Author: Chris Mears

Down. On its knees.

00:01

Built in 1958, fmnut filmed TVA number F3060 at work in 1996 and introduces this film with this description:

The last 6-axle FM built in the US was also the last to operate. Purchased new in 1958, this H16-66 “Junior Trainmaster” spent its entire career working for the Tennessee Valley Authority at its Gallatin coal fired power plant. It received a heavy shopping in the early 1990’s which included a completely rebuilt prime mover from Fairbanks-Morse. I was lucky to catch it in operation in April, 1996 as a new natural gas fired power plant was being constructed nearby.

00:44

It’s cold. It’s wet. It doesn’t matter. We’re going to work.

We’ve yet to find a way to make it feel that lousy in the layout room but to immerse ourselves in this moment we’d really need to feel like we just don’t want to go outside. There’s no way it’s not going to feel humid and, well, yucky. Every movement for the rest of this shift is going to be like we’re practising an interpretive dance based on a kind of profanity you can’t take back or apologize for. “F! Why does EVERY-SINGLE-THING need to be covered in mud and be slippery today!”

01:55

Favourite old pickup truck? Late 1970’s GM half ton. Aware that I had already made a commitment to that declaration it wouldn’t be until the early 1990’s when Ford released their ninth generation F150 and I would declare it to be my favourite new truck. Since then, I still think of those ninth generation F150’s as my favourite “new” trucks even though, in a few more years, they will qualify as classic vehicles. I guess we all get older eventually. I still want one. Two wheel drive. Regular cab. V8. Five speed gearbox. One colour: dark blue. Only custom feature might be a set of 90’s appropriate chrome rims, maybe. No reason for this tangent but I’m writing this post and at this point in the video a member of this generation of truck rolls through the scene and I thought this.

02:13

In real time this takes a lot longer than two minutes but the crew and F3060 have made their way from the plant down to the interchange. CSX have dropped a string of coal hoppers and this is where game play begins.

02:44

“We’ve been here before”. Those sanders on the engine aren’t any use if we can’t move at all so we’re on the ground helping with a bucket and a handful of sand spread on the rails. If we were believers we’d rely on the knowledge that our movements were always supported by a greater presence but we’ll need a shove not an embrace. On this shear cliff face we need a hand hold or we fall.

02:53

In our youth we’d just dump the clutch and tear out of the parking lot. We never thought about it. Speed and power could overcome anything. Bigger problem? More speed, more power. Overcome bigger with more.

Today all we’d have is wheel slip. We’re too far in and we’re older now. We’ve learned the cost of pride. We’re not artists, not in the traditional sense, but we act with a kind of learned grace that only results from dedicated practice. We’re not here right now to or not to start this train. We’re moving this train. Starting this train is my job. It is what I do. It is what I came here to do. We’ll bit into those rails and we’ll just keep digging in.

Every

Single

Inch

Every

Single

Quarter

Inch.

We’re not going back. No one is going to walk this train and cut into two sections.

Nope

Not going to happen.

03:55

Ever had a fight with someone you cared about that was your fault? Ever wondered which nuance of your actions it was? Sure, it got bigger, but at first it was something subtle you did or didn’t do. Just a moment of regret that blossomed into a tear. A decision so tiny yet full matured you’d relive it over and again until the healing protected you from it and you could move on. The video keeps rolling and if you’ve let the volume drift upward you will hear F3060 starting to surge. The train is moving. Is it tense in that cab? Did the sand really help? More throttle? Less?

04:55

As the video rolls on into the second minute since we started starting this train and the camera pans to the left. We see the two engines CSX needed to get these cars here. The crew are still working F3060 and the train is moving. What’s that line about old age and experience?

06:00

The train is underway. We’re only moving those hoppers from the yard, where CSX dropped them, into the plant where we’ll unload them. “Underway” isn’t like road speed on the mainline but it’s clear the work of our job is done. From here onward the day continues as these first minutes have passed.


As I progress with work on the layout I am looking for ways of expressing my attraction to its inspiration. Models are models. The methods we use to create them change but outcomes remain easy to describe. Our motivations? Not so easy.

Why we do what we do is harder to describe.

