Houses set the scene

Extra 80 East - St Williams, Ontario - August 1953 photo X80East-StW-2014-01_zps347cae5c.jpg
(A single house at St. Williams provides an important clue that there’s a town here somewhere)

A reader recently got in touch privately to offer some observations about my layout, having read my article in the February-March 2015 issue of The S Scale Resource. He wrote, in part…

In my mind there are a couple of areas that help to “set the scene”. One is the use of houses, making it seem so natural that folks actually live there. Too many times we modelers only include structures that somehow are directly related to the railroad in some way. By your including houses, you set a scene of community.

Thanks! That’s a great observation – and it tells me that my use of houses is working because that’s exactly what I hoped they would do. For me, the houses provide a clue that the train is serving two towns – as opposed to two industrial districts, or two cities, for example. They also suggest that somebody from “around these parts” might be riding the daily-except-Sunday mixed train, at least some of the time.

What’s interesting is that conveying this sense of community doesn’t have to require a lot of real estate. On my layout, I have a single house in St. Williams, and two in Port Rowan. (Actually, one house and one mock-up at this time, as the photo below illustrates…)

 photo PtR-Chestnut-TwoHouses-03_zps4c1caab3.jpg

Those looking for railroads that exist in seclusion can find plenty of examples – from Shay-powered lumber lines to more modern examples such as the Plaster City Railroad, a three-foot gauge line operated by US Gypsum:

(Modern, but with a moonscape vibe. You can also watch this directly on YouTube, where you may be able to enjoy it in larger formats)

But beyond resource haulers and other specialized lines, railroads exist to serve communities – with a varying mix of people and businesses depending upon them. It pays to represent that – to put the railroad in context – in our miniature worlds.

3 thoughts on “Houses set the scene

  1. I wholeheartedly agree with you. While rail oriented structures are very important, unless you’re modeling an industrial complex, non-rail related buildings are just as important to provide the feel of a real place.

    Even if you cannot find the space for a complete structure, at least hinting at the presence of places where people live and shop makes for a believable railway in miniature, as you show in your Backyard trio blog:

    I feel that by modeling only the “essentials”, that are missing what’s essential for true realism. Where my grandfather lived (he worked for the Denver & Rio Grande Western here in Salt Lake City, Utah), there were railroad tracks bordering his backyard to the north (including the Rio Grande and Union Pacific) and just a half block west was the WP mainline from California. It was a great place for a budding railfan to visit. Someplace on my Willapa Harbor Branch, I will be including a model of the duplex he lived in.

    As always, YMMV!


  2. Funny you should mention houses. I’ve spent the day making and rearranging mock-ups of houses to indicate that Pinto is a town, and more specifically, a company town. The mill foreman and his family will live in the big house at the end of the street (a Classic Miniatures Queen Anne cottage) and the workers will live in the small company houses (Clever Models) along the street. Not sure who will occupy the larger house near the station (AHM Ma’s Place kitbash) but they’ll be out on the back porch doing laundry.

    The railroady buildings out front are full size representations of their imagineered real world counterparts – a passenger station, matching freight depot, and farmer’s supply. But other than the Queen Anne cottage, the others are all small-ish caricatures of homes. The clever models paper company houses could even be reduced when printed, and a few might be as backdrop buildings.

    Only a few inches depth and less than two feet width to work with, and I model in HO, so reality will get compressed, but hopefully not too much to destroy the illusion that folks live there.

    As always, I enjoy your blog.

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