“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:


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:


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:


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


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.


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.


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.




…was a little over two months ago.

I applied for the job over a year ago. At the time, I knew it sounded like fun. When I submitted my application it never really occurred to me that they might actually call my bluff and offer me the position. Sure, I mean, during the winter I had received emails from our Human Resources team that reminded me of my “suitability” but you never really expect that to go anywhere.

And then it does.

At the end of March they offered me the job in Dartmouth.

“The end of March” feels like standing on the top step of a tall ladder. You can see as far as an eye can see but spend most of the time looking down and hoping that the step you stand on, the one clearly marked “Not a step!”, doesn’t know it can’t be one. From the end of March, the first of May is a lifetime away and I had, like, forever to get there.

And then the next day it was May 1st.

And now it is June the fourteenth.

This post is for the blog.

I don’t want to write a post that sounds like a confessional but I do want to acknowledge the time and how things just suddenly went quiet on my end. During the week I live and work here here in Dartmouth and on the weekends I drive back to the Island where the girls are. On those drives I carry an eclectic play list of music for the car and a conversation for myself wherein I mostly talk to myself about design ideas and contemplate the state of the model railways. Some of those ideas will be remembered as stillborn blog posts and some I’m looking forward to exploring in a more tangible way when things start to settle back into a routine. Some, you should join me to talk about in person – I hope that happens some time soon.

Mostly, this post is for Krista.

I never planned things to go quiet just after Krista’s post but that’s how it worked out. In no small way that’s exactly how things should have been and I’m glad for that. During a time like the one we’re moving through right now, time is punctuated by a series of major life changes like selling the house, finding good schools, and somewhere good to live. Despite how many times I believed, with complete conviction, that I’ve just charted a course for certain doom she’s proven me wrong and I’ve never, ever, been so happy to have been so wrong. She hates John Prine but I can’t find a song with a better lyric to mark this moment: “She is my everything”

So, in a rambling sort of way, that’s where the time went. Once upon a time I accepted a job offer and because of that we’re in the process of moving to Nova Scotia. We’re excited to be here and excited to head out on this adventure.

Wait, there is a better song. One she does really like. One we both really like and it goes like: “Two of us riding nowhere…on our way home.”

I love you Krista

What It’s Like

Hello readers,

Many of you don’t know me personally, but I’m a guest author on Prince Street today. I’m Krista, Chris’s wife and partner. Chris has encouraged me to contribute to his blog, and I’m taking him up on his generous offer. I can actually remember way back to Prince Street’s first post. Thankfully he gave me some great ideas to write about – this post is ‘What it’s like". Our writing styles are very different, so you’re in for a treat!

I’ve been with Chris for 15 years. We have two very creative children who are encouraged to express themselves artistically as much as they can. Chris and I both have day jobs in IT, but we are both very passionate about our hobbies. Model railroading for him; knitting for me. He told me on our first date that he was a model railroader; quite honestly I didn’t know what to think. I had never met anyone that was into model trains. I really only thought of toy trains that went around the Christmas tree.

I’m a third generation knitter (at least, if not possibly fourth) but I didn’t start knitting until my late twenties. My mom is an amazing knitter, and I grew up watching my mom, her sister Ann, and their mother Dorothy knit. I started knitting at our public library, but it was a very rough start. This is where Chris comes in. I never thought of myself as a "creative person". I didn’t make things like Chris did ( he’s an amazing scratchbuilder!). I couldn’t sketch things on paper like he does, and forget about showing me a schematic or a set of blueprints to visualize something. Because of Chris’s involvement in the hobby, he was able to motivate me and encourage me when knitting a square seemed like a lost cause.Today I knit a variety of items with relative ease, blog about my knitting adventures, and teach knitting in the winter semester at City Centre Community School.

Until I started to call myself a knitter and really immerse myself in the craft, I didn’t really participate in Chris’s model train interest. I honestly didn’t think that I had anything to offer to the discussion, I thought it was going to be all technical jargon or hours watching train videos, and I don’t have a great attention span for any media over an hour (with the exception of BBC’s Sherlock). Once I started to take a mess of yarn and turn it into something useful, I started to understand more about the interest Chris has in model trains. How he could focus his time for hours creating the tiniest bricks and windows I have ever seen! And the frustration when something just doesn’t work out, even when you’ve given it your best effort.