What we are hoping to achieve is harder still.

How can I express to you, by the medium of modelmaking, a thing that I connect with so powerfully?

(When is easy since it’s every time I touch my work and Who is easier still since it’s by me)


I’m trying to create something mundane. I have this vision of a completed work that removes grand attractions and instead invites a closer relationship. As an operating model it should be so simplistic that it creates a void that invites one to lean in an listen to the sight and sound of the model. As a static installation it should be equally so, so that it provides a place to practice refinement of my skills and in the outcomes of my work opportunities for nuanced distinction.


This is the sort of video I’d share on Facebook. Prince Street on Facebook provides an easy way to “share” the video from my phone which works since it allows me to place a video somewhere that I can easily return to it. I find it difficult to compose a thought on Facebook so I try to include basic notes there so that if I return to it I have a record of what turned me on, then. I’m hoping this post illustrates how I always hoped the two sites would play together. This site, right here, is always home.

I swore in this post and I’m sorry. I can’t not address that. I never swear in type and I try not to in spoken language either. I’m not afraid of these words or their application but respect that for some they are offensive and my respect for our friendship is greater than a word and as an expression of my respect for that friendship I challenge myself to not give in. Sometimes, I still think the word even if it goes unspoken.

“That sounds boring”

 

The Indian Creek Railroad is just under five miles long. It is operated by its parent, the Kokomo Grain Company. It owns one locomotive: a former Southern Pacific RS11 that the ICR bought in 1982. Described as an “agricultural products company” Kokomo uses their railroad to move stings of railcars in and out of their facility in Frankfort, Indiana.

The Wikipedia article I am paraphrasing above is about as brief. There’s just not much story to tell about a railroad like this or their lone locomotive that feeds an endless loop of cars through a single customer. Drag ’em out. Shove ’em back. The track is damned near a perfect straight line punctuated by only a few turnouts. The locomotive is flat black. Wearing various shades of this season’s lease fleet grey, the parade of covered hoppers duals with plains landscape that begs a sense of “we’ve gotta get out of this town”. Yet somehow I feel something in this scene that attracts me. I have expressed this attraction before but failed to find the right words to express or communicate this here and I’ve been trying to find the words I missed before.

What distinguishes the locomotive at the grain elevator is that once the locomotive is hooked onto the train, that’s it. Doubtless, this is also why the hobby of model conveyor belts just hasn’t gained the mass market popularity that model railroading has. For The Operator, model railroading is more than just model trains. The factors of their layout include miniaturizing and replicating the relationship the railroad has with its customer. The Operator gains an initial high from completing a puzzle and a second high when their actions please the customer. You feel good and you have proof of the good job you did in that stack of waybills in your hands.

Scott Thornton posted the above video in 2015. I’m not sure how often I’ve watched it but the count is probably enough to qualify as “regularly watch it”. My first question was: how could we design model railroads that showcase model sound?

  • Starting the train from a dead stop…then straight to eight;
  • Shut down the throttle and coast to the next cut of cars;
  • The train is heavy and our locomotive is “down on its knees”;

Any of the above three scenarios could be replicated with a simple length of straight track on a tabletop. During a typical model railroad operating session it’s very difficult to find the time to really enjoy what it feels like to just watch our models move through a scene or listen to that wonderful sound system. We’re too busy ordering car cards or negotiating the next few feet of trackage rights. We’re too busy. Something has to be ignored and it’s probably our actors so that we can focus our attention on the work. Like on the Indian Creek, I’m not planning much in terms of track design. Despite its proposed ten foot length it’ll have about two turnouts and only one of which I really need in a typical operating session. That operating session is not made more enjoyable by the complexity of the moves but from joy of watching it unfold. I’m hoping to compose an operating session the way we might compose a song based on a pleasing arrangement of notes in a sort of “model trains as a miniature orchestra” sort of way of thinking. The first of the design objectives for track planning is based on this theory of composition that places the trains on the stage like musicians. In process steps it’s advancing the next hopper into place but what this does is invite us to indulge one more time in how nice that sounds. To do this: Track design that facilitates pleasing aural experiences.

