Lighting and layout design compromises

Layout lighting

A couple of readers have pointed out that in my last post, on lighting, I described the above photo as…

standing to the south, looking northward.

This is, of course, incorrect. In the real Port Rowan, we would be standing on the north side of the tracks, looking to the east. That’s because the branch I’m modelling leaves Simcoe, Ontario and heads southwest to Port Rowan.

But I’ve been incorrect on purpose. Every layout has compromises – even one like this, which is fairly large for such a simple design.

Have another look at the layout plan:

Layout plan.

The St. Williams scene is placed along a wall, while Port Rowan – at the end of the line – is on a peninsula. Having access to both sides of the scene means I can give Port Rowan 42″ of depth.

From a practical perspective, this means I can easily incorporate the turntable. From an aesthetic point of view, I’ll have an excellent track to scenery ratio – plenty of space for grass, Queen Anne’s Lace and structures on both sides of the track.

But if I were to place the light in the proper location – to the south of the tracks – it would be along the back edge of the layout. Every scene would be backlit – which would be dramatic, but would also present several problems. It would be difficult for operators to enjoy the layout with the sun in their eyes all the time. It would be much harder to mask the lights from view. And it would make photography almost impossible.

The alternative would have been to put staging and St. Williams on the peninsula, then have Port Rowan along the bottom wall. Operators would be standing on the south side of the tracks with the sun (the lights) at their backs.

But I would have had less length for Port Rowan, and would’ve had depth problems.

For starters, the turntable would have been against the wall, making it difficult to maintain – and as I’ve written previously, I love turntables as prototypes but hate them as models. I want it up front where I can fiddle with it as needed to keep it working properly.

I would also have had to build the Port Rowan station as a false-front structure. Given that I have so few buildings on the layout and that the station is the signature piece, I decided this would be unacceptable.

There’s one more major design decision that affected the plan. What’s not shown on my drawing is that the entrance to the room is up and to the right of the peninsula. Since my biggest modelling effort and greatest operating interest will be in Port Rowan, I wanted it – and not the unscenicked sector plate – to be the first thing visitors see as they enter the layout room.

So, in my 1:64 world, the Port Rowan branch appears to run to the southeast – more like the line to Port Dover did.

I’m happy with the compromise and I’m sure my operating crew and visitors will be too busy enjoying the trains to notice.

The value of good lighting

General arrangement - lighting system.

I learned this lesson on my previous layout: It’s worth spending money on your layout lighting.

I’ve stolen time this week – 15 minutes here and there – and hooked up my layout lighting. I’m using a 12-volt halogen landscape track lighting system with a mix of 20-watt spotlights and 10-watt floodlights. As I’ve written earlier, it’s available in the United States from e-conolight.

My lighting goals are three-fold:

1 – Ample but not overwhelming lights for operating sessions;
2 – A strong sense of direction conveyed by definite shadows;
3 – the appearance of a partially cloudy day – I find this more interesting than an evenly lit sunny environment.

I’m very happy with the results on all three counts.

Here’s a view of the spots and floods I’m using, with the flood on the left and spot on the right. For the most part, I’ve paired these so that the floodlight fills in behind the spotlights:

Floods and Spots.

The lead photo an overall view of the lighting at the peninsula (Port Rowan) with the south end of St. Williams in the background. The cable in the distance at right still needs to be secured to the ceiling. It’s the feed from the transformer.

With just the room lights on, Port Rowan suffers from kind of drab, even lighting. Not much character:

Layout lighting - just the room lights.

Now, turn off the room lights and fire up the layout lighting, and we get something much better. The boxcar is in full sun, with the locomotive under a bit of cloud. Furthermore, there’s a strong sense of direction to the lighting – we’re standing to the south, looking northward, since the end of the boxcar is also fairly strongly lit:

Layout lighting - proper lights.

By contrast, this photo is taken looking to the south. Note how the north end of the boxcar is in shadow:

Layout lighting - from the other end.

The effect is even better in person.

Thanks again to my friend Gerry Cornwell for putting me onto this system and teaching me the value of good lighting.