Cameo Planning: It’s A Journey Instead Of A Blueprint

by | Sep 24, 2018 | The Modeling Conversation, The P48 Experience | 8 comments

“I really like your idea here, but would have to worry about the time element going in the other direction, too short. You have already completed most of the work by salvaging the track work from an earlier layout. I would want to work on a layout for at least two years.”
John Moenius

There’s no denying that a cameo layout has limited scope with the construction. They can be completed quickly, operated for a time and then, the urge to move on is felt by the builder. From what I’ve read in other blogs and magazine articles, it’s typical to explore different themes, prototypes, eras or modeling scales. The rationale is that doing so satisfies multiple interests and keeps the work fresh. However, there’s always more than one way to look at things. In the same comment thread, Dave Eggleston offered the following:

“The core of Mike’s layout may be complete quickly but by having an operational cameo you both model and operate on this layout while having the opportunity, as this project matures, to work on and plan the next project in an overlapping fashion. It allows interest in both and a chance to develop a rational flow from layout to layout, experience to experience.”

I admit I hadn’t thought of it in those terms but I like where it goes. My former Indiana and Whitewater layout was based on a real branchline. It represented the start of the branch at Valley Junction, Ohio but was in fact, a mash-up of signature elements, like the Cedar Grove feed mill, composed into a single scene. My thinking back then was that VJ offered the most operating potential for the limited space I had. My version of the branch was only a short section of track leading to a staging cassette. Over time, I came to regret this decision.

I still like the Indiana and Whitewater concept and after reading Dave’s comment, it occurred to me that I could explore that theme to my heart’s content via cameo design.

The Valley Junction scene may be gone but I’m not done with the Indiana and Whitewater theme.

It’s A Journey, Instead Of A Blueprint.
As before, I prefer simple operations of a single train working the line as needed. It might start with a light engine movement coming from the terminal at the end of the branch (the drill track staging area) slowly making his way across the layout. It’s an establishing shot that introduces the character of the line (see the video below) and a reminder of when I happened to catch a train at unexpected times and places. Upon entering the three-track staging area, he will pick up any cars positioned on the running track, and he waits to simulate the time and distance involved in going to the interchange and back.

Every Detail Doesn’t Have To Be Told.
For my purposes, I don’t need to locate the cameo on the nationwide rail network to enjoy the potential it offers. The names east and west staging merely reflect the orientation of the layout in my basement. I could have called them left and right, up and down or here and there. The point being, I don‘t need to know where the incoming cars originated or how they arrived at this location. I’m only interested in what happens to them now that they are here.

In a similar vein, the choice of 1965 was quite arbitrary. I have pleasant memories of the decade and that year seemed as good as any other. However, thanks to the absence of time sensitive features in the scene, I’m not limited to just one era as Matt Lachance observed:

“Another point to add to Dave’s excellent observation is that this kind of cameo design is time less and unspecific. That may sound underwhelming, but in fact gives a lot of flexibility to a design that is basically universal in railroading whatever the era and prototype. Any modelling project fitting within the basic theme of this cameo layout will find a deserving platform to be displayed and put in action. An old 40ft boxcar or a modern grain hopper will be both at home, and the craftsmanship put in them will show off quite well.”

I had been thinking along those lines when I planned the scene. In observation tests, forty–foot boxcars fit the size of the layout well, so the 1960s came into play. I also like modern equipment but it could easily overwhelm everything if handled carelessly. Finding the balance is a good experiment to play with.

The Show Continues.
Back with his train, it’s time to work the elevator. There may be loads to pick up and inbound empties to position. The crew will use all of the track available to them, meaning the train will traverse the entire length of the scene multiple times, ducking in and out of both staging areas in the process. I won’t see the entire train unless I move with it. With both ground throws located a short distance from each other, I can simply assume the role of conductor or brakeman and stay put. However, a two-man crew adds another layer of interest.

In such a case I will likely ask the engineer to stay with the locomotive, as if he were in the cab. In this situation he will sometimes have something to look at and at other times not as he waits for my next instructions. As brakeman, I may be lining a switch on stage or uncoupling cars in staging. I anticipate more exercise for the imagination than being able to see everything at once. Will this work is a question to play with and definitely a work in progress.

Once the work is complete, the train may continue on to the end of the branch, as represented by the drill track staging, or take the loaded grain cars to the interchange, then return light the way he came. It depends on the work to be done and on the railroad; no two days are alike.

The Real Limitations Of A Simple Design.
I appreciate where John’s concern comes from in the opening quote but I encourage John and others to take the ideas presented here and truly make them your own.

The pursuit of simplicity strips away the clutter of our thinking so we can get to the core of a thing. We tend to focus on the surface instead of looking further. If there’s too much to take in we can pass on doing the work to look deeper. I believe much of our dislike of simple designs is a reaction to losing that complexity or excuse. We each create a story about trains and the craft. The hobby is all about this; my layout has to have that and so on. We’re comfortable with our own narrative and wonder what’s left if it’s taken away? I suggest there is more to your story than you think and that with a simple design, the real limitations are the ones we bring to it.



Chris Mears has a knack for designing innovative small layout forms and this blog post of his shares a similar theme.

A light engine move is interesting in its own right, as this video of the East Penn Bristol Industrial track shows.