline and cars, placed on it, whose vertical presence further contributes to the divide between one main track that diverges in one direction and one track to another.
Operator stands at F
You stand at F most of the time while operating. The layout disappears behind you and you have the ability to work those two on stage turnouts but also circulate within the audience.
Public A and B fill in both sides
Viewers can explore the sides of the layout, from either side, and their exploration is as much discovering the model as the feeling of space cohabited by model and maker.
Once a mainline (C)
The mainline used to continue on past C but was truncated to here when the branch was cut back and it ends providing just a headshunt into the cement sidings. The best view of operations here is not at the side of the layout but instead to sight down its length and watch out model alternating between tracks and exploring the space between its endpoints. Our locomotive connecting between actions but its movements sewing together panels of space flanking its track, its track the thread, connecting a view from left to a view from right.
The distant town of H
I see a small set of dense “town” buildings at H. Their detail, textures, and colours are muted. As noted our operator is standing in the middle of the scene so these town buildings contribute a distant view but the view of them is interrupted by the person moving in front of them. Theatre is the study of conflict and resolution and our operator is acting a role here in how we interpret and relate to this scene which is more than the typical identity of secret puppeteer.
When I first started sketching this I was thinking the backdrop would be moved through to reach hidden staging for both the cement siding and the mainline track. I even contemplated a pair of sector plates that fed into each other to move cars from one wing to the other like a kind of loads-in-out scheme. Also providing that earlier sketch because I had included some further sketches showing the layout’s basic shape (footprint) and the simple plan to support it from three folding legs.
If you did include a backdrop then I suggest slicing into its sides to show the cars stored off-stage. These off-stage cars become focal points forming the parts of the identity of the layout and why this exists. the cement plant “window” count have some notes written around it to detail that part of the story just as the mainline’s window might simply have lettering like “next stop Claremont”.
I enjoy conceptual design sketches like this. I see this working as a display because it offers more faces to the audience inviting them to collect more contact points and the circulation feels more social than perhaps the screen-like shadowbox we’re used to. Granted this does take more space to do and I’m not sure how this fits into the home and if this presentation style is worth the way it uses space. Most of the layouts I have drawn for our Halifax home are in the long, thin, linear style and this form satisfies my need for a model railway at home–the anticipated 16mm scale layout to replace the current iteration of Victoria will also be a long thin shelf because that’s the space I want to use the way I want to use it. What this exercise has provided is a chance to explore alternatives and my relationship with the design decisions I make. That conversation is always worth it.
Those photos of the CP boxcar are from the “1, 2, 3, 4. The mockup edition.” study model where I was exploring a series of extremely focussed scenes from railroading in an urban area: https://princestreet.wordpress.com/2017/03/21/1-2-3-4-the-mockup-edition/