I’m aware that the decision to extend a layout is a no brainer for many people and that questioning that choice seldom if ever occurs. It can be hard to resist the spoken and unspoken pressure to fill empty wall space just because it’s there, or feeling like you’re missing out on something good, or a desire to fit in with what everyone else does.

You might remember a post I wrote called The Allure of Empty Wall Space. In it I shared my struggle with the idea of adding another module to Mill Road and made the case that the layout is complete.

Different Criteria
I stand by that feeling but the next step for Mill Road is something I’ve thought about for a long time. My primary concern with an addition is not losing the uncluttered beauty of the scene.

As a visual composition, the existing scene is complete and stands nicely on its own. As you know I’m pleased with how it offers a relaxed invitation to study things at length. These are qualities I don’t want to destroy by adding stuff carelessly. However, in the earlier post I also recognized that Mill Road isn’t intended to be a static diorama. After a lot of internal debate, I determined a longer switch lead would enhance the operation.

The extension matches the original cameo in dimension and form. I’ll discuss the specific details in another post.

From previous photos you’ll remember I had a four-foot switch lead already in place, so why did I build a new one? Presentation. Four-feet wasn’t long enough to pull more than a couple of cars plus the locomotive and adding yet another module just felt clumsy. I want a cohesive presentation across the entire layout, not a bunch of disjointed pieces stacked together.

Keeping The Big Picture In Sight
You’ll recall the central theme of Mill Road is a focus on slow deliberate train movements seen from a close up viewpoint. Anything that doesn’t contribute to that theme has no place on the layout.

Blending this new area with the existing scenery will be a slow process. At this stage I’m reluctant to offer too much detail on my plans because of how I work. Currently, I spend a lot of time simply staring at the layout trying to visualize the next step.

It’s tempting to treat the two modules as separate things but it’s important to see them as a single composition because that’s what they’ll be. I can see that this isn’t so much adding something new as it is giving the original scene more breathing room. With only eight-feet of single track, there’s an opportunity to reinforce the context of the railroad in the landscape, instead of treating the scenery as decorative filler strips between multiple tracks.

The relationship between the two areas is also a chance to create a hierarchy. I want your focus on the grade crossing and turnout, since that’s where most of the action takes place. If you don’t give the eye something to look at, it will tend to stay where you want it. I can use muted colors to reduce the amount of contrast plus, the lack of buildings and other attention grapping objects will also help.

The Takeaway
I know it seems like I’m backtracking on my previous statements. The initial scene works and I could have just added a plain staging track. However, extending the scene is a deliberate choice that I believe will add greater context to the layout.

The composition, theme and mood of a layout require a different mindset and tools than what we typically rely on. Track planning has a role to play in a layout’s design but it doesn’t begin to address the aspects outlined here.

As you know, I see a layout as more than a track plan. I see it as a composition that fits within a room space and also alters the perception of that space. In a good design, the two work together to create something better than either one individually.

I spent over a year on this decision to be certain it would result in the kind of layout I want and I’m happy that I took the time to be certain because of the clarity I now have. I know the addition will be a good fit and not destroy what I already enjoy about the layout. I suggested in the last post that I see the craft through a different lens. This is what I see through that lens.


The Allure of Empty Wall Space


  1. Dan Placzek

    You’re not backtracking, Mike, you’re moving through the creative process. Mill Road is no longer a concept. You can now study the finished product to evaluate whether any improvements will increase your level of satisfaction.

    Congratulations on making the decision to extend Mill Road.


  2. mike

    Thanks Dan. It’s shaping up to be a good choice. I’m glad I waited and studied things instead of rushing through.Appreciate your insights.


  3. Chris Mears

    I think this will be very interesting. I like the way you have taken your time to study your relationship with the original Mill Road. That’s not unlike how we mature our relationship with the real railroad by returning to particular places where we see the train from. Extending it as you have teases, again as I would on the real railroad, with a new photo location or place to watch what happens over there where we don’t get to as often. There’s continuity in the same railroad, same purpose, same general place but perspective is the change.


  4. mike

    Thank you Chris. The new area will be utterly simple and offer new sightlines and photo compositions.