Friday, December 31, 2010

Where to now?

So the idea for the grain elevator layout has had a few days to sit and stew there in my brain and although I think its a good idea it's not an idea that grabs me and fires me with enthusiasm.
Not yet anyway. With an impending trip to Duluth coming up who says I won't return fired up and ready to go building this model. Of course the subject doesn't have to be a grain elevator there are also several cement terminals in the twin ports area which would make another possible subject.
Anyway so far I've covered the first two steps of my approach to small model railway design.
1. Knowing what size of layout you can transport.
2. The attack of the muse.
So I'll now ramble about track and stock for a while.
Track is pretty important. Lets face it it's what you're going to run your trains on. It's pretty important, the way I develop my designs to have an fairly intimate knowledge of the track that I use on my layouts. In the past I pretty well used PECO exclusively, being a Brit that's hardly surprising. It is the best. You may well be convinced that Atlas is the best. I won't argue with you. It's a question of what you're comfortable with. KNowing your track means that you can look at a section of your sketch and say.
"Ah yes with this three points there that section will be 20" long."
A while ago I bought some Micro Engineering points/turnouts/switches for my aborted P87 scheme and they really are quite alien to me from a planning point of view. They are very nice quality models but planning wise I can't draw them into one of my sketches and be sure it would work. Yet. But test fitting the track onto those old baseboards the other day shows that I'm getting the hang of it.
Running along the tracks of course is your stock. Locomotives and cars/wagons. It's vital to know what radius curves these will navigate and function on.
The size of your stock will do a lot to influence the size of your layout.
I know a lot of people who use short wheelbase locos and older, shorter freight cars to pinch a few inches in length and shorten their layouts. A case in point is this design.
I call it "concrete canyons" inspired by the Plymouth, MN industrial park I see from my office window everyday. (if you're interested in the concept I'll explain more another time) When this concept was published in the magazine Model Trains International it was presented as a plan of about 5' long, using shorter locos and stock and small radius switches. When I sketched the idea out I envisioned it much as I see the prototype. With modern locos and cars and large radius switches. I envision the layout being about 8 feet in length. Quite the difference. Small layout planning for modern stock is quite the art in itself.
So a good knowledge of track and stock is very important in developing these designs it's the difference between a small layout and a larger one.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Curiousity did you know what...

I have to admit to getting more than a little curious about the scheme and decided to layout the track I had to see if it would work. The baseboards are from my aborted P87 project and are 30" long by 19" deep at the deepest point so this layout is 5' long. Those switches are Micro Engineering #5's.
This shows that idea is certainly very workable.

In case you want to make a shopping list...

I was looking around on the internet last night and sourced a few structures suitable for a layout like this.
There are a couple of possiblities on the grain elevators this one and this one. Though I don't know how the moudings for the silos shape out. Wether the kit makes up as individual silos or as a block of all eight or perhaps even two strips of four.
Then this imposing structure from Atlas would look great as low relief on the backscene and may even contain enough parts to make the view blocks at the front as well.
I already have enough track in stock for the layout and would only need the structures. Although I love to make buildings I think with such large imposing structures I'd go for the kits and give them a few individual touches along the way.
Tempting indeed, and as my wife and I are heading up to Duluth, MN to see the new year in perhaps I'll go and drink in some layout atmosphere while we're there.

Monday, December 27, 2010

The idea that stopped me working

I'm sure you all want to see it.
So here you are. I hope you can make make sense of this rather loose sketch.
It is centered around a model of a grain elevator (plenty of those in Duluth). A locomotive would bring in a short cut of grain hoppers and leave them in one of the front roads. Then a small industrial loco would appear from between the silos and one by one take the hoppers and draw them along the road between the silos, disappearing offstage. Now here's the clever bit. By means of a sector plate backstage the loco and hopper reappear on the other side of the line of silos and the loco returns the hopper to where it came from. The industrial loco would then do the same with the other hoppers in the front road. The exits "off stage" on either side of the model have been disguised with large warehouses. I also sketched in some warehouses on the rear of the layout, perhaps there may even be room to add a siding there and a couple of places for freight cars to be spotted, along with the warehouses at front, which would vary the operation a bit from the usual switching around of hoppers.
I'd put a two or perhaps three road traverser at the right hand side as you see it to prepare trains to make a visit to the scene.
The next stage would be to throw a few pieces of track down to see if it would work rather than mess around with a computer program.

