the Small Layout Design Handbook

A few weeks ago I had the house to myself and I decided it was time to change the shape and contents of that same bookcase that my layouts have been built over. “I love books. I love reading.” was something I started to write here but I realised I loved reading writing; that feeling of reading as an act of listening; like somehow each book is like a battery waiting to be plugged in. I had started storing cards and notes given to me, between books on that same bookcase, in the hope that someday I’d find them again and that burst of surprise would be discovering some beautiful thing said. We’re a family of writers and those beautiful things are things said worth saying, things heard worth hearing, written by people that make my life such a rich and beautiful place to live in. They’re things worth keeping as long as I can and they are slid in between books that are also worth keeping. Sorting through the books that were the heart of this project wasn’t really a simple act because I’d made tea and fully embraced that I knew I’d find copies I thought I no longer had in the collection and I’d want to pause to at least look through a few pages–that this whole event was going to feel like going to a reunion with good friends and we all needed a good catch up (okay, Eric, I can’t be the only person who read “a good catch up” and thought, in the hope of a good pun: if there were french fries to snack on we wouldn’t be the only people in need of a good ketchup…)

There’s no doubt there’s a lot of work represented in those layouts I mostly started or seldom finished and that’s reminding me that my favourite part of this hobby is that creative moment where design lives. Where the layout exists in its purest form. Even if set into the frame of a fixed container it exists within the realm of imagination and potential. It’s ignorant of whether or not it could be done it’s just “it could be”.

Speaking of a couple weeks ago my copy of James Hilton‘s Small Layout Design Handbook arrived too. Every so often we hear something someone says and it sticks with us, turns on that lightbulb of comprehension, and that phrase stays with us as inspiration. I swear I saw an ad. for The New Yorker in which they advertised the magazine as one for people who like reading. Yes! Why can’t we start to have books for our hobby like that instead of just how to consume the hobby?

I have, in a frame, a print of the above drawing James did of a layout based on the Rye & Camber. Our hobby’s normal vocabulary would see this work and simply use it as a tool determining if it would fit in the space and either way, discard the drawing in the pursuit of something that was satisfying. James’s design process is different and it feels so familiar because it’s bedded deep in imagination. The track plan shows the route the train takes and while the train is based on the very real Rye & Camber’s the train I see when I look at this drawing feels like the one drawn in this same frame. This is ink to communicate a feeling in lines that convey compassion for the subject and express a kind of vulnerability we tend to insulate ourselves from even in the space of this hobby–preferring to prove to the viewer how right we are because of how precise a representation our model is over how it feels to look at and how much joy it brings to us.

James and I have been collaborating on posts shared here and over on James’s blog under our Hilton & Mears banner and it’s been so very enjoyable to share in the development of each one. Remembering past schemes my memory is an emotional one built on ideas that only lived inside a screen. Our hobby is not one that lives on a screen and is realised in tangible media like three dimensional models or at least sketchy lines on torn paper that we can feel and touch. Holding onto this book feels like embracing the a conversation like the one we’ve been having. As he suggests, the format of the book invites conversation and that makes this something you can take outdoors or spend time with on the couch.

This conversation is about a model railway as a part of life and not one stored in a special place outside our lives. There’s a photo, early in the book, I adore. James has this talent for creating model railways that beg to be visited and explored. Model railways every bit as real as Linwood Moody’s Maine Two Footers and I know I spend a lot of time visiting East Works and Creech Bottom for scenes like the one above. That photo? In the workshop showing these layouts at home, in the home.

I still remember the first time I saw that photo of East Works and how contradictory it felt. “It just can’t be that small. I’ve stood there, inside that scene, it went on for miles!” I felt. Throughout the book is a conversation about not just editing down a reality to fit in the space you’re making do with now but thoughts on how to create a space not just worth visiting but one you could look forward to. Not ignorant of the very real challenges of small space but how it could be considered and how this approach coalesces with life within that same part of the home as another expression of who we are no less equal in that space as any other thing we display as a way of inviting our friends to see who we are.

Well done James. You should feel proud of this–it’s good work.

The book? Do head on over to White Swan’s website for more information on how to order it:

Categories: How I think, model railway inspiration

Tags: , , , , ,

1 reply

  1. Chris thank you, this is such a wonderful piece of writing and a kind and heartfelt review. You know I appreciate all of your encouragement and support, and our friendship – without which I know this book would not have come into being. So thank you again my friend.

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