“Explaining” Your Layout

I’m borrowing the title for this from well-known Southern Pacific modeller Tony Thompson. The latest entry on Tony’s blog is called “Explaining” Your Layout and it articulates something I’ve thought about a lot with my own layout projects – namely, that most of the people who see our layouts are probably not members of the hobby. They are our non-hobby friends, our spouse’s friends, our family, colleagues from work or school, the guy who arrives to fix the furnace, and so on.

For a layout to be successful, I think – really, really successful – it’s those people that we have to impress.

Non-hobbyists won’t know the difference between a 2-6-0 and a 4-6-0 – or a GP-7 and a GP-9. But they sure know the difference between a 1950 Chevy and a 1980 Toyota. They also know the difference between a Maple and an Oak – and that neither of these look like a clump of lichen stuck on a toothpick.

That’s why on my current layout – representing Port Rowan, Ontario in the 1950s (in S scale) – I have invested a lot of time and effort (and a fair bit of money) to try to build convincing scenery.

Trees are tall:
DW-2013-04 (02) photo DW-05_zps3f3e0b9e.jpg
(Click on the image to find out more about my trees)

Fields and orchards consume a lot of real estate on my layout and require a lot of plants to fill. But I think they’re big enough to convince a casual visitor that they’re looking at a farm, not a garden:

M233 at St. Williams west photo M233-StW-West_zps28961473.jpg
(Click on the image to find out more about the cornfield)

Entering Port Rowan photo Orchard-Planted-Detail-02.jpg
(Click on the image to find out more about the apple orchard)

And so on.

It’s also why I’ve paid attention to scene composition – especially, to leaving space between structures and scenes. I haven’t packed the space with track. Instead, I’ve set the railway into its environment:
 photo SectionHouse-04_zpsc1435a68.jpg

At least, that’s my goal. My layout is very much a work in progress and there’s a lot to do still. For example, I need to build more trees for the Lynn Valley – a lot more. But so far, I’m pleased with how it’s working out.

Great post, Tony – thanks for sharing it!

4 thoughts on ““Explaining” Your Layout

  1. Greetings from New Zealand. I have been following your railroad site for awhile and enjoy watching your progress. Keep up the good work…you have achieved some stunning results. This article I believe uncovers some very true statements and should enhance one’s layout efforts considerably if followed. Probably the hardest to achieve is the volume of track on the baseboard…we all want to cram as much into what space is available, although to be fair it does depend on your time frame/location, rural/urban. Many thanks again for the regular updates and look forward to many more. Kind regards. Tiny Taylor

    • Hi Tiny:
      Greetings back, from Canada!
      Thanks for the kind words, and the thoughtful insights. You’re right – how crammed a scene is depends on specifics such as whether we are modelling a rural or urban location. Even in an urban environment, though, there are very few prototype locations that are densely packed. New York harbour railroads are a good example of how to pack 10 kilos of layout into a 5 kilo sack. But when I review the past 60-70 years of railway presence in major North American cities in general, I see a lot of railroading happening in warehouse districts or along waterfronts, and later in suburbs and industrial parks. Even with in-the-street running, it’s often fairly spread out – if only because the customers that are large enough to require rail service to their doors (as opposed to LCL service via the local freight house) tend to be huge. They take up most of a block – or several blocks. So the running distance from customer to customer can be significant.

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