In a round-robin Email between a small group of friends (whom I like to think of as “The Unusual Suspects”) Matt LaChance, not even speaking in his mother tongue, came out with several superb insights, not least of which was this:
I’m still looking for my personal approach to this the… …Temiscouata project even though I know deep inside all the key ingredients are there. Making a good layout right now would be easy, but making it a special layout with personality, that is something else. I have a blurry vision in my mind, I can almost feel on my neck the slightly chilly wind that sweep the St. John’s River valley, but have yet to translate it on the canvas.
Now, isn’t that a grand, poetic way to view the creation of a Model Railway?
That’s my emphasis, but what a great phrase, “a special layout with personality”.
When you think about it, isn’t that what precisely (and yet indefinably) defines a great layout?
I saw this on a forum I use:
But, as it seems I don’t build etched brass kits or even whitemetal ones some will say that I’m not a modeller
Who are these “some”? I haven’t met any of them.
Anyone who goes beyond simply opening boxes is a modeller and the idea that you have to build etched brass kits to become a modeller is nonsense.
This is akin to those who refer to, for want if a better way of putting it, “finescalers” as elitist. Well, I know some of the best modellers in the country, and not one of them is in anyway elitist. Sure, they want to make their models as accurate as possible, to the finest possible standards, etc, but not one of them has ever told me that everyone else must do the same, or that anyone who doesn’t is somehow not worth anything. And all of them, and I do mean every single one, are prepared to share their techniques with anyone who is interested. The only complaint I ever hear from them is that too many are afraid to try.
Personally, I am getting sick and tired of it. We all have limitations, be they time, money, space or skills, but we can increase and improve our skills given time a degree of time. And time can replace money, too: start with raw materials and learn their properties, and acquire the basic tools to work with them. Cutting out and embossing takes longer than buying etchings, yes, but the mistakes and hence the lessons learned are your own, and with time these mistakes are replaced with new ones, and new lessons.
The only times I see the idea that what someone is doing isn’t good enough to be “proper modelling” is from their own minds. There are no right and wrong ways to be a modeller: just putting some personal effort into making a model look more like the real thing, which is as much about careful observation of the real thing as it is about anything else. And you don’t have have to go back in time to see how dirt and weathering affect things.
No, when I see people refer to “some”, I generally incline to the view that the speaker is the “some”, and rather than admit that they feel they could do better, they project their disappointment onto a perceived elite which doesn’t exist. Feeling that you could achieve more and better is quite possibly the defining characteristic of the human condition: it drives us to self-improvement, to every model being slightly better than the previous one (in the early stages, to every model being significantly better than the previous one) until we reached a point where the law of diminishing returns starts to kick in.
From what I have observed, that doesn’t usually happen until one is well advanced into one’s dotage.
As the Bard put it,
From this nettle, danger, we pluck this flower, safety.
My good friend Paul Marshall-Potter has written a very good review of the latest release from Wild Swan Publications, and I refer you to his review if you want a bit more detail, but all I will say on that is if you like the picture on the back of the book, then this is for you.
This is a very good book, well written and well presented, but the examples used do reflect Iain’s definition of what constitutes a “cameo layout” (must have wings, proscenium arch, high backscene and be mounted at least 56″ or so from the floor) which is OK – it is his book, after all – but it also draws rather narrowly from his circle of contacts for examples, so some interesting examples and ideas (such as Maurice Hopper’s “St. Juliot’s” and “Tresparrett Wharf” aren’t mentioned (being ultra-portable, they have low backscenes and minimal wings), and neither is the East Yorkshire Finescale Group’s “St. Minions“, which is a prime example of how effective a small cameo layout can be. Iain also appears to be behind many North American modellers when it comes to backscenes: Mike Confalone’s amazing success with photographic prints (which appeared in print nearly ten years ago) seems to have passed him by…
Those points aside, it is a good read with lots of ideas, and worth buying. Iain Rice and Wild Swan at their best.
Chris Mears has made an interesting post – not that he does any other sort – picking up on discussions about what it would take for P87 to become established in North America.
My understanding is that “code 64” wheels and P87 wheel and track components are available for freight and passenger cars and diesel engines, but steam is a different matter. Also, it isn’t just about the wheels and the track: with scale wheels, the truck frames can – and arguably should – be brought slightly closer together. In a reply to Chris’s post, I touched on the fact that what it needs is for someone to actually get on and do it. The biggest obstacle seems to be fear of becoming a “lone wolf”, unable to run stock on friends’ layouts and vice versa. That is a poor excuse, as most of us have more equipment than we need, so why not have a few extra items to the other standard? This enables the P87 modeller to run finely detailed engines elsewhere, and encourages the H0 modeller to have a go at P87. For passenger and freight cars, it may be as simple as having a few spare trucks and swapping them over now and then.
