At the Railroad Prototype Modelers‘ meets I’ve attended, there is a good amount of interest in P48 from HO and N scale modelers. Invariably though, the same comment is voiced within seconds: “I like the detail but O scale is too big.”

Modelers who say this are evaluating the scale by HO and N scale terms and trying to fit it into that paradigm. A paradigm that often includes modeling the entire transportation sequence of building a train in one yard and taking it to the next. It also assumes as much physical distance and, in the recent past, as many action centers (towns, industries) as possible. While not everyone subscribes to this view, by looking at quarter-inch scale through this prefocused lens, these modelers conclude (often correctly) the scale isn’t for them, given their space and priorities.

Judging one scale by the criteria of another is unfair but we do it all the time. It’s taken me several years to understand quarter-inch scale on its own terms and to wean myself from seeing this world through the HO lens. And, as nicely detailed as they may be, models sitting alone on a table tell a very incomplete story and I’ve often wondered whether presenting P48 in the context of a thoughtfully done cameo scene would make any difference in the perception of the scale’s feasibility.

As a subscriber to the Model Railway Journal, I’ve become a fan of the high level design thinking that goes into British exhibition layouts. In contrast to our individual modules built to a core set of standards, these are privately owned self-contained stand-alone displays. Driven by the logistics of transporting and setting up such layouts, often singlehandedly, our friends have taken the designs into the realm of both art and science.

For my purposes, I’m not trying to mimic what’s possible in HO or N, that’s a recipe for disappointment in this scale. My intent is to let the merits of quarter-inch scale speak for themselves. Therefore, I’m less driven by operations than I am with presentation. Even at RPM meets, no matter how detailed or accurate it is, watching a train chase its tail grows old very fast.

Keeping these thoughts in mind, along with all the design and art stuff I’ve been harping on, I went trolling through my photos and stopped on this one from 2008.

Intentional Railroad Modeling_00

So, in terms of presentation, what do I see here?

The Basics

  • I like how the buildings and the overhead walkway/conveyor frame the scene and focus your attention on a limited area. Initially, I thought this would be a drawback but I’ve given the composition more thought and feel I have a solution.
  • I like the way the street creates a path that leads the eye into the scene. Implied lines like this are how artists lead your eye through a composition and focus your attention.
 Notice the line created by the junction of the street and sidewalk and how it leads the eye back.

Notice the line created by the junction of the street and sidewalk and how it leads the eye back.

  • Though not seen here, at certain times on a bright day, the rail cars are spotlighted by the sun due to the shadows created by the buildings. This contrast between light and dark draws your focus to them. Contrast is another artist’s tool.
  • There is a layering effect from the foreground (the street), to the middle ground (the tracks) and then the background (the white factory buildings) that gives a sense of depth.
  • With the scene tightly framed on each side, there is a sense of mystery. You cannot readily see or know what’s coming next. This enhances the viewers’ engagement with the modeling. In other words, you’re curious about what’s around the corner.

Think Opportunity
There are multiple sources of inspiration in a photo like this. Some obvious like the potential of the factory buildings and the wealth of detail and textures, while others aren’t so obvious. Though it may be hard to envision, I see the inspiration for a self-contained statement in these photos.

With such a modest design, it’s natural to focus on the negatives of what you would supposedly sacrifice. I see an opportunity to speak with an intentional clear voice about a single aspect of railroading, namely car handling.

By car handling, I’m not thinking of the typical obsession with waybills or car cards and all that stuff. I’m looking beyond the paperwork to the physical movements and procedures a train crew goes through to safely place a car where it needs to go.

In TMC 05, Greg Amer, a railroad professional, outlined the steps his crew takes with setting out or picking up a car. With our hurry up, selectively compressed time and space mindset, many of these steps are simply ignored, unless the layout owner has purposely designed them into the operational workflow.

I see the chance to bring such procedures into razor sharp focus by eliminating all other distractions. I see a project like this as an opportunity to present P48 in a proper context. One that informs first and, to a lessor extent, entertains.

More thoughts and my specific design criteria next week.