Sometimes it feels like I have two layouts that just happen to be joined in the middle.

Overview of Indiana and Whitewater

One layout or two?

Although it doesn’t look that way from the photo above, that’s how it often seems to me. The two halves of my layout have a different feel to them and this is creating a sense of frustration. The section of the Indiana and Whitewater over my workbench has always felt less satisfying for some reason. After a lot of reflection, I’ve reached a conclusion or two.

A roof over my head

First, I didn’t follow my prototype in this area. My original intention was to include the shingle plant from Brookville as a thin building flat between the rearmost track and the wall. As you can see in the photo below, there simply wasn’t going to be enough room for a convincing model of the plant. The idea had another strike against it as well. The tracks would have entered the plant from the opposite direction when compared to the prototype and, strike three was the total lack of room for the truck lot and storage tanks in front of the plant trackage. This is what happens when you think “layout” instead of prototype.

CSX interchange on I&W

All of these shortcomings fueled my decision to move the shingle plant off the layout completely. In fact, the entire branchline is now represented by staging and the two tracks became the CSX interchange. Traffic has to come from somewhere right? So, the layout concept and design went from an amalgam of signature scenes (the shingle plant, the Cedar Grove Mill and a portion of the track arrangement at Valley Jct., to a closer representation of Valley itself. I kept the Cedar Grove Mill because it was going on the layout somewhere by hook or by crook.

This revised concept worked out much better with regard to a more faithful image of the prototype and its operations. What’s the problem you say? A couple of things. Follow along.

It’s kind of crowded in here.

This higher viewpoint shows part of the reason for my dissatisfaction. Track is stuffed in everywhere, leaving little room for realistic scenery. Once the shingle plant was relocated, I just hacked in the shallow embankment and tree line on the right to hide the transition to the backdrop. It’s an okay solution and although the vegetation isn’t finished in this photo, most folks would feel satisfied and be done with it. It looks fine from normal viewing angles but I feel strongly I can do better here.

Seems like track is everywhere

From this view, it feels like track is just stuffed in everywhere. There isn't much room for decent scenery

Another sticking point in this area is reach-in access for operation. As seen below it isn’t that bad. I can reach the cars on the rear track to work the couplers, although seeing what I’m doing is a bit hard at this distance. It falls right in the zone where things get fuzzy regardless of how I adjust my glasses. Reading car numbers? Fun.

Reach-in access isn't too bad

Reach-in access isn't too bad for the rear track. However, working this track and reading car numbers and reporting marks is impossible if there are cars on the forward track. Where did all that white hair come from? Now you know why my photo will never (again) appear on this blog!

Appearances matter

I think the biggest thing that irritates me about this section is the appearance of the track. It’s just too clean and neat for my taste. Once again, my imagination got a bit out of hand. The rationale went as follows: The railroad did a major cleanup of old decommissioned trackage in this area. Hence the abandoned turnout ties and derelict remnant of track coming off them (both would likely have been removed in actuality), the new turnout and all that fresh pristine ballast. What really happened was more planning on the fly as the area developed (more like urban sprawl than planned development).

The new #10 turnout completes my runaround track. You gotta have one, so the conventional thinking goes, even though I rarely use it as such. The two yard tracks though? Well they need help. In looking at Valley yard in the following photos, we see the condition of the track is anything but new. The alignment is different from what I built, however, that’s minor in the grand scheme of things. It actually doesn’t bug me enough to take these two tracks up and relay this area. The cosmetic anomalies do bug me but they’re relatively easy to fix.

Valley Jct. looking eastValley Jct. on the prototype shows a similar amount of track, although the number of tracks in this yard has been greatly reduced from the steam era. 


The track at VJ.

My track is too pristine compared to the track at Valley. That is definitely part of the problem for me. It'll be an easy fix however. Notice all the cargo spillage to the left, the dead weeds and gravel access drive on the right.

