Model Railways

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.

 

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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/

Manheim Industrial Railroad

Just some random photo links I’m forwarding to myself for the someday file and a tea break well spent.

Each link follows the same format:
Photographer
Photo caption as a direct quote
Link

Chris


Bob Kise CR 7567 North Heading up the old Cornwall RR connection
http://www.rrpicturearchives.net/showPicture.aspx?id=3439215

Seth Eberly East penn rail way had to bring in the Middletown & New Jersey # 2 because Tropical storm Lee washed out the trackbed.
http://www.rrpicturearchives.net/showPicture.aspx?id=3037565

Seth Eberly M&NJ #2 idels away after just shifting some tank cars around at farrel gas.
http://www.rrpicturearchives.net/showPicture.aspx?id=3038849

Paul Koprowski After many years of working in upstate New York as the only active locomotive on the line, Middletown & New Jersey 2 now lives a quieter life of shifting tank cars at the East Penn’s Manheim operation.
http://www.rrpicturearchives.net/showPicture.aspx?id=3273456

Paul Koprowski The only markings left that tell of this unit’s history with the Middletown & New Jersey Railway in upstate New York.
http://www.rrpicturearchives.net/showPicture.aspx?id=3273458

Paul Koprowski The East Penn Railroad’s Manheim operation has received some new power in the form of ex-SP B30-7 7874. Built by GE in 1979, it was moved here from the ESPN Lancaster Northern line to work with MNJ 44-ton 2 on former Reading rails. Seen from the Manheim Community Park which borders the tracks.
http://www.rrpicturearchives.net/showPicture.aspx?id=4824473

Kevin Painter ESPN 7874
http://www.rrpicturearchives.net/showPicture.aspx?id=4825190

Kevin Painter MNJ2
http://www.rrpicturearchives.net/showPicture.aspx?id=4825191

Ken Sherta This switcher is used by an oil company to move cars on a spur that was the Lebanon branch of the former Columbia & Reading.
http://www.rrpicturearchives.net/showPicture.aspx?id=3638332

Matchbox (part 2?)

I wanted to revisit my earlier post that introduced a model railway design that I had named “The Matchbox”. The vision for that design remains clear in my head but as I re-read that post I wonder if I could have done a better job of explaining the basic idea?

Hopefully, the following illustrations and text will be helpful.

matchbox2-1

Above is the basic idea. Borrowing a dimension inherited from a wall in our apartment, it’s footprint is six feet in length and nine inches deep. I’ve shaded in the major construction components to provide some initial bearings. For the sake of this exercise, let’s not get too bogged down in details like the size of individual elements and focus instead on how the design works.

“layout” (red)

As the name implies this is our diorama representing the complete scene; track, trains, and all. The complete area is scenicked and finished to a presentation standard.

“staging drawer” (brown)

Equal in area to the complete footprint of the layout, the staging drawer is deep enough to store rolling stock inside and is open along the top.

“fascia” (grey)

Wrapping around the exposed faces of the layout, the fascia covers the complete front expanse of the layout. When the layout is in the closed position, this completely hides the horizontal seam between the two layers and the secret buried deep inside.

matchbox2-2

“backdrop” (blue)

Equal in length to the layout and reaching to about twenty-four inches above the finished scene.

“valance” (black)

The valance frames the top of the layout and also contains the lighting rig.

“cassette style switching lead” (white)

Instead of storing the cars loose, they are pre-loaded onto cassette-style staging units. Complete cassettes are stored inside the staging area within this matchbox’s envelope.

The staging drawers, valance, and the backdrop remain fixed (e.g. “to the wall”). They do not move. So, in terms of how the layout changes during an operating session:

  1. The layout is opened up by sliding it out into the hallway
  2. A cassette (containing a train) is selected and lifted out of the staging drawer
  3. The cassette is attached to the end of the layout and left in place until the end of the operating session
  4. Once in place, the cassette bridges over the staging area
  5. At the end of the operating session, the cassette is returned to the staging drawing
  6. The layout is slid back into the original closed position

It’s really that simple.

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.

matchbox2-3 end drawer

As I noted, I based this idea around a plan that was six feet in length. At most, I would expect to only need to open it up to add about two feet of additional length (i.e. where that staging cassette is attached). That leaves a space at the other end of the board where a second drawer could be incorporated. It could be used to store more trains but I suspect it would be better utilized as a placed to store those tools I use most often.

matchbox2-4 front drawer

Instead of the drawer opening from the end, it could just as easily open from the front of the layout. If I were storing tools inside, this might actually be the better idea since it could open directly over my work table.

I find the idea of sliding the model railway around novel and amusing. What I find attractive about the plan isn’t so much borne of this amusement as it is the way that the design provides places to store extra models, tools, and materials. Typically these find places on shelving near the layout but they often look cluttered. In this design, they are tucked cleanly, invisibly inside. Between uses, all that is shown to the casual viewer is the model set.