  • Track or siding lengths long enough to coast down;
  • Track or siding lengths long enough to place enough cars to provide a load to start;

Just as that first design objective prioritizes the track planning to create an environment where the right combinations of locomotive sounds can be played I want a space where I can enjoy watching the models move. The above video is from fmnut’s channel on Youtube and features a vintage Alco switcher leased to Continental Grain by Relco. With my head buried in a switchlist there’s little time to look up and watch the train move through the scene and how nice it feels to watch that movement. It’s a strange thing to be operating a model railroad for four hours and be unable to recall what the models looked like.

We have added supplementary steps to represent real life activities like setting brakes on the cars and made meaningful advancements to easily add more trains on one piece of track than we’ve ever had before. At the core of our current methodology is the belief that there is a divine relationship between the number of turnouts, car moves, and joy. The length of the operating session, in time, is still determined by the number of car moves but excluded from this calculation are the extra steps of setting those brakes, ringing the bell, or blowing the horn. To provide a unit of time to blow the horn, we could exchange that for perhaps a car move. The net amount of actions remains constant yet now they are distributed between changes in the train’s consist and how the train is operated. Without this balancing I find the operating session takes on a sense of urgency that’s easy to feel and hard to describe.

At places like the Indian Creek Railroad the operating plan is so completely stripped down that it doesn’t demand attention to distract me from the stress of my day. Instead it promises something that works in a more meditative way. Before the operating session begins I have invested in time considering the movements I want to act out in this one locomotive narrative and once the operating session begins my attention is focussed on the stage; the actors as they move through their story. It’s a musical of sorts scored by the orchestra of a vintage locomotive and acted by a cast of railroad equipment moving through their dance – perhaps more ballet than theatre?

In citing the Wikipedia entry for the Indian Creek Railroad I suggested their story was simple. Mundane? Yes. I like that.

The promise of a single locomotive pleases my minimalist sensibilities. So often we read a comment reacting to the price or some other attribute of the new model as being troublesome because that modeller “needs” a hundred of that thing. I’ve been through that and these days I really mean it when I remark that I’d be happy with one really nice operating model locomotive. For me it’s an opportunity to invest time in learning how to appreciate the model. For example: I have only limited experience in tuning a DCC decoder and less in model sound and considering this one model locomotive, what a wonderful platform for that education.

If I were literally modelling the Indian Creek there’s a story that runs richer than the Wikipedia entry suggests. ICR’s lone RS11 started out at work for Southern Pacific. Kokomo took over operations on the Indian Creek in 1980 and this engine landed in 1982. The above video was taken in the l998. A locomotive is a machine and even in these sixteen years can you imagine what it has been like relying on it alone to move those hoppers. That’s a story of a relationship maturing over time. Each time I see the model I would remember that story.

I am planning a colour palette for the whole layout that spans from the fascia, across the scene, and affecting each component of the layout. Indian Creek’s RS11 wears a humble coat of flat black. I hope most of the hoppers on the layout wear neutral tones but wouldn’t mind the occasional pop of Illinois Central orange or Grand Trunk blue but out of respect for the host, even those brilliant colours muted by the passage of time. Since 1980 little has changed on the Indian Creek but it doesn’t take much to wonder how the hoppers themselves have changed. Certainly, the rules of how we operate trains have changed to. Other modellers have adopted means of changing the era of their layout and I think there’s potential here to consider this in my project too. Moving the layout from one harvest to another we might do so to explore the effects of a bad crop, the challenge of finding enough cars, etc. These are the stories we’d consider and the evidence of these we’ll see in the hoppers the big railroad delivers to us before the operating session begins.

When I consider my fascination with the idea of constructing a model railroad designed around the big grain elevator I see only potential and an enriched operating experience.

The simplified built environment provides a place to invest in the quality of the models I’ll build. Those models can be iterative. “Iterative” is a buzzword I feel I’ll be using a lot on this layout. I’m excited about not completing the model and moving on but having something I can return to and rebuild. “Now that I finished. How would I do it differently if I did it a second, third, fourth time?”

I have an opportunity in this layout to really invest in my education as a model railroader in new (to me) fields like control and sound. By prioritizing these in even the track design I am investing in a platform where I can really explore the potential of layout design for sound equipped models.

