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