Curse the muse of model railway layout design...

I'm at work and I've just got a really good idea...
Think grain elevators in Duluth...
There's work for the afternoon gone then...

Saturday, December 25, 2010

While visions of model railroads danced in hs head...

I hope that the ghost of Clement Clarke Moore can forgive me for paraphrasing his famous poem "A visit from St. Nicholas" as a title for this blog posting. But it is Christmas and it is kind of appropriate, and while people around me partake in a Christmas dinner enduced slumber or do the washing up. I decided to start this post.
I've been trying to write this one for a while but have balked at posting it because I don't want to seem like a wierdo.
But the simple fact is, I see model railway layouts. I have visions. The children in the poem have visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads. I have visions of model railways dancing in mine.
Why I don't know. Perhaps it's the years spent looking at pictures in railway books mixed with my college education as a graphic designer. But these visions come to me. They don't care where and they don't care when. (I have learned it is a good idea to keep a notepad by the bed just in case)
It is probably the most important part of my small layout design method and I don't know how it happens.
It will likely happen when I least expect it. But an idea will come to me. I can spend ages looking at pictures in railway books or drinking in the atmosphere at a prototype location but the idea won't come to me then. I wish it would. I've been to several locations thinking that they would be great ideas for layouts but the vision hasn't come yet. Even after 10 years my Duluth Railroad Avenue layout idea eludes me.
I can think to myself that a certain scene will make a good subject for a layout but it might be several months later when the idea bursts out of my brain screaming to be noted down. Boy, does that idea burst out then! Everything comes so fast. Every detail. Sometimes too fast for me to get all the details down. But in that burst of thought is just about every single detail to enable me to build the model from tracklaying to presentation. It's how I came up with the idea for Wingetts Recycling. I have learned to trust it and go with it. Not every idea gets built, mind you but all get noted down in detail and sketched up. Every idea that you will see presented on this blog will be the result of one of these visions. Enjoy the results of my suffering...

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Just a short posting to wish all my followers and readers all the very best for a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Pages from my sketchbook

Plans? As you can guess I've got loads of them. Though not so much plans, more schemes. I have so many of them that so few get translated to actual plans. I'll present some of these periodically in the hope that it might inspire a few of you to look at things in a different way.
This one is inspired by some photographs I saw of the narrow gauge railways used to maintain the river banks and flood defences in my home county of Lincolnshire. The Lincolnshire coast is flat and prone to flooding so sea banks have been built in places to halt the inundation of the sea.
The scene on the model is that of a maintenance depot where materials are unloaded and then moved along the riverbank to the maintenance site by a narrow gauge railway.
Why did I design it around a circular baseboard? Because I was fed up with square ones. That's why. I'll often try different baseboard shapes just to think outside the box. and perhaps stimulate a different train of thought. A circular baseboard means that the scene can be viewed from all sides, opening up lots of different angles.
Size and scale? Thats up to whoever decides to build it but I think that it will fit in a 4' circle in 009. Perhaps even a bit smaller.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Small Layout Design 101

With this series of blog posts what I will try to do is outline the steps I go through in designing a small model railway. So you can "get inside me 'ead" as it were. Once you see my thought processes you should be able to develop your own.
Be warned some of this should not be attempted without the use of a safety net and a realisation that at some point some sleepless nights will ensue. (You think I'm kidding don't you...)
My thought processes can seem somewhat unusual and as a result some of these writings may seem somewhat unusual. But we'll give it a go.
First off, ask yourself this question.
"Why do I want to build a small model railway?".
Invariably there are one of two answers, or both.
Because: 1. "I don't have space for a large one."
and 2. "I want to take a layout to a train show."
So your first consideration should always be portablility/transportability.
What's the difference?
Well, a laptop is portable and a computer with a tower is transportable. The laptop is designed to be moved around easily and so it is with small layouts.
If you're not bothered about taking a layout to train shows then you can just look at the space you have, put a shelf up and "go for it" and then curse and swear when you decide that you'd really like to take it to a show.
If however you want to show your layout (and lets face it who doesn't want the adulation of their peers in public). Go out into the garage right now and measure the back of your truck/car/ vehicle that you'll take the layout to the show in. Get a tape measure out and measure what space you've got in there. Because there's no point in designing a layout based on a 5' baseboard section if you've only got 4'6" in the back of your vehicle. I know I've done it.
More than once.
Got those measurements?
Good. DON'T loose them. We're done for the day.
Now go and read a railway book. Something like Edwin Alexanders "Down at the Depot". I'm reliably informed that many American railroaders have this tome in their collections.
If you haven't, no matter, just make sure the book you read has lots of lovely pictures in it...