Feeding a string of grain hoppers, one at a time, across an elevator is repetitive but not that much different from any other switching. It’s still a loop of stop the train, position the car, start the train again. The car types are more homogeneous and there’s fewer turnouts to through but I’ll argue as much work.

It’s not that I don’t want operating this layout to feel like work but I want it to feel less like competitive problem solving and more like creating an experience that is therapeutic, bordering on meditative. A pleasure to operate by the quality of the operating experience and not a sense of achievement from yet more paperwork fulfilled.

I’m still not sure I’ve communicated my thoughts here but this was sure enjoyable to write. As I often end: thank you for making it this far with me. I appreciate it.

 

Chris

 

Cake

I’m so excited to write about the new layout. This is not that post. I’m not writing as much as I want to and these posts are not in order and I’m sorry. Bear with me. We’ll get there. If you’re on Facebook, I post regular updates on the Prince Street Facebook page with the intention that they will seed longer format posts to better document my work. In this post my plan is to focus on a design concept I’m exploring in this layout.

  • It is built on top of a bookcase.
  • The layout is modular but what does “modular” mean to me?

A bookcase is a box. Like the traditional “shelf layout benchwork” the bookcase is between eight and twelve, maybe even fourteen, feet long and a foot deep. It’s about four feet high (well, maybe, a little taller). The bookcase is the foundation on which the layout lives. I’ll confine this layout to the bookcase so that no part extends beyond it and our design is then a conversation to explore how we use the space inside the box. (i.e. on top of the box, the layout rests on top of the bookcase)view 1

That cold grey slab is the top of the bookcase. Even in its simplest interpretation the layout, shown here in green, is a broad arc. Freed from the demands of structural elements it adopts a concave form that invites the viewer to enter into the scene. What if we cut into this form?

view 2 first cut out

We’re already used to the idea of a modular model railroad where modules are added end to end to form a line of modules. What if we added modules in front of or behind to supplement the scene?

Shown in red is just such a module. I don’t need it at all to enjoy operating model trains. Its profile matches the layouts surface as would the scene itself. It simply extends the scene forward and provides a foreground that the trains will operate behind. Perhaps if I was taking photos of the layout this might provide additional foreground to help frame that scene and it certainly provides supplementary contextual data to help communicate my vision of this scene to the viewer.

view 3 second cut out

At this point the term “layout” starts to refer to both the core and the supplementary elements. This “core” should still be considered the area shaded in green. It is where the track is placed and through which the main electrical elements are run. To operate the layout, I need only the core.

We’ve been adding modules in front of or behind the layout to expand the scene where additional real estate supplements the story we are telling in our composition. What if we cut more precisely into the core to place structures?

This variation on the scenery-only module brings another opportunity. When the layout is initially under construction the focus will be on the overall composition. I might not know final details of structures. A module such as this, limited to one model building, could be first constructed to be little more than a massing model, a silouhette of the building to come. As the layout matures and interests shift the original module is removed and replaced with something finished to a higher presentation style.

view 6 structure callout

The modules share a common recipe for landscape textures and colours; the fascia is always a consistent colour. The smaller module with the building has a contrasting colour for its fascia. This is used to accent a prominent structure or key element in the scene the same way a spotlight draws attention to the main actor on a stage.

view 7 structure callout with tag

Our eyes are attracted to this moment of contrasting fascia and I wonder if we could actually apply a label to the fascia as an aid to the operator. If this is the salt unloading shed why not tell the operating where it is so they can spend their attention on positioning the next hopper’s bay doors to drop that next load of road salt.

The bookcase addresses basic structural form. Freed from structure the layout now is stripped down to only a basic element just to hold the track. As scenery is needed it is added when it contributes to the story for that time. It’s a form of minimalism and this is where I’m headed. Thank you, as always, for actually reading this far.

The broken view / the overlap

I’d been playing around with some simple lines on a piece of paper. Representing lines of track, I imagined what it would be like to run trains in this place. As I pushed my pretend trains around I realised how much I lacked a sense of their movement. At first I thought I might simply build two independent layouts and alternate their use: Perhaps one day I use the scene that represents the place where the big railroad provides cars and on another day exchange that scene with the other one, the one that hosts the act in which we deliver the cars to the customer.

