David and Mark build a Proto:48 exhibition layout

My friend Pierre Oliver got in touch the other day, and said, “Are you going to the Brampton Model Railway Show on Sunday? Dave and Mark are exhibiting their Proto:48 layout for the first time…”

Well, I hadn’t planned on attending – I’d just been away for a long weekend, doing train things in California – but I wasn’t going to miss this!

Proto48 layout - overview
(An overview of the Proto:48 layout – still very much under construction – at the show)

I met David Higgott and Mark Hill when the three of us – and several others, including Pierre – were part of a group that modelled the Canada Southern Railway as an HO scale exhibition layout using the double-track Free-mo standard. David and Mark had each tackled a portion of Waterford, Ontario – Mark had built the yard, while David did the unique-to-the-CASO-in-Canada track pans for refilling locomotive tenders at speed. I knew they were talking about Proto:48, but I didn’t know they were ready to exhibit. This I had to see.

Mark and David have built a whopping 40 feet of Proto:48 exhibition layout. This is still very much a work in progress – the track has not yet been ballasted, many of the structures are simply mock-ups of printed paper on foam core, the trees need shaping, and so on. But it’s already very impressive!

Handlaid track.
(The track is hand laid, with tie plates and spikes on each tie.)

Proto48 - mocked up industry
(A mocked-up placeholder for a future customer of the railway. Looking at this photo, it’s hard to appreciate that the boxcar is O scale. That building is huge – as it should be!)

Another view of the big building.
(Another view of the big industry at the left end of the layout)

I particularly enjoy the amount of open space they’ve planned into the layout. They decided to put the main track to one edge instead of up the middle (which is more common on today’s Free-mo style modular layouts) to maximize the space for large structures. But then, rather than fill all of that space, they intend to leave much of it as open field, with trees and grass. It’s going to be very realistic, and give the eye places to rest between the vignettes of activity.

Proto48 - open spaces
(An open space to rest the eye. Those are Scale Trees – no longer made – which Dave and Mark found at a local hobby shop at fire sale prices. They’ll get worked on to be made more realistic.)

Another industry.
(Another railroad customer, at the right end of the exhibit. This is also a mock-up.)

I’m very glad I made the trek to the show. This was a highlight for me. While I’m not ready to build 20 feet of module – I’m already overcommitted to the exhibition circuit with my 20+ feet of modules for the S Scale Workshop – I do have some Proto:48 equipment, including steam engines, that may get an opportunity to turn a wheel at a future show. Meantime, David and Mark have plans to expand their layout – including the addition of staging. And maybe they’ll find some more people to join their effort: I saw at least one other person from our CASO days who spent a lot of time running trains with them…

Thanks for exhibiting, David and Mark – it was great to see you both, and you’re onto something big here! I look forward to seeing your progress at future shows…

Train time.
(Train time – Proto:48 style. An RDC makes for a manageable passenger train in O.)

We’ll always have Perris

Perris CA depot - track side

In September, I was fortunate to attend an NMRA regional convention in Ontario, California. After the convention, I had a couple of days to do some sightseeing – and since it was close by, my friend Michael Gross and I visited the restored ATSF train station at Perris, California.

This is a special place for me – and for other students of layout design. That’s because Perris was the signature scene on the ATSF San Jacinto District – a ground-breaking layout plan by the late Andy Sperandeo, published in the February 1980 issue of Model Railroader.

Byron Henderson has written about this design on his blog as part of his Inspirational Layouts series. Click on the layout plan, below, to read what Byron has to say about the San J:

And I’ve contributed my own thoughts on this plan in a post on this blog about how it would work in 1:64. Click on the image below to read more:

We visited the depot on a Sunday afternoon – unfortunately, the museum inside had closed its doors about five minutes before we arrived. That’s okay – it was a busy day, filled with other activities, and it was enough to see the depot in person and take a few photos before moving onto our next stop.

Perris CA depot - back

Why is this layout so important to me, and to others like Byron? There are many reasons:

– Typical designs of the era tended to be packed with track for running and switching. This layout is open and relaxed – there’s a more realistic track to scenery ratio.

– It’s also a point to point plan with an easily accessible staging area: It was meant to be left open, or perhaps hidden behind hinged panels, and was intended as an active staging yard where the layout builder could fiddle cars on and off the layout between operating sessions. Devoting an entire wall to easily accessible staging (instead of a yard hidden under the visible deck) was a radical concept in the 1980s. Making it an active fiddle yard even more so – at least in North America.

– The layout was designed with a strong theme and purpose. Many layouts of the era – especially smaller layouts like this 9×12 foot design – seemed to have operations grafted on after the fact. But the San J had a clear concept. Andy even introduced the idea of using the changing seasons to add variety to the operating sessions, by describing how the harvest season would change the operations on the layout.

The layout was definitely ahead of its time – and, in fact, still stands up to today’s thinking on layout design. All it needs is, perhaps, larger curves and turnouts (and a little more room as a result) but the basic concept and the track plan remains an excellent choice for a model railway.

