Long time readers know that I often return to the same familiar places time and again. There is comfort in the familiarity, along with a sense of belonging built over many experiences of those places. Mill Road attempts to capture a sense of place, an essence if you will, of familiar Indiana farmland to see if a modeled location can create similar feelings. For me the answer is yes. Each time I walk past the scene, I have the urge to pause, turn on the lights and look. There is something satisfying here.
This relationship to the work is well known to artists and other professional creators. The deeper one explores a theme, the more there is to find. It goes beyond technique. Technique, in its many forms, is just a tool creators use to express an idea or emotion. You will reach a point as a modeler, where many techniques are second nature, in that you don’t have to think about them. Going forward, I’m more interested in exploring what I truly enjoy about railroading and finding a uniquely personal way to express that.
Clarity Is Key
Mill Road started as such layouts often do, with a section of track from the old Indiana & Whitewater. This saved a modest amount of construction time but this approach has a stumbling block: it’s very easy to let the old track configuration overly influence the direction of the project.
At first I couldn’t see past the old track arrangement, which created problems. As outlined in this post, the unnecessary foreground track and one of the two turnouts were removed to create more breathing room in the scene.
In trying to find a good balance between the amount of foreground and background scenery, the track wound up too close to the backdrop. This eliminated any possibility of placing a grain elevator, an idea that was an afterthought to the original plan. I considered a number of options but got stuck at the same place with each one: a lack of room. Nothing kills realism faster than a wafer thin sliver of a building jammed against the sky. In the end, the concept of the siding changed from serving a grain elevator to an interchange track. This mental shift doesn’t affect the operating concept and in truth, without a defining marker, this track could function as anything.
To be very clear, this only became an issue because I changed my mind midstream. A grain elevator could have been included from the start but doing so would have required a different composition altogether. The narrow depth for the scene was a deliberate choice that has worked well, in that it forces me to focus and eliminate the usual clutter that creeps into a layout. The lesson to be learned is to trust in simplicity. This scale needs room to breathe in order to look convincing. Buildings or scenic elements jammed in haphazardly simply won’t look right. They need to be part of the plan from day one. Restraint and a clear vision is the only way to go in my view.
The original plan was sound but the three tracks on the left are too much for the 15-inch depth I chose. I also decided that eight feet of staging on both ends isn’t required for such a small scene. Simplicity really is key in a design like this.
Cameo Designs Work Well For Larger Scales
The cameo format works well and I wouldn’t consider building another conventional layout. For me the flexibility far outweighs any perceived disadvantage. I like how the format enhances and strengthens the close-up viewpoint of the scale.
The modules frame a scene in a way that typical construction doesn’t. Visually, I appreciate this focus and degree of separation. Design and visual presentation matters more than people realize. With the normal room lights off, the cameo is the clear center of attention. You’re less aware of the room space, yet can move around easily in the subdued light. I’m only beginning to discover the design potential in this.
My 13th and North E Street cameo demonstrated the power of visual framing in a way I hadn’t experienced before. Here the warehouse dictated the height of the viewing window. With a future cameo I want to experiment and see how much I can reduce the height of this opening and still maintain practical access.
One thing I would explore in the future is reducing the height of the front opening as far as practical. I learned from my work on the 13th And North E Street warehouse cameo, how strong an impact properly framing a scene can have. I would like to experiment more with this concept using a rural setting. Reducing the height of the opening would allow the built-in lighting to better illuminate the front of the rolling stock. I also believe that the wide range of LED fixtures now available allows for more creative placement than the current practice of mounting strip fixtures overhead in the sky. Again, this is a part of layout design that is wide open for exploration.
Cameo Design Is Rich With Many Layers
I’m strongly influenced by certain visual forms such as the evocative black and white photography of O. Winston Link and Phil Hastings. Both men found inspiration from placing the railroad in a wider context, rather than focus solely on equipment shots. It’s images of the railroad in a time and place that inspire my modeling as well. I don’t need the constant presence of a train to find joy in a scene. This is why I’m so content to return to the same locations repeatedly.
Imagery that mimics what I see when I’m trackside is what I’ve been striving for with my modeling. With or without a train, this makes me happy.
For Mill Road, the chosen dimensions and restraints help me focus the composition in ways I wouldn’t have with more space. As with a painting, I had to establish priorities and edit out the nonessential. Beyond surface appearance, I’m focused on the layered nuance and richness a single location may offer. It takes time and humility to truly understand a place. With the relentless way the generic hobby urges people to build a layout as fast as possible then dispose of it at the drop of a hat, how are we ever going to develop any depth to our understanding?
Many people will look at a cameo design and only think how quickly they would become bored with it. This fear of boredom, or missing out on something better runs rampant in our literature and thinking. It drives a relentless desire for more at the expense of depth. I’ve discovered there is a deeper enjoyment that comes from understanding what it is one actually wants. Going beyond the over emphasis on mechanics and technique, I believe such understanding is a way to thrive with this craft. By thriving, I mean the craft contributes to your well-being and helps you grow in a positive way that generates more ability for success.
A cameo layout isn’t for everyone. With a clear focus however, it can be supremely satisfying. The form provides the enhanced focus I’ve sought for years. While it may lack features many others consider essential, I see Mill Road more as a concept that can be revisited and refined as my understanding grows. In that light, it’s a physical expression of the things I most deeply enjoy about railroading in a form with different layers to discover and appreciate.