Then I wondered: could they live in the same place? Maybe overlap?

end view

In plan, it looks like this:

plan view

I build a lot of model railroads that exist in basic rectangular volumes. I find enticing the idea of breaking that front line to introduce a curve.

end view2

With some time this morning I made some coffee and formed these views to help explain the idea. While the above view is not the one I considered first, I now imagine standing here and like the way that way the foreground takes interacts with the distant view.

(To help explain things I propose the following set of sketches. I’ve reduced the entire installation to a monochromatic view and will colour the subject in red to focus the conversation.)

Scene A: The reason

1 load unload

Occupying perhaps two-thirds of the scene’s face this scene is highly detailed and focused on why the railroad exists. Maybe it’s where we deliver the coal to, load the potatoes from, or the terminal of our interurban empire.

4 switching load unload

Standing here to operate a train in this scene we find that it wraps around us to focus our attention on the railroad’s purpose. I’m amused with the idea that in our peripheral vision we can still relate to our origin but it’s “far away” and it’s not immediately obvious how we got to here from there. In this scene we see the train interacting with its purpose.

Scene 2: The interchange

2 interchange.png

Lesser detailed, this scene’s priority is to act as the origin for movement into the layout. Note how it wraps around behind the major scene allowing access to re-rail a derailed car and how it invites you peek in behind the curtain to interact with the model. Both sides of the backdrop are decorated with a sky and even a horizon’s scenery.

2b interchange backdrop.png

I can’t always see the engine but don’t need to since at this place we’re watching the train being exchanged – one set of cars for another. Our attention shifts from the arrival of a locomotive to the work of its train.

5 switching interchange

When we’re operating a train here, we stand centered in this space and  while we could look to the side to see where we’re going the act of doing so is not unlike looking further down the road. With no scenery or track connecting the two areas we can’t simply go there by moving a little bit. Clearly, we need to travel further.

Scene 3: The broken plain

3 broken plane

Using a cassette, sector plate, or like means of off-stage track that is only added when we need to move a train from the background scene to the foreground this is the wall we break through – that “hole in the sky”.

Variation 1: Drawing into the scene

6 possible removable staging

Scene 2, by its area, inherits a lesser visual priority. Further the view of the train is limited since much of it is behind the backdrop of Scene 1. If it’s the place where our train exchanges its cars for another set could we add a removable length of track to provide those cars into the scene?

Nothing new here as the idea of removable staging is so apparent in the hobby. It has a place here too. As with many of my recent designs I use staging here to provide only cars in contrast to the section at the opposite end of the layout that is required to move the train from one scene to the other. I suppose if I really wanted to get carried away this length could take advantage of my Matchbox idea and it could slide into the main body of the railway between use.

 

A side. B side.

cassette 20180611

Last winter I built a set of three turnouts. It was mostly an exercise in “just do something” fueled by some lengths of rail and a few mugs of tea. I built them with the above layout’s track plan in mind. Well, that plan and thinking I could create a home for an Austerity tank engine that I sort of bought in a moment of National Coal Board in the 1970’s, steam-inspired weakness.

There’s no novelty in this plan. Why I wanted to share it was for the vision of how it’s played with (Sorry, “operated”). Play is based on two operators. One at A and one at B. There’s only one engine. The number of cars is irrelevant.

  1. When play starts, the engine is “on set” already.
  2. A and B flip a coin to see who starts. The result of this coin toss determines who drives the engine first and who calls the first play to execute.
  3. A takes the engine to move those cars.
  4. Once A is finished with his shenanigans he hands the throttle to B. A’s turn is done and the roles switch.

Cars can remain between plays on A2, AB, or B2. I mentioned being able to ferry stock around by using the cassettes at each point. The cassettes can be used to move the engine from one track to another. This would be useful if you had to pick up cars at A1 and deliver them to B1. You’d need to runaround from one end of the train to the other so you could place the cars on A2, then move the engine from A2 to AB to complete the runaround move. It goes without saying that you shouldn’t cheat and move the engine from one end of the layout to the other but then, what would be the fun in that anyway?

