Finding A Home And Settling In

by Oct 22, 2019The P48 Experience8 comments

The new support framework described in the previous post allows me to position the cameo anywhere along its length. I’ve experimented with different placements and have been surprised at the impact on my perception of the scene.

As initially conceived Mill Road represented a location somewhere in the middle of this line. Placing the cameo in the center of the wall allowed for staging cassettes on each end to simulate basic through traffic (one train a day) as well as a switching lead and car storage for the unseen grain elevator. However curiosity and wondering what if got the better of me so I slid the cameo all the way to the left hand corner of the room and seeing it in this location changed my outlook completely.

There’s a lowered ceiling here that makes the space more intimate. It’s like sitting in a cozy restaurant booth instead of an exposed table in the middle of the room. I really like this sense of enclosure and how I’m even more drawn to the layout in this space (photo above).

To ease the visual transition into staging, I decided to extend the scene onto a short module made from the retired 13th and North E Street cameo framework. This will lengthen the line for onstage switching and a dense woodlot of trees on both sides will visibly screen the exit point. My hope is the train will just gradually appear from the woods without a lot of fanfare. 

Since one end of the cameo now tucks into a corner, I quickly saw the siding as an interchange track at the end of the line. Thanks to the non-specific nature of the modeling, it’s a quick mental shift from industry siding to interchange track, or from grain elevator to something else. The loss of the staging cassette on one end isn’t a big deal for me, as there is enough room to visibly stage several cars. To close the loop on my curiosity however, I moved the cameo to the opposite end of the room, where the scene takes on yet another vibe. This location didn’t do anything for me, so I moved it back to the other end, where I think it will stay.

By separating the modeling from the support structure, such experiments are a breeze. Consider how difficult this would be with normal construction. The layout would be out of service from the demolition and reconstruction and my mood wouldn’t be that great because of the mess and disruption. Also, what happens if I go to all that trouble and don’t like the results?

With this system, I can just play around with the position of the scene and step back to evaluate the changes. The real beauty is that nothing is permanent about my choice. If the new configuration doesn’t work out as I expect, I can shuffle pieces around once again and explore other ideas, thanks to the self-contained aspect of the modeling and built-in lighting. I find this level of flexibility liberating and love how the layout can expand or contract to fit a range of spaces and, how quickly I can reconfigure it if I choose.  

While this module retains it’s built-in lighting, I will likely leave it off (as seen here) to further disguise the train’s exit. The contrast between light and shadow in the photo is more exaggerated than it is in person. Handling transitions like this will be covered in a separate post in due time. 

This format works well for me because I have very specific and clear objectives. I’ve changed my thinking about what I need and want from a model like this. I no longer have to represent the long distances that I don’t have the room for in the first place. Instead I’ve discovered (rediscovered actually) the joys of getting to know one place intimately. I’m naturally enthusiastic about the design because I see those objectives coming to life and I’m sharing this in the hope that others will find the spark of an idea for their own situation.

The cameo format isn’t new and in Europe and the UK, it’s been tested and refined in ways I’ll never imagine. Here in the US, we have the mindset that a module, a cameo or whatever you call it, is just one piece of a larger puzzle. I’m looking at the format as a stand-alone design that could be expanded but doesn’t have to be if space or budget is tight. This feels like a better way to get started in the craft than the traditional space eating 4×8 tabletop. In a reasonable amount of time you’ll get a taste of the major steps involved in building a layout and the cost and space requirements don’t have to be a deal breaker to discover if this craft is a good fit for your needs.





  1. Matthieu

    You are definitely on a creative spur Mike and touching some points we too often neglect. The beauty of yoru recent experiments lie in their inherent simplicity. Placement in a room makes or kills a project just like a piece of furniture may seem out of place in another context.

    It’s not the first time you speak about “feathering” a layout entrance with light and I certainly believe this can be a great job to take care of this issue in the most easiest way possible. All kind of framing techniques have been explored, often with great success, but based on the sheer simplicity of your cameo, the would all look out of place.

    Once again, you bring some food for thoughts which is always welcomed. I’m starting to see the space in my office room at home in a different light and see potential where I was reluctant to go since I felt it went against what I thought was required to meet my goals. Once again, the gap between imagined requirements and real needs may be quite understated.