Rick de Candido has written two really neat blog posts in which he presents some terrific suggestions on how staging cassettes could be built. He presents an idea that not only makes it easy to move an entire train but to do so in a way where the cars are protected while in flight. Even my modest cassettes are in the range of twenty-four inches in length and I feel that is approaching about as long a cassette I could safely maneuver without accidentally dumping everything on the floor. Check out Rick’s blog posts by clicking on this link: https://fillmoreavenueroundhouse.wordpress.com/2017/06/21/staging-cassette-mk2/

I’ve had a lot of fun playing around with these sketches. I hope this article has been useful in helping to further explain the idea.

“I am not a layout designer…”

The posts all start with a variation of the phrase “I am not a layout designer”. Each time Rick de Candido presents an idea that is unique, yet undoubtedly draws from the experiences he’s gained from building the Fillmore Avenue Terminal and what he’s learned about his own relationship with the hobby. You can see the family resemblance in broad, aesthetic terms but it’s clear that none of these ideas is a simple rehash of a common theme like: shelf layout done three ways.

The conceptual plans all seem to be grouped into a blog category titled Tech  – Layout Concepts and if this all goes to plan the link below not only invites you to his blog but loads this particular series of posts:

https://fillmoreavenueroundhouse.wordpress.com/category/tech-layout-concepts/

Elsewhere on the site are a series of articles, each devoted to describing one type of train operation on the layout. I enjoy re-reading these articles and often think that they could stand as individual layout design studies. A favourite among these is the one in which Rick writes about managing express cars received from trains that have just arrived or are being prepared for the next train out:

https://fillmoreavenueroundhouse.wordpress.com/2015/12/08/express-car-ops/

Through detailed text and annotated with terrific photos, articles like the above describe how a layout could be created based on only this extract. Each time I’ve read Express Car Ops, I’ve caught myself thinking just how fun that job would be to hold at Fillmore and, equally, just how fun this alone would be if this was all the layout I had at home.

This style of writing is something I wish we were treated to more often in the hobby. The railroad, both real and in model form, is a community of activities. As with any community there will be stories that we are attracted to and that draw our attention in. In doing so, we’re invited to get to know the greater story on a more personal level since we’re provided a chance to relate our story to the one we’re discovering.

Maybe not a layout designer like the ones we typically get in the pages of the latest track plans book but I’m grateful for that. We could use more people that aren’t.

Thanks Rick. You’ve created something really good both in the model railway and also the website dedicated to telling its story to the rest of us. I appreciate the work and have always enjoyed checking in.


A close runner-up in Fillmore extracts that I think would make a superb layout would be an extract based on the activities Rick describes in Service Train – Coal:

https://fillmoreavenueroundhouse.wordpress.com/2016/01/17/service-train-coal/

This train serves to deliver coal to the coaling station and boiler house in the scene. That detailed coaling tower would make a superb signature scene instantly identifying the story of the layout and each operating session would be devoted to the acts of a single shunting engine, moving coal hoppers around.

The Matchbox

003_Welthölzer_anagoria

Image from Anagoria and found in Wikipedia and used under Creative Commons.

Closed, the matchbox is a advertisement for a brand. It’s entire surface area is dedicated to that statement. We know that there are matches inside and we don’t need to see them to trust that they’re there waiting for us to use. I like this simplicity and have always thought the simple matchbox was among the more brilliant ideas we’ve presented as a means of packaging a product.

A model railway exists in two states: One where it’s a static diorama and tells a story by presentation of details alone and a second state where it comes alive as a piece of kinetic sculpture. How can its design favour the very different design criteria to better serve those very different demands, basically: That shelf isn’t going to get longer just because I need more track to run a train on.

Or could it? Presented above are a pair of pages I’ve taken from my sketchbook based on an idea that I’ve been thinking about, based on a classic matchbox.

Matchbox1

The “scene” is the identify of the layout. In between uses, the entire available area is made available to casting the scene in which the railway is set. To create enough space for the scene I have truncated the plan just in front of the turnout. This isn’t a problem since, in this state, our ideal is presentation and not operation.

Matchbox2

When it is time to use the model railway to support operation, the scene slides to reveal a tray that resides under the layout itself. That tray can be used to store extra rolling stock pre-loaded onto storage cassettes. Those cassettes could be added as a bridge over top of the tray that connects to the track on the layout to add to the available length of track in the scene and provide enough room for a train to reach into either of the sidings.

In truth, this isn’t an entirely revolutionary idea. Removable storage cassettes that clip onto the end of the scene feel as established an idea as the hobby of model railways itself. Their traditional design in fact would be simpler to engineer than what I’m presenting so what makes this idea intriguing to me?

