International Harvester Warehouse Flat (revised)

by | Feb 23, 2016 | Modeling Techniques, The Art of The Craft, The Missing Conversation, The P48 Experience | 9 comments

As you can see from the photo, I’ve built the sub-base for the warehouse.

The overall dimensions for the flat are four feet long by 21.75 inches high and including the stiffeners on the back, it’s less than two inches thick. It’s made from quarter-inch plywood and 1/8″ hardboard.

I laid out two bays with a combination square and a pen, taking the dimensions off the brick sheet, and used those measurements to cut the strips needed. The infill pieces were too small to safely cut on the tablesaw, so I used my miter saw with a stop block for those. Since the pieces are all consistent in width, I started on one end and glued each pilaster in place using the infill panels to space them. I marked a series of horizontal guidelines to keep the panel rows straight and even across the width of the flat.

At nearly eight square feet in area, this building has a real physical presence. It’s unlike anything I’ve built previously and I’m intrigued with the focused effect the display cabinet provides. (I temporarily fitted things in place to shoot the photo.) The following images give a close up of the details.

Basic dimensions were taken from the JTT brick sheet and marked off

Above the loading doors, the pilasters stand proud of the brick infill around the windows. 1/8″ hardboard allows for this inset.

I like how the size of the flat overwhelms the box car.

What this flat taught me is instructive.

We abide by certain maxims, whether we realize it or not. Call them whatever you want, rules, sacred cows, the name doesn’t matter. One of those maxims is that large scales don’t play nice with small spaces. In spite of the fact that it’s not true, we’ve heard this so often that we accept it as gospel and then seek whatever compromise we can live with.

In my view, we do this because our definition of a model railroad is so narrowly focused that we seldom consider any other possibility. Here in the US, if you can’t have distance running between multiple action centers, then you’re screwed. Almost without exception, any alternative is characterized as unsatisfying. Like so many other hobby oriented sacred cows we feed and nurture, this one dictates the questions asked and the resulting outcomes in more ways than you or I can imagine.

We are constantly told that regardless of the space we do have, it’s never enough. Is that true? No, it isn’t. I believe it to be a lie of the first order, one that creates a sense of inadequacy and want. Such thinking has trapped more people into endless rounds of starting layouts or struggling with silly design concepts, only to abandon the work for something else that makes the same empty promise.

This small display challenges my own assumptions. Seeing how the flat dwarfs a fifty-foot box car, I had to deal with the belief that it was too big. It isn’t. It’s to scale and represents the actual building well. What I needed to get over was the images of the small building kits that we’ve been conditioned by for decades.

I realized that in conventional layout practice, I expect to see a “factory” in the same context of the landscape, that I expect to see the railroad in. What this display is teaching me is that the building itself can provide that context. Here, the warehouse takes on the role of the landscape, while the cabinet focuses your attention by eliminating the distractions that would otherwise compete for it. Quarter-inch scale in this space reinforces that focus by virtue of how the building fills the available space. By altering the viewpoint and scale from what we expect to see, the scene makes a clearer statement: “You’re here, next to this building, looking at this freight car.” I don’t believe an HO scene would be as effective in this space, even though HO or N scales would be the default solution for “more.”

The more I study these aspects of design, the more intrigued I become and, I’m grateful for the recent writings of Chris Mears on this subject. He is a more original thinker than I am and we have often built on each other’s ideas. If there is one value we share, it’s that design plays a larger role than we give it credit for. Isolating the design of a layout, without considering how we will experience it, is part of what got us here. Getting out will require different thinking altogether.