  2. mike

    Hi Matt,
    I’m surprised by how different my perception of the scene is when it’s placed in various places along the wall. I’ve been playing with several ideas for the transition to staging, many of which go nowhere. I feel your observation about the simplicity of letting the train gradually fade into the dark may be the correct one.


  3. Dave Eggleston

    Seeing a lot of pictures of the recent reopening of the Museum of Modern Art in NYC has me thinking a lot about layout placement and the surrounding space. The Museum dramatically rearranged its collection, putting unexpected art together in rooms that support and focus the pieces more dramatically, in some cases making a more immersive experience for viewers. The consideration of the viewing experience seems one of the most key elements.

    A lot of layout magazine pictures omit the surroundings (benchwork, floor, lights, ceiling, piles of stuff under the layout) and so look spectacular. Yet to my eye when expanding the view to include the room setting the experience is shattered. Cleaning up the room helps, but there is too much competition with the layout. One exception that struck me years ago was Boone Morrison’s HOn3 layout that had black fronting and lights only within the layout space. All the rest was lost in the dark. It worked beautifully. I’ve seen others adopt this slowly over the years and I think your layout and thoughts of its placement in space are one more piece that elevates you out of the craft and into art.

    The layout disappearing into dark at the ends would work very well–a technique well used in theater. The British cameo often competes with the lighting in exhibition halls, something you don’t need to deal with. I’m looking forward to seeing how you run with it…and then rework it, as I know you will.

  4. Rene Gourley

    Hi Mike,

    When you mentioned the lowered ceiling, I thought immediately about Sarah Susanka and the Not so Big House books. She is a big advocate for varied ceiling heights to define spaces.

    For your layout, I think an interesting aspect is the heavy atmosphere of a cold November day, clouds closed in above. For this, the lowered ceiling supports and amplifies the feeling of the place; it might make you feel cozy, which is just how you want to feel on such a day. I suspect the experience would be quite different if you were presenting a bright sunny day; there the lowered ceiling would work against the subject.

    I love the consideration of the whole environment into the layout experience, and vice versa.

  5. mike

    We remodeled our house twenty years ago and had planned a small addition thinking we needed more space. I discovered Sarah’s first book before we began and it opened my eyes completely. I realized we had enough space in the existing floor plan, it was just poorly used. With a handful of simple modifications and repurposing the underutilized spaces, we could have everything we wanted without the planned addition. It was an education in the power of using all the available spaces purposefully. I see a similar application to layout design. We often have enough space, yet we fill it with low value features instead of giving the truly desirable aspects room to shine forth. As you suggested, this goes beyond the boundaries of the benchwork and includes the physical space the layout occupies. There’s an enticing frontier waiting to be explored here.


  6. mike

    Thanks Dave


  7. Prof Klyzlr

    Dear Mike,

    Aye, strategic _theatrical_ use of lighting to deliberately High-Light (hyphenation deliberate) key scenes,
    and significantly-darken the “don’t focus/dwell your gaze here” locations can be really-effective,
    done properly, even in ambient-daylight exhibition spaces…

    …and the prototype does it too!
    (see this pic of the B&M Turner Branch, that “low-light” transition is _not_ Photoshop! )

    Also, from both an aesthetic and “operational orientation” standpoint, shuffling the “on-scene” module such that it is either “Left-handed, Right-handed, or Centred” between even OR uneven-length “track on plank” staging extensions can indeed change one’s whole viewpoint of the layout. Seems I recall Iain Rice investigating this issue in some depth…

    …I’ve also noted that for myself, I seem to prefer “left handed Proto-nooks”
    (Inglenooks with the dead-end spurs at Left,
    and the lead/sectorplate extending away to the right, even with the lead completely-hidden “off stage”),
    and have occasionally wondered if/what correlation there might be between given modellers and the preference for Left or Right-handed yard-throats/spur-arrays/Nooks….

    Happy Modelling,
    Aim to Improve,
    Prof Klyzlr

  8. Jeff

    The beauty is in the simplicity. With this format, as you noted, changes are quite easy to effect without it becoming a monumental task. Even if you were to completely change scale/concept/setting it’s still no problem. Try that with a room-filler.