While it had nothing to do with the layout design, the article itself also included a terrific 3D sketch of the layout in full colour – it looked like it was done with coloured pencils – to inspire the modeller. Here’s a suggestion of the sketch – note the Perris depot in the upper left corner:

It’s great to see that the Perris depot – an important piece of inspiration for thoughtful layout designers – has been saved and is in good condition. While our stop was brief, it was one of the highlights of my trip. (Thanks for the detour, Michael!)

Perris CA depot - postcard view

More progress in Scarborough

 photo ReganLayout-InStreetTurnouts-01_zpsezprlo7t.jpg
(Me and Mark hard at work. Not our best sides!)

On Sunday, Mark Zagrodney and I enjoyed a day-long work session on the CP Rail Scarborough Industrial Track that Regan Johnson is building around the walls of his home office.

I’ve written previously about Regan’s layout, but the recap is that he’s building an HO scale layout that I designed for him a couple of years ago. You can read more about it by clicking on the layout plan, below:

 photo CP-SID-Plan-01-Labelled_zpsv3dwuq0e.jpeg

As I noted in the linked post, I built two in-street turnouts – serving the spurs along the left side of the plan. These are not, strictly speaking, prototypical for the spur line that’s inspired Regan. But I thought the street-running and in-street switching would add significant visual and operational interest, and Regan agreed.

Since they were my idea, I felt it unsportsmanlike to force Regan to tackle the in-street turnouts. Plus, I was curious whether I could build them. So I did – well over a year ago.

 photo InStreetTurnouts-Finished_zpslwh5oarr.jpg
(Click on the image to read about the turnouts)

My goal at Sunday’s work session was to finally install these two turnouts and hook them up to mechanical switch machines. Regan, Mark and I worked together on this and by the end of the day, we had two turnouts ready for the paving crews:

 photo ReganLayout-InStreetTurnouts-02_zpsuhqzphjw.jpg
(The results of a few pleasant hours of spiking and soldering. The black lines denote the edges of the road)

Regan has been very patient, waiting for this work session to take place. But he hasn’t been idle. Almost all of the rest of the track has been installed. In fact, we managed to lay the main through the street in both directions, and link it up to the team track area at the bottom of the plan. There’s only about three feet of track to spike in the upper left corner, and the mainline will be finished.

 photo ReganLayout-InStreetTurnouts-03_zpsto2ebpv9.jpg
(The roadway is 4.5″ wide – or approximately 33 feet in HO scale. That’s enough for a lane of traffic on either side of the track. A couple of truck trailers and a covered hopper demonstrate the clearances and hint at the visual for this area of the layout.)

I’m looking forward to operating sessions on this layout. The street section will be particularly fun, with the switch crew having to tread carefully down the middle of the street, bell ringing and crew ever-watchful for cars and trucks driving too closely to the centreline…

On2 slate hauler

Before I started my current S scale layout based on the CNR branch line to Port Rowan, I modelled a Maine two-footer in On2.

The “Somerset & Piscataquis Counties Railroad” was freelanced – largely because of the oddball availability of locomotives and rolling stock – but it was heavily inspired by the Monson Railroad. This tiny two-footer existed to serve a slate company in the Pine Tree State – and the first iteration of the layout focused on the quarry and various sheds where slate was turned into everything from roofing slates to curb stones, sinks and electrical panels.

From a layout design perspective, I learned several lessons when building the S&PCRR:

– I liked working in a larger scale. Detailing was fun and I could see what I built.

– The larger scale also gave me the room required for sound decoders and decent-sized speakers. And sound really brought the trains to life. It encourages operations with two-person crews (instead of one person doing both engineer and conductor roles) and helps slow down the pace of ops. That makes small layouts seem larger than they are.

– I found the research involved – even when freelancing – to be a satisfying challenge, and the resulting layout looked unique.

– Scratchbuilding structures was also really satisfying – and working within the constraints of a prototype, even when freelancing, made the models even more interesting to me..

– Picking a prototype with simple wooden freight equipment made scratch building rolling stock accessible, and gave me skills I can now apply to more complex equipment

– In part because I had to much to build almost everything from scratch, I didn’t need a huge layout to be happily engaged with the hobby. There was plenty to do on the small quarry area to keep me busy. In fact, it was only after started expanding the layout that the scope of the project became an impediment to progress.

– The very simple track plan was not a hindrance to operation. In fact, making do with minimal track actually made operations more challenging, without having to resort to gimmicks such as switching puzzles. One thing that helped here was that the main building at the slate company had spots inside the shed for eight flat cars, but each car had to be located in a specific spot. This layout really illustrated for me the advantages of industries where spot order is important.

Here are some photos of the slate works. It was a modest-sized layout fed from staging – much like the classic British “fiddle yard to terminal” arrangement. And it was a lot of fun to operate.

Number 6 works the quarry photo Number6-Quarry.jpg
(Number 6 pulls flat cars loaded with slate products out of the finishing shed. These will be hauled to the transfer yard, where they’ll be translated into standard gauge boxcars.)