Saturday, December 18, 2010

underground layout pictures

In the previous post I stated that I had started to build the underground armaments store layout. Here to prove it are the pictures.
Above: This is an overall view. (note the sketch for another small layout pinned on the wall)
Above: This close up shows the incline end of the layout and a close up of the rolling stock that I've started. The office in the centre there is planned to have a detailed interior.
Above: The right hand end of the layout, the straight line is a dummy the track curves though a blast door to exit the scene.
Above: The other exit offstage, along a corridor and another exit through a blast door.

This layout has lain in this incomplete state for a good three years, maybe more. So why haven't I carried on with it? It's very close to finished. The track works and most of the scenery is done. What happened to kill the momentum and enthusiasm?
There's a couple of reasons. One is the construction of the working incline. I made several attempts at getting that to work but as yet I've failed every time. The other problem is just a question of hard work. Do you know how hard it is to convert the Bachmann Vee tippers?
I'll tell you how hard.
Bloody hard.
Not difficult. All you have to do is strip them down and shorten the chassis and make a new deck.
Strip them down, easy peasey.
Make a new deck, a doddle.
Shorten the chassis. A lot of hard work. The chassis is die cast metal and cutting the 4mm out of there to even the chassis out takes a long time. To date, I've only done one, and I blunted a razor saw blade doing it. I've got 5 more of them to do. I might try doing one with the circular saw blade on my Dremel to see if that's any easier. Perhaps I'll only do three, have them modelled as unbraked and leave three of them handbraked.
I really like the concept. So I really should do it justice and finish it, shouldn't I?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Going Underground

There are many, many ideas in my sketchbooks of trackplans. Some of commonplace protoypes and some of more unusual protoypes. Like this one.
This one I call "Underground Armaments Store. It was inspired by pictures of Monkton Farleigh Armanents store at the Subterranean Brittanica website. (Be warned if you follow the links to this site you will be assaulted by a barrage of inspirational pictures for which I cannot be held responsible).
Something like this prototype is ideal for a small layout. Cramped conditions, tight curves on the track work. What more could you ask?
Operation of the layout could be quite busy. Wagons loaded with shells and other munitions would come down the incline and be shuttled off into the depths of the storage caves. Empty wagons would make the return journey to be loaded on the surface. Then of course there are times when the reverse operations would be true as well when munitions would have to be delivered to RAF bases throughout the country.
The working incline and the opening and closing blast doors would be interesting features to grab the attention of the viewers. Something I think very important for a small layout such as this.
This idea impressed me so much that I started to build it.
But that's a story for another day.

W-hhhh-y (2)