Where we might typically add operators to a model railway to expand the diversity of roles I liked the idea, here, of instead exchanging their roles in determining what happens next. Equally, seated opposite each other and sharing equally in the play it sort of feels like sharing a meal together. Hosted on tabletop maybe completes the metaphor in my imagination.

As for inspiration, I can’t add words that would communicate the vision better than this wonderful video from Gandy Dancer Productions.

 

Back to the matchbox

003_Welthölzer_anagoria

It started with an idea based on a simple box of matches. (Before I get much further in, bear with me while I wander. It’s okay. I’m old. I do these kinds of tangents all the time.)

matchbox2-2

I’d had this idea: “Traditionally, a model railway remains fixed in place. If we need that extra length of track, we achieve it by adding to the layout by attaching staging to a free end like a pier jutting from the land out into the sea. In this case, I propose moving the layout out of the way to make room for the extra track we need. This is made easy by mounting the layout on a set of drawer slides built onto the top of the integral storage unit. It slides open and closed like a matchbox and in doing so, both reveals the trains stored inside and also evolves the plan from static diorama to operating model railway.”

Before I’d even talked about the matchbox, I proposed a tightly framed shadowbox of a layout. Even though it was never more than a series of sketches I still enjoy looking at this series of curated views of the scene to watch an imaginary first generation GP placing a few grain boxcars at the elevators.

One idea that did move beyond a series of sketches was the above. It became a massive foamcore mockup. Did I mention my curiousity to explore a tightly-framed view?

billy-bookcase__0252328_PE391160_S4

One by one, a series of ideas that invite me to look around my living room and wonder what I could store in something like an IKEA Billy bookcase. Of course, the problem with “in a bookcase” is, well are, those gable ends.

Matchbox2-1

Something like the simple view above would fit ever so nicely in the volume created inside a bookcase’s shelf. In the above drawing, as in traditional layout construction, the layout is constructed as one complete unit and the layout is fixed into this volume, early on in construction.

Matchbox2-2

What if the layout, instead, was built on a set of drawer slides?

The frame stays nested inside the bookcase. When the layout is simply on display, between uses, it fits nicely in the envelope of the bookcase. The biggest challenge with the layout is always when it comes time to interact with it and gaining reasonable access from the top. So, as I asked, if it could be slid out you’d have full access to the top so you could uncouple cars, fix some scenics, or attend to a wayward detail.

Matchbox2-3

Freed from the confines of the bookcase, this is where I recall the matchbox-inspired idea that I opened this post with. The layout emerges from its frame like a drawer. Once opened, a wing that was previously tucked inside the main body of the layout is open as another drawer to extend the length of the layout. Over top of the drawer, you could rest of a storage cassette to extend the running track on the layout.

When you are done, the storage cassette is tucked into the drawer “wings” along with the leftover railway cars. Those wings are slide back inside the layout. Then, wings safely stored inside, the railway itself slides back into its frame. It’s a bit coy in its presentation and that playfulness? I think amusing its creator is something a model railway must do.

As a concept, it feels like a great way to use up a collection of drawer slides and indulge in some puzzle box construction. As much as any of that this serves the opposing needs of the static diorama and the operating model railway; most of all my personal need to create a tailored envelope not only for the scene but to contain all the “stuff” that follows a model railway around so I’m not left with a shelf filled with clumsy looking rolling stock and a rummage sale of loose parts.

Most of all it feels like an idea that belongs here.


I’ve referenced some previous posts throughout the above. Here’s some links back and in the same order as I’ve presented them above:

The Matchbox first appeared in this post: https://princestreet.wordpress.com/2017/06/15/the-matchbox/

It reappeared in this post, which I think did a superior job of illustrating the idea: https://princestreet.wordpress.com/2017/06/21/matchbox-part-2/

The prairie scene was revealed in an untitled post here: https://princestreet.wordpress.com/2017/02/27/8539/

That massive foam core mockup? Check it out: https://princestreet.wordpress.com/2017/03/21/1-2-3-4-the-mockup-edition/

SW1500

SW1500cover

Diesel Locomotive Modeling Techniques, Vol. One. Click on the image to read more about the book on OST Publications’ website.