I love to explore why people create. While I don’t usually understand a lot of the fine details about the model railroad projects that Chris works on, I love seeing the thought process when he’s creating. His commitment and contribution to the hobby for 30+ years is enviable; I certainly hope to be able to celebrate a 30 year knitting anniversary. Over the years, I’ve asked him questions and tried to learn more about the hobby that is such a fundamental part of him. We have amazing conversations about design as well as interesting points about teaching skills related to our respective hobbies. Something we talk about a lot is layout design. I like to talk with Chris about layouts and the user experience – both the creator’s experience and the operator’s experience. I’m a very outgoing person, and I enjoy knitting and creating in a group setting. For as long as I remember, Chris has been attending operating and building sessions locally and in neighbouring provinces. I understand how much he enjoys these events, and I try to make it a priority to not encroach on that time.

On our travels, I encourage Chris to seek out opportunities to see railyards or other interesting locations related to railroading. I find myself keeping an eye out the car window to see if there is a lit signal or something working in a yard or coming down a line. Even my family who are hardcore thrifters and yard sale visitors love to find PEIR or CN treasures for Chris. Myself, I’m always on the lookout for GO transit merch for him. I’ve never had the chance to go on a train, but I hope we get to take a family trip to Montreal via train to see our oldest daughter. Our youngest likes to go to operating sessions and train shows with her dad … something I have yet to do.

One of the things that I appreciate about Chris is his patience when I ask questions that may seem trivial or "stupid". He is always happy to explain to me anything I ask. I still struggle with the different gauges! I’m very fortunate to have a partner who involves me in such an important part of his being. Apparently I inspire some of his work, and he learns about the hobby from me. I know, I’m not sure how either! Maybe by teaching he’s learning?

Both of us proudly display our work and work-in-progress in the living areas of our house. We have a cozy little house downtown with a layout-in-progress in our dining room and a knitting emporium in the living room. I believe that our hobbies are such an important part of us that it would look strange if they were not visible in the house. Our visitors thankfully never bat an eye when they come over and see our projects in various states of completion.

Thanks for taking the time to read my guest post. More to come!

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.



Hello Krista

It’s been almost eight years now and I have probably written at least a thousand posts. Given that I periodically delete content, I’ll never really know for sure. Regardless of the exact count, it represents a mile marker and certainly something to celebrate. Most importantly, I am so humbled by the number of friends I’ve made along the way. Thank you, everyone, it means so very much to me that all of this introduced us to each other.

Thank you!

I often remark that: in my opinion, I’ve learned more about model railroading from conversations about the hobby I have with Krista than I’ve learned anywhere else and I’m so completely thrilled and excited to welcome several posts from her, here. I have suggested a couple of topics that have featured in our conversations but mostly just asked her to write.

Once upon a time, in a story on the Vinyl Cafe, Stuart McLean said: “A little bit nervous. A whole lot excited.”

That pretty much sums up the moment right now.


1, 2, 3, 4.


In proposing the sketch of the grain elevator layout I found something that I am still really amused by. Something that presented both the layout and the fascia on an almost level field where one was just as interesting to look at as the other: the layout filled with rich visual textures and details begging to be explored yet also providing a source of backlighting for the shadow play arranged by those silhouettes in front. Those sketches and then the mockups that followed also provided me with a chance to explore vertical dimensions like how much height was required by the scene.


What if the borders were tightened to provide just enough room to look across a freight car’s roof or to peer underneath? While I didn’t have a place in mind when I sketched that out, those close quarters felt urban. Urban things like people on a crowded sidewalk or the way a train must snake its way between buildings on its trip to work from home.

3part frontelev

What if we cut into the fascia in sections? We might not even arrange each opening in the same orientation or on same elevation or plane. In the above sketch:

  • A is cut open large enough to provide a full side elevation. Rail cars parked by factories. The scene is shallow and its horizontal bias plays on the length of the scene and excuses the height completely.
  • B is the alley. Vertical. It’s taller than A but very narrow. Like seeing a train crossing the street downtown we see it moving between the buildings and that extra height provides a view deeper into the scene.
  • C is cut open, wrapping around the corner.

Initially, I thought this was really neat for the way it played with the scene but, looking at the sketch, I also like the way it plays with definition of the sides and ends of the box itself. A and B are a presentation that might feel more passive as we watch something moving against something else but C, that view from the side and end simultaneously, is a terminal space from things arrive, leave, or rest.

3part planview

In traditional model railway layout design we must provide white space to communicate distance or frame each element. In this concept, that white space isn’t required and we could quite radically tighten up the overall footprint of the layout. Furthermore, since we are more actively managing the view of the scene, we focus our work on modelling only what is required to complete the scene from that one perspective.

As a concept, it’s something that feels like it works as a static display or an exhibition layout and perhaps less well as a traditional model railroad. I may mock this up but don’t believe I have any interest in taking this much further than that. I’ve been trying to invest more time