So with all of the ideas I’ve jabbered on about, here is what I’ve come up with. (Finally!)
Looking at this, I realize how simple the design is. It isn’t what many of us have been conditioned to expect from a model railway or even a diorama. Well, the real world is often this nondescript. I’d like to emphasize that these sketches are little more than first efforts at the design and that I think better in 3D rather than on paper. However, this is how I pictured the modeled scene initially, given the elements of the original inspiration.
Is there a greater opportunity here?
I let the initial sketch settle in over the weekend and began to wonder if there was a greater opportunity presenting itself.
Such thinking however, has all the hallmarks of project creep, where nonessential add-ons start rearing their ugly heads. If I have learned anything from this work it’s to be ruthless in eliminating nonessentials. So, I’m going to let this design continue to simmer until I can do some mock ups that give me a better sense of how things will look.
To review, my intent with this work is to provide a simple contextual setting for quarter-inch scale modeling. I see it more and more as a diorama where any operation is the icing on the cake, rather than the cake itself. In this light, I identify more with the military and aircraft communities than traditional model railroading.
Still, the idea of some form of modest operation is intriguing, so let’s explore that just for giggles.
Switching it up
In the Pennsy era, Richmond had a number of switching districts that would make excellent layouts in their own right. A memorable example was this spaghetti bowl (below) located just west of the depot. When I was a kid, this maze of trackage served a scrapyard, a manufacturer, a bakery and a newsprint warehouse, all in a very confined area.
From 1921, this Sanborn map greatly predates my childhood memories but not that much had changed by the ’60s. The condition of these tracks was a modeler’s dream and the curve radius would look at home on any sheet of plywood. Today, the tracks and a number of the buildings are all gone.
Where the industrial trackage left the main down in the lower right corner of the map, it skirted between two buildings (photo below). The only train I ever saw working these tracks was a Conrail SW7 pulling two or three gondolas of scrap metal through this narrow gap. The cars were rocking like there was no tomorrow and I was surprised at how fast he was moving given the conditions.
The canyon effect provided by the buildings would be excellent for hiding the hole in the sky on each end of the module, especially if I modeled the enclosed overhead conveyors. This also dovetails with how the buildings over on 14th Street frame the view in my original photo, which is the aspect of that scene that inspired me the most. (See parts one and two.)
In considering this area, I can see the potential for a small, self-contained switching layout.
Get thee behind me clutter
More than any other task perhaps, designing a layout produces more angst and frustration than all others combined. How does one filter through all the choices? I’ve written at length about the degree of self-awareness, one needs to develop but few people care about going that deep. All that navel gazing just seems like too much work, yet those who have taken the time to understand their priorities and objectives know the time spent was not wasted.
When presented with material like this, the usual temptation is to include everything: all the trackage along with every building and their surroundings. Of course those cars have to come from somewhere, so we need to model the yard and trackage in between. Let’s not forget the through freights that brought them to that yard, so we’ll need a mainline with the longest run possible. And thus we find ourselves in the belly of the beast. What started as a simple siding to be switched has morphed into a behemoth of unwieldy proportions.
As a home layout though, there are numerous possibilities here for a satisfying work in a very modest space, if one simplifies the amount of track and concentrated on the car spots rather than separate industries.
To begin, I would focus on the long lead track coming off the main.
A staging track is all that’s needed as a traffic source, which can be hidden or not. A simple two track traverser would add capacity as would a nearby shelf or two to store extra cars. It isn’t relevant how the cars got to this staging track, so mainline traffic, yard switching, other towns and all that can be ignored. The focus for the work to be done is here, on this one track, not elsewhere.
Looking at the specifics of the design, I would include the short (one car) siding to the F&N building at the crossing on Washington Street because it is a manageable element that adds value to the design and operation. At the opposite end from staging, one could also include an additional spur track for the same reason. I would eliminate the cross tracks that served the bakery and casting plant as their configuration introduces too many design problems and compromises for working in a larger scale.
A small layout in quarter-inch
Many will look at this and dismiss it instantly as too simplistic to hold their attention for any length of time. However, with multiple car spots, rough track and all the other things crews had to contend with (like vehicle traffic), there is more operating potential than one would think. You aren’t dealing with a huge number of cars, so the staging area can also serve as the switch lead. You’ll notice the lack of a run-around. If the Pennsy didn’t need one to work this area, why do we? My hunch is they didn’t switch every spot at the same time as we tend to do.
I also looked at a design that curved around a corner that would cover 10 x12 feet of wall space. Even using a 48-50 inch radius in quarter-inch scale, one loses a lot of space in the corner. There are ways around this but I have a strong preference for keeping things simple and within easy reach. A ten to twelve foot wall isn’t too hard to find in most houses and the design could be condensed down to a single module and staging if space is at a premium.
The secret to a satisfying work in quarter-inch scale is restraint. Let the railroad be a part of the scene rather than dominate it. The I&W has taught me how to focus and to reduce the volume of track you think you need by 60-80%. I know, that sounds draconian but trust me, you’ll be happier with how a scene comes together.
If you’re working in a smaller scale, you could add another siding from the plan but I would caution against going track happy. Use the extra room to lengthen the sidings and the factory buildings to reinforce the idea of an urban industrial setting that generates enough traffic to require rail service.
I know these concepts aren’t to everyone’s taste but if you’re willing to reconsider what a layout can be, then many doors of possibility open up regardless of the modeling scale. Next time, a look at the construction of the module.