Slate Mill photo MillBuildings.jpg
(The main mill building at the end of the line. All buildings were scratch-built. This one featured interior detail and lighting.)

Inspection day photo TTF2005VIII20.jpg
(A track inspector surveys the line from a converted automobile.)

Heading for market photo TTF2005IX15.jpg
(Number 8 is on duty at the slate company today. The derrick in the background is scratch-built based on photos of the ones in Monson.)

Wood shop photo TTF2005IX13.jpg
(A carpenter does everything from build shipping crates to provide materials to brace the tunnel in the quarry.)

Quarry meet photo 8and21-SlatePile.jpg
(An overview of the slate works.)

Hoist house photo TTF2005XI10.jpg
(Two workers chain a block of slate before it’s lifted out of the quarry.)

You can read more about my On2 adventures – and find the layout plan – on The Maine On2 FAQ site.

Presentation (McCook’s Landing)

Over on my Port Rowan blog, a recent post – “Roweham 2017” – generated a lot of discussion about how we present our layouts to others. Roweham is a well executed exhibition layout built by my friend Brian Dickey to 7mm scale (British O scale / 1:43). It provides many valuable lessons about presentation that can be applied whether one is taking a layout on the exhibition circuit, or planning a home layout. I encourage you to read through the comments on that post if you have not.

My friend Gerard Fitzgerald sure did. Gerard has given this subject a lot of thought as well, and shared his thoughts with me. I present them here. (Thanks for contributing to the discussion, Gerard!)

 photo Presentation-McCooks-02_zpsscssinzb.jpg

On the question of “professional presentation” I include some photos of McCook’s Landing, the Civil War roadshow layout that Bernie Kempinski and I – plus a few other folks including Paul Dolkos – built to take to some shows a few years back. A great deal of planning went into this freelanced layout, which allowed us to introduce O scale Civil War model railroading to people at a national and regional NMRA convention.

These photos were taken when the layout was set up in my living room a few years back for an NMRA home open house. The layout was designed to be as photogenic and presentable as possible. Bernie’s mom made the curtains and also probably the red white and blue bunting.

 photo Presentation-McCooks-03_zpsp6oz4eao.jpg

Much time was spent on designing a layout that was similar to a British exhibition layout but which captured a very rare American prototype. O scale Civil War is probably even a bit smaller than the equipment used at Roweham and so operations were pretty interesting.

The layout had a small fiddle yard behind the schedule/chalkboard.

We received a great deal of positive attention when the layout was displayed and it was a very big attraction at the Atlanta NMRA National (when people could find the display room).

Putting as much effort into the design and construction of a shadowbox/display layout to make it attractive and presentable – to visitors, other modelers, and potential operators – is extremely important. Why people do not always put that much work and planning into small layouts always sort of baffles me.

One of the Model Railroader editors later said this design gave them some ideas for one of their later project layouts. For some reason I recall that at both my home open house, and the MER convention, a number of non-hobbyists wound up stopping by and were really intrigued and excited by the layout and that was quite gratifying. I must admit the layout was very impressive in person. We sweated the “window” approach with the vertical supports, which made the individual units stronger and lighter. However in operating and observing from the front you just sort of forgot about them. Bernie and I debated that approach for a while and we were surprised the supports seemed invisible after a while.

 photo Presentation-McCooks-01_zpskf2tpsau.jpg

In the USA, for whatever reason some people seem to associate “presentation” more with home crew lounges than small layouts. Not always but one can go to train shows and see some portable and modular layouts that are, for lack of a better description, unfinished. Public shows are about advertising the hobby to some extent, not to mention putting your best foot forward as a layout builder, but the small British display layout approach just hasn’t taken root in the states. Maybe someday … but I doubt it.

Sadly Bernie tore his sections down and the only section left is my Biscuit Run bridge unit, which I have downstairs along with the other benchwork components. And yes, the legs were attached and folded down and there was lighting.

 photo Presentation-McCooks-04_zpsdtvlmqmi.jpg

I need to finally write something up about McCook’s Landing and send it to Model Railroader, which I promised a while back.

You can see lots of photos and there is more information at Bernie’s blog too:

United States Military Railroads…
Home Page
McCook’s Landing category

– Gerard

Gerard J. Fitzgerald
Charlottesville, Virginia

Progress in Scarborough

Thanks to my friend Regan Johnson for sharing a photo of progress on his layout, the CP Rail: Scarborough Industrial Spur. As regular readers know, I drew a plan for Regan, and built the two in-street turnouts that the design requires.

 photo ReganLayout-TeamArea_zpspd7fnutp.jpg

In the image above, we’re looking from the room entrance along the main track next to the team yard (along the bottom edge of the plan, below). The boxcar is standing on spur 358, while spur 361 to John Inglis is in the upper left.

 photo CP-SID-Plan-01-Labelled_zpsv3dwuq0e.jpeg

Regan reports that all track is now laid up to the location of those two in-street turnouts, so it’s time for me to pay him a visit and help him install them.

Thanks for the update, Regan!