the pointless overlap

Halifax’s libraries are hubs of creative energy and connection points. They are just like incredible batteries capable of being plugged into anything to power it or store energy between uses and on an overcast Saturday in September, about four years ago, I was sitting in the top floor enjoying a terrific coffee and while I can’t remember what I was reading at the time I do remember when the idea for The Overlap came to me. Being the kind of place the library is, I put my book away, picked up my coffee and headed over to one of the computers to play around with a series of sketches for this layout idea and this post, describing the idea, flowed from that moment.

The idea of splitting a model railway with a backdrop is far from new. I’m a fan of Model Railroader’s Gold Hill Central and also their Berkshire Branch and both of those layouts use a backdrop, across the centre of the scene, to divide one side from the other. Movement around the layout; moving ourselves, our bodies, disturbs a blossoming continuity our mind wants when it’s anchored by never leaving our place. This act of walking around the layout becomes just a refreshing as going outside for a walk. I like that idea but lack the kind of space for that kind of plan so I wondered if we could overlay two distinct scenes within the same viewing plane? We don’t go anywhere but does inviting one scene to move behind the other tease our curiousity? Can I lean in, closer, what’s behind there? I wanted to know…

The train takes its direction from a lead of steel rails and, for this tease to work, the tracks can’t touch within the scenes. Look. Don’t touch. One scene is supposed to be far from the other. While not as absolute as walking away it’s a redirection and, hopefully, just long enough for something happens.

Last month I packed Victoria away and right now I’m really enjoying the open space that I made by doing that. Despite the philosophical tangents I kept writing into this paragraph, then subtracting from it, my pencil has been chatty. Last night, this latest one formed on a page of nice paper. In working through space allocation it’s incredible how quickly we consume space every time we place a turnout in it. We add those turnouts for the usual reasons and as a place where something happens but what happens isn’t really so much at the turnout but along the tracks adjacent to it. I need the tracks for the outlets they provide but, it turns out, not the turnouts.

While I’ve filled that page with notes that made sense over a beer last night this sketch contemplates:

  • The tracks don’t touch within the envelope of the scene
  • Movement from the front scene to the back, here, by sector plate
  • At the opposite end of the line a traverser provides a siding and a main for shunting at that end of the railway

There’s a temptation to scenic the traverser and sector plate but I don’t think that should be done. They should be left raw. I feel like, when I’m operating a model railway, the running the train attention annotates the scene appropriately whether there’s scenery or not–that illusion our imagination develops is part of that immersion into the operating session. Leaving these two flanking regions in clean but plain surfaces I think both grounds the work as a model and also transitions from the content of the scene and the space surrounding it–the presence of model train tracks is part of that transition but their place on familiar materials, common with other furniture finishes in the room creates, here, a sense of collaboration.

Dividing the scene, visually, into quarters along its length, allocates those flanking spaces, described above, as transitions. The centre two spaces are scenicked and they’re our stage for movement between. I guess this play is one where our monologue is interacting with something we never see and the story we’re attending is what happens in the space between where it happens. Our actor, the engine, is always in view, but the supporting cast and their roles, appear or disappear only as needed. We still having places where shunting happens but by reallocating the layout space from turnouts to track we also gain a sense of the motion between there and here.

Categories: model railway design

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3 replies

  1. This is one of my favourite layout structure/chassis designs. It’s got so much potential and multiple scale application too. I’ve tried looking at it rotated 180 degrees, mirroring it and for some reason that didn’t click like the right hand overlap.
    It’s definitely a structure design I’ll use

    • I find it interesting too; fascinating even. I just keep returning to this trying to figure out his this plan works. It’s a refreshing take on the question of fitting a layout since it’s not about remixing a real place into a small place but about the space itself.

      I realise that I tend to develop handed plans. Somehow I tend to lean toward (pun?) layouts that operate toward the right. If I were designing a yard or choosing a yard to work on a friend’s layout, during an operating session, the sidings and cars are stored to my left when facing the layout and my switching lead would be to my right. I look left to see where cars come from and pull them out heading to the right. At first I wondered if my orientation of The Overlap was derivative of that favour? The sketch presented here mirrors that.

      Your proposal is interesting. Another night where sleep was more conceptual than an actual thing and on my sketchpad I worked through scenarios of inverting the Overlap so the long scene is in the front and the smaller somehow at the back. I couldn’t make it work. At least “I couldn’t make it work yet…”

      The big challenge in this design is that point where the two scenes meet. They can’t touch, the illusion would be broken, but then trying to keep them far enough apart seems to break the balance of the rest of the space.



  1. first coffee – Prince Street

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