Minimum Space Mack

Mack 33T switcher

What do you do if you like large scales but don’t have lots of space? Adjusting your goals to embrace large models of small prototypes is one approach.

Years ago I picked up this delightful O scale model. It’s a 1921 Mack 33-Ton switcher, produced in brass by Lee Town Models. As the Canadian two-dollar coin shows, it’s tiny – less than 4.5″ over the footboards. Despite its diminutive stature, the model has a can motor between the frames and runs beautifully, while the brass construction gives it plenty of weight. And while I haven’t yet attempted it, I suspect there’s plenty of room belowdecks to squirrel away a LokSound Select Micro, a pair of ESU sugar cube speakers, and a TCS Keep-Alive module – my favourite configuration for DCC and sound these days.

But what does this have to do with layout design? Obviously, a 4.5″ long locomotive doesn’t need a lot of room to manoeuvre. More importantly, the prototype – featuring chain drive and a pair of 40 HP engines – wouldn’t be expected to pull a whole lot or conquer grades: It’ll look right at home trundling about with one or two cars in tow.

While it’s not necessary to build a small layout for a one-car or two-car train, such an endeavour can become a showcase for fine model-building. It also provides the opportunity to think outside the box. Over on his Prince Street blog, my friend Chris Mears has been developing some ideas for small layouts that do just that, using innovative benchwork configurations. Examples include The Broken View / The Overlap and The Matchbox.

Finally, the Mack switcher is not the sort of unit one expects to find in wide open spaces: Critters like this would’ve worked in mills or factories as in-plant switchers. That suggests a layout built around such a locomotive would feature vertical scenery – brick canyons and concrete silos – which would trade real estate for air rights. An example of “going tall” – in O scale no less – is 13th and North E, an urban cameo by Mike Cougill. The Mack 33-Ton switcher would look right at home in Mike’s warehouse-dominated environment.

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