In an earlier post I showed ways to add more weathering and weeds to existing trackage. A similar treatment is what’s sorely needed here and will produce several benefits. The trackage in this part of the layout stands out too much from the rest of the scene. Blending these tracks into the scenery more thoroughly will help open things up visually. The eye won’t jump from one texture to another, to another and so on. Instead a viewer’s gaze will flow more smoothly from front to back, giving the impression of greater space. It’s counterintuitive and hard to explain, but it’s true.

A second benefit will be a consistent look for the layout from end to end. The trackage near Mill St. is much different in appearance, having a more rundown feel to it. The underlying story of this line is one of a company hanging on by a thread. I want every aspect of the scene to reflect and reenforce this idea. By creating a similar weathered effect to that pristine trackage on the opposite end, I’ll be bringing more cohesion to the entire layout. Again, it’s a matter of visual consistency. With the way things are now, it looks like two different railroads instead of one because I went too far in the opposite direction when I laid this trackage.

As always, there are abundant lessons to take away from this situation, not the least of which is to devote more attention to planning and looking. When I decided not to physically model the shingle plant, I could have also rethought the alignment and number of tracks in the area. Knowing what I do now about prototype operations, I would have reduced the number from two to one. In sum, I got in a rush to complete things.

What I will likely do is decommission the rear track by adding lots of grass and other weeds and use it for dead storage of some old MoW equipment consisting of a hopper car and old forty-foot boxcar for tool storage. The front yard track will remain active for car classification. The assumed inbound cars from CSX will be staged here for sorting into spot order for delivery elsewhere. The main (I use the term loosely) is no longer a through track, so spotting cars here is acceptable.

Notice too, I haven’t named anything on this portion of the railroad, which is in stark contrast to Mill Street, Canal Road, the Pole Track and the Mill Track on the other end of the scene. This is telling, and suggests I haven’t mentally accepted this section into the rest of the layout just yet.

Taking adequate time to think through planning issues pays dividends many times over later on. There’ll be plenty of time to run trains.




  1. Trevor

    Hi Mike:
    I like the idea of decommissioning the rear track. It will address several of the issues you’ve identified. I see the benefits as follows:
    1 – You get to beat the heck out of that track, to give the layout that more run down appearance you’re after.
    2 – Spotting some MoW or stored equipment on the track provides interesting model-building opportunities.
    3 – Spotting some MoW or stored equipment on the track also addresses your concern about blending this track-heavy section of the layout into the backdrop (the equipment helps hide the transition). You can even plant some saplings growing up between the rolling stock if it’s been stored there for a long time.
    But I wouldn’t beat yourself up about what you might have done if you’d spent more time planning. Sometimes, the only way to determine whether a scene will work is to build it. And by building it, you’ve learned some lessons – not only about composing the scene but also about constructing it – that will help you as you redo the scene. You’ve also learned that you CAN redo the scene – that things we feel are mistakes can be corrected. That’s something many modelers still struggle with – they’ve put time and effort into building the scene in the first place and feel that tearing out would be a step backwards. It’s not of course – it’s a step forwards.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts via this blog – I always find it to be a great read!
    – Trevor

  2. mike

    Hi Trevor,

    You make excellent points as usual. Since posting this a few days ago, I’ve given some more though to this area. I am going to decommission the rear track and like the idea of parking some derelict older equipment there. As you suggest, this will provide good modeling projects and the opportunity for some visual variety. I love the idea of saplings growing near or between the cars.

    You also make an outstanding point about not being afraid to rethink/redo portions of the layout if things aren’t working out as hoped. Once a scene is “finished,” so to speak, we tend to consider it cast in stone. Of course, nothing about this hobby or the layout building process is permanent. Anything can be changed or reconsidered and, often should be.

    For example, laying these two tracks entailed a lot of work from relatively uncomfortable positions, like standing on and stretching from an elevated work platform. The proposed cosmetic changes don’t involve tearing the tracks out and relaying them, so the excuse that it will be too much work is invalid. Redoing the scenery behind the tracks is a simple matter too. So, there’s really no reason not to move ahead and lots to gain by doing so.

    Thank you for commenting. I also enjoy our exchange of ideas.