The first question is the one that I get asked the most.
"Why do you build small layouts?"
The simple, and somewhat glib, answer is I don't know anything else.
Right from the start I never had much room. I started with a baseboard that I in a previous existence had served as a base for my Subbuteo table football pitch and I clearly remember getting very fed up with watching trains go around in endless circles and not getting anywhere. I'd make loads of buildings to disguise the fact that the trains were going in circles but it never convinced me. I managed to lay a loop of track that had a siding on the inside and one on the outside. One was called "town yard" and one was named "the docks" so that trains had a real purpose and ran from one location to another but the trains still did a few dozen laps of the oval to get from the town to the docks. Not perfect but better. It was, on reflection, sowing the seeds of developing my own operating sequences.
Then jump forward a few years and I'm now reading the English magazine "Railway Modeller" and here I was introduced to the idea of a modelling just a railway station. One particularly sticks in my mind. A plan of the month by Roy C. Link called "The Art of Compromise" it was a 6' x 1' GWR branchline terminus and it really seared itself on my imagination. I didn't want to copy it. No, it was GWR for a start. But it really opened my eyes to small size realistic model railways. It was a defining moment for me.
Railway Modeller introduced me to other subjects for layouts. Narrow Gauge, trams (trolleycars) for example. I was fascinated by trams for a while and did build a shelf layout based on a tramway running from a Superquick terminus station to a park on a 7' x 1' shelf along a street of scratchbuilt houses. Great fun when it worked properly but my skills at 15 were not what they should have been really.
Then I moved away to college. No room in a student dorm room for a layout, but I was in North Wales and it didn't stop me trying to come up with schemes for a 009 layout of some kind. I remember attempting one in an Airfix model kit box, (Space 1999 eagle transporter it was). the box was reinforced with corrugated cardboard to make a firm surface. (Here I am predating the shoebox layout fad by about 15 years...) Stock was a pair of cutdown Hornby 4 wheel coaches and the loco was an N gauge Grafar 4F that never got converted to a 009 prototype.
After college I discovered beer. Yes I know you're supposed to discover beer AT college but I was too busy planning model railways. So I developed a social life, took up amateur dramatics and did the things normal people did.
I did not desert model railways totally in this time. I served as Chairman of the Mablethorpe and district model railway club for a while and was responsible for part of the 20' long Drinkallby and Belchford Road layout. My section, Belchford Road was not much longer than 8' by itself, another small layout. Even as I left for America there was a baseboard complete with track for another small EM Gauge layout around.
Now married and living in America I was convinced I was going to build a model railroad. A big one.
The first thing I did was try to build a small layout using foam core board as I was in an apartment with no tools to cut wood. This was 10 years before Chris Nevard built his groundbreaking foamcore board layout Catcott Burtle. I didn't have his skills so mine was an unmitigated failure.
Then came the next defining moment I discovered this. The Squarefoot Estate Railway. A tiny layout that was interesting to look at and had a purpose. AND it was built from pink insulation foam for Pete's sake. I was hooked. Of course once I had found this the internet opened up my eyes to many other modellers and their creative layouts. I was home. I joined so many forums and researched so many obscure prototypes that when I came to purchasing a house with a large basement I hardly gave building a big layout any thought. Certainly not to building a layout that would take up the entire basement. Once I got my hobby room in the basement sorted I was very prolific:
Apple Valley Light Railway
Tenwr Mine
Whinny Lane
Purespring Watercress
Wold Farm Mushrooms
all quirky small narrow gauge layouts. Some successful, some failures. All vital lessons.
Then of course I've moved on to HO scale and Wingetts Recycling.
Where will I go next?
Well. What I hoped would be a concise answer to a question turned into a long nostalgic journey through my model railway life. Which to be honest I've really enjoyed writing and I hope you enjoyed reading. But at least it shows I have never really considered building large layouts. So thats why I build small layouts. I don't know anything else.

W-hhhh-y? (1)

It's the nagging question that we all experience at some time or other...
"Why are you cutting the grass Daddy"
"Because it's long"
"Why Daddy?"
"Because it grows"
"Why does it grow Daddy"
"Because it rains"
"Why does it rain Daddy"
You all know how this sort of thing goes.
Well at train shows I am subject to the same sort of thing.
Every time the same questions are asked so I thought periodically I'd answer some of the questions that are asked of me. That's not to say I don't appreciate the questions being asked at shows or that I think that answering them here will stop them being asked.
But in answering them here at my leisure you might get an idea as to what makes me tick as a designer/builder/operator of small model railway layouts.
Of course if you want to ask me a question in the comments field of the blog I'll answer that too...

Oh by the way, thanks to the folks signing up as followers overnight just like that. I was very surprised.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


Many of you are familiar with me and my small model railway layouts.
Most of you will know me from my previous small layout blogs:
Some of you will have seen the layouts in the flesh at shows such as the Granite City Train show in Saint Cloud, MN and by all counts you like what you see.
With the 7 day layout going into temporary hiatus and Gonou, my T scale layout, being either sold or even dismantled I will need a new layout for the next show in Saint Cloud.
But rather than start a blog for another layout I thought I'd start a blog about small model railways in general, not just about building a small layout for a model railway exhibition (train show) but their design and operations.
Are you ready? Then let's begin...