Considering the people who collaborated to create this book I have no doubt that they could instruct me to produce a copy of the SW1500 that Tony built and when I was done, I’d write a blog post with a Prince Street-y title like “The SW1500 that Tony built that Chris built”. The book would be a good investment since a skill like those I’d need aren’t the kind that just fall from the sky to land on your hands. You have to practice and before that, you have to have somewhere and something to start from and where else to learn from than those masters of our hobby.

The hobby has a habit of describing itself as “art” and those who have invested in their practice, as “craftsmen” and as I just did: “masters”. As freely as we paste words like that on the models I like to think there is a conversation that the artist has as they wrap media around a naked idea; as the work arises from the translation of the Idea into the Form the artist is rewarded with something they can consider, both in terms of the investment of self and of stuff; of its ability to represent the emotional dimensions of their inspiration; and now that It is tangible, is It what they hoped it would be.

“This is not a how-to book but more of how I go about it book.”

It’s refreshing to read a book written from the perspective of the artist sharing commentary on his work. In the pages that follow that quote the story moves between what worked and what didn’t. As each stage of constructing the model is completed, it is evaluated and regarded not so much as an accomplishment but as a platform to learn from and build a next project on. “Project” here is not a complete model, such as the SW1500 in question, but component parts of the engine such as a radiator cover. I’ve never thought of models in this way and the more I do, the more I like it. Imagine returning to a finished model and cutting it apart to address something that never quite fit right?

“I spend a few hours comparing the out-of-the-box model with my photographs of the prototype. This begins the process for choosing which engine number or production phase I will do. Once that has been decided I’m able to focus on one specific engine. Then I start three lists”

As much as this book tells the story of creating this stunning model in the terms of what worked, what was learned, and what could still be improved on, it doesn’t completely ignore an opportunity to share good quality instruction. As Tony discusses in the opening pages, there is still time to evaluate the quality of the research media and catalogue those materials he’ll need to complete the model. It’s neat to learn how Tony prioritizes each component of the model and invests his resources. The design of the book forced me to read it as a contemplation and in doing so, I started to see myself in the work and I started to consider how I might try to make things like a radiator housing or how to make better handrail stanchions. Where I might have simply read this and thought it was above my abilities, the work is presented in such a careful way the work is divided into projects that don’t seem so daunting. Projects that even a modeller like me could attempt in isolation that could eventually result in my own SW1500.

The hobby has room for books that are greater than the work they instruct in the creation of. Books that discuss the relationship we have with our models, as we’re creating them.  Books that provide a place to receive a discussion on why you made the choices you did. I believe we learn more from others if we learn why they made that choice, how they arrived at it, and why it felt right.

Among the many books that form the body of our family’s library I’m certain we count favourite volumes that we return to for the comfort of their familiar pages, phrases, and personalities. Like an old friend that we can always count on to welcome us with a familiar story that we’ve never heard too many times. These are the books that are absent from our hobby. Thank you Mike and Tony for investing so heavily in the creation of a book that is all at once a guide you could follow that would indeed deliver a stunning model of an essential diesel and does so in a rich way that presents a story that need never result in a model at all. A book strong enough to stand on what it is.

I doubt I’ll build a model like the one described in this book but I don’t need to. For me, this is a book I’ve already read through several times and in its pages I find a story worth re-reading that runs richer than simply instruction and that feels pretty good.

If you’ve managed to read this far and haven’t purchased a copy of the book itself, please do so. This is the type of work that we need to support the creation of and the best way to express this support is by investing in it and work like it.


Through the course of this post I’ve quoted several passages from the book itself. I believe I have used those that have already been shared in places such as the OST blog so that I haven’t compromised the content of such a superb book.

“For a small shelf switching layout, the perfect engine is the end cab switcher.”

Speaking of quotes, I couldn’t help but pick one last one. A statement that caught my interest since it really stands out awkwardly in the book. Maybe it’s a teaser toward an upcoming volume. Regardless, why is this the perfect engine? Maybe that’s a conversation to have sometime. I hope so.