"What do you see?_001"

No, it isn’t one of those “find the hidden cowboy hat and horseshoe” types of deals. Nor is there a single right or wrong answer. I got this idea from speaking with Doug Gurin of the Layout Design Special Interest Group www.ldsig.org/ at the former Naperville Sunshine Modelers’ RPM Meet in 2010, now known as the RPM Conference-Lisle, IL  http://www.railroadprototypemodelers.com/

Doug uses this question as an opener in his seminars to get people thinking about and looking more closely at the not-so-obvious details of what they’re modeling. So with all due credit to Doug, what do you see in the photo that will enhance your modeling? My thoughts are below. Before you read them however, take a nice long look at the photo and see what there is to see.

I see how a simple scene in O Scale can be modeled in a very modest amount of space. This scene would easily fit on a narrow shelf 16″ wide or perhaps even a smidge less. Notice how the tall trees screen anything behind them from view. They would fit up against a backdrop without the worry of unsightly shadows being cast on the “sky.” Even in O Scale, a single track takes up little room, leaving adequate space for foreground scenery and detailing.

This area is a highway pull-off that is currently used as a staging ground for a road construction project nearby. Off camera there were a couple pieces of heavy equipment which created lots of chewed up ground from their comings and goings, along with the typical debris found near most construction zones and all providing lots of textural interest for the eye to linger over. Notice too the broken, weed encrusted asphalt pavement. Trust me – it’s rough to drive on.

As you can see, there are no barriers to separate objects or people from the track. However, there is still a drainage ditch on both sides and the track is raised above the surrounding ground, even if only slightly. The tree canopy is close to the track on each side but it doesn’t impede the train traffic.

Modelers often ignore a simple scene like this because it’s “too boring.” That’s a shame; because there are many more miles of railroad that look like this than there are of the  spectacular features that are typically modeled. There is much to study and learn from here. I hope you’ll start taking a closer look around next time you’re near the tracks. Stay safe though. So, what did you see?





  1. James Lincoln

    The point about this being a “boring” scene is a good one, but as you noted there are far more of these scenes on a prototype. There is a lot of boredom involved in moving a prototype train from one place to another, but these types of scenes are sadly lacking in most layouts or even in modules. This is, of course, a reality due to the fact of limited space most of us have, which is unfortunate because a lot of realism could be gained by adding this type of scene.

  2. mike

    Hi Jim,
    Absolutely. We just pick out a picturesque location, point our cameras when the train shows up and we’re done. Most of us have no idea about the miles of ordinary scenery or country traversed, not to mention the amount “hurry up and wait” professional railroaders deal with on a daily basis.

    Fortunately modelers like Lance Mindhiem are starting to help us all see the not so obvious beauty in the ordinary. Thanks for writing in.

    Mike Cougill