We could divide the available room to provide a staging area aside the scenic section. However, we’re taking space we need simply to invest it for storing stuff we’re not using. Further, to the audience, I’m worried that we wind up telling both stories in the same voice. I think that can prove visually confusing.

By hiding the extra rolling stock within the layout’s envelope I don’t need more room than the layout occupies simply to store the cars. Also, they’re afforded a bit more protection from the world buried deep inside compared to being on a shelf mounted on the wall or in their factory boxes stored somewhere else.

This storage space itself could and should store more than just the trains. I’d place the layout’s control system in here and even the basic modelling tools required for typical modelmaking. I could easily see enough room in this hidden space for some knives, sanding sticks, tweezers, and the usual kit.

Matchbox Sketch5

In this plan the backdrop and lighting valance are static. They don’t move with the layout. This too is deliberate. When I’m operating a train on it my attention is on dividing cars between the various car spots indicated on the plan A-B-C-D-E but likely where I need light so I can see to couple and uncouple cars or read data from a car’s side I’m standing, fairly stationary, around F-D-E.

The local art store sells wooden trays intended to be used for painting in the same way we’d use a stretched canvas. I could see two of those, face each other to form the top and bottom halves of the layout with a set of simple drawer slides acting as the means of moving the layout for operation. (These trays come in sizes up to 12×48″).

I don’t know if this is an idea that I’ll tease out much further but it is something that I’ll refer back to. In a few weeks, we finally move into our apartment and it’ll be time to start seriously exploring some exciting new venues for the layout to live in. Having posts like this on hand will be fun to refer back to.

Cheers,

Chris

1, 2, 3, 4. The mockup edition.

hide-seek warehouse 2

In many ways, this is the view that excited me the most when I first started exploring this presentation style. Even as presented, I feel the border surrounding the boxcar could frame it more closely.

hide-seek overpass 3

Moving from left to right, the next scene is the view down the street. The track passes overhead, jutting out from one building before disappearing behind another. The bridge is really only inset just over an inch inside the face of the scene but it feels so much deeper. In addition to playing with the orientation of each viewing window, I believe we can play with the overall height and relative position.

In terms of colour and texture, I’d like the fascia to be treated in a muted tone not unlike older concrete. Colours very close to this should be used for the street and sidewalk, as well as the bridge sides. In this way, this scene is presented in an almost monochromatic manner that relies on form and shadow to describe the scene. Exceptions to this could apply to the inset building walls that line the sides of this scene. Perhaps two bands of lovely aged brick walls?

In my mockup and also in my vision for this scene, the bridge’s deck does not reach all the way to the back of the scene or touch the backdrop. This slim opening at the back of the scene might invite some overhead lighting to reach around behind the bridge and bounce of the street below. Though I didn’t include the form of buildings on this other side of the tracks they shouldn’t be rendered with the same level of detail as the foreground ones. Their mass and colour is their purpose and they should not detract from the detail and focus that is ultimately at the bridge area in the exact center of the layout and this scene in all planes.

hide-seek coal dealer

I love the idea of these urban coal trestles that were placed beside warehouses so that a boxcar could be unloaded into the warehouse or a hopper could be emptied into coal piles below. The coal trestle provides a chance for lots of black-grey coal dust. Little hints of stubborn vegetation peek in from the seams around the edge and perhaps even from between the ties. If possible, the detail could array back from the front of the scene to a median resolution at the track’s centreline, and fading as we move back through the scene.

hide-seek complete

The mockup is constructed of foamcore and is thirty inches in length. It is eight inches deep and I believe about twelve inches high. The stepping in the fascia is not intentional. I envision this plane to be a constant and regret that my stock of foamcore sheet didn’t provide a panel large enough to present it as I saw it being. As I mentioned in the original presentation of this idea, this is a layout I do not intend to build. That said, I had a lot of fun constructing the mockup and am excited to see my idea as a massing model. It’s fun to explore around it and test how each scene works.

I love the way the boxcar is framed in the first scene. I’d like the opening to frame the boxcar and to use that car to identify the railroad. This identity is both the railroad company and also a clue on the era and perhaps even the climate.

When I look at the layout, my attention and imagination are so drawn to the forms at the bridge scene. It feels like a classic, almost science fiction-like, view of the new urban place. Layers of transportation stacked over each over and threaded through one another. A quilt composed as much of panels of commerce as action.

That leaves only the coal yard. It’s the least expressive of the three scenes yet it depicts something that I just like and find appealing. It’s probably just me and my imagination, but even across this short distance, I feel like I’ve travelled much further on this trip, having followed the train past street-level warehouse and manufacturing lofts, breaking the silence of a busy midday street, until eventually arriving to deliver that single car at the end of the line.