I can think of several possible subjects which be ideal candidates for a reasonable P87 layout that would not be too demanding, yet interesting enough once built to enjoy operating them. Some are real, some are models, and some are inspired by the approach taken to modelling a real location. All bar one have relatively few turnouts and require little in the way of equipment: if modelled in the diesel era (which might be stretching things a little for a couple of the suggestions) then re-wheeling would be neither expensive nor time-consuming.
The obvious candidate would be Port Rowan, or Port Dover: already done in S as we know, but in the same space a model of Port Rowan station could be modelled more or less to scale length, with a longer tail track than Trevor Marshall could accommodate.
Another prototype-based model line which lends itself to adaptation for a P87 first layout – not least because it can be built in a modular fashion of discrete scenes, as confidence builds up, is James McNab‘s Grimes Line. (Yes, two links: one for the blog, the other for the site)
For a trio of Proto-freelance layout ideas, two small and one moderate – and the small layouts could be connected to the moderate – then I think there is serious potential in some (or all, if you are brave enough!) of Mike Confalone’s Allagash Railroad. The rickety track and backwoods nature of what is now the Andover branch is a great starting point (the video demonstrates the rapid starts and stops of an Alco RS3, together with DCC sound). The original “Woodsville Terminal” layout, being a long, thin shelf, is relatively straightforward to fit into a house, or as a portable layout built in sections: UK practice would fit this onto four sections 48″ long, pair for storage face-to-face. The Regis Paper mill at New Portland is anther candidate for a small but satisfying start in a limited space. But New Sharon Junction, with the branch and the yard, wold make a great centre-piece for a moderate layout in P87, especially if there were a few yards of carefully crafted scenic running either side of the main station, and if there is room for the branches for pulp wood (off the “Atlantic” branch on the plan) and the paper mill (as is, coming off Carrabassett Junction) – indeed, one could supply the other. Staging at each end for a small number of trains would provide for a very satisfying scheme, capable of leisurely solo-operating (one train at a time) or a handful of friends coming round for a full-session with trains on the main, the branches, and a switch job in the yard. He has published some e-books, available from the MRH site, which I can thoroughly recommend (usual disclaimer).
Finally, what about Ryan Mendells’ Algonquin Railway? A perfect example of a layout design which could be used for a P87 layout.
The only thing a P87 requires more of than a “standard” H0 layout is time: a few hours extra to build the turnouts and plain track (if ready to lay flexi is not acceptable – it can always be replaced, piecemeal, at a later date) and a bit more time putting in new wheelsets. But even the latter is good practice, standardising on a single tyre profile is the first step to better running and using P87 sorts that out – otherwise, it is better to standardise on a single manufacturer and make sure the track matches it (so doing it properly probably requires hand-built – or at least hand-tuned – turnouts anyway). All the extra detailing is likely to be of interest to anyone prepared to consider P87 in the first place.
The rewards are immense: a railway that looks and runs like a real one.
So, what is really holding back P87? I suggest inertia, not of the physical kind, but of the psychological variety.
Once in a while, you come across a really interesting discussion on the net, and very recently I stumbled across a lovely thread on the RMWeb forum, where one of the members is recording part his recent switch to 0 gauge (7mm:1ft, or 1:43.5 ratio). Because he is sharing his progress, his trials and tribulations as well as his success, there has been a lot of great support and advice offered, as well as humour and friendship. It is a great advert for the web, but I was particularly taken with this post, where Chris describes the “learning opportunities” provided by a kit for a GWR 1366 small pannier tank. To quote him directly:
The 1366 was a steep learning curve/baptism of fire. It would have been very easy to have given up at multiple stages but perseverance and determination generally won over lack of skill and the right tools. I have invested in a few more tools but what I have is still just a step up from basic. This does mean I have to think carefully about the solutions I come up with – those with fully fitted workshops will no doubt be able to turn out more elegant things quicker but it’s not a race.
I’ve said this before but the 1366 has done more to move my skills on than a simple straightforward kit. It has sorely tested my resolve and, despite the current trial separation, will be completed once the confidence has been restored with a few completed projects under my belt.
The main things I’ve learned though are that it’s fairly hard to hurt brass and NS with solder. If something doesn’t work take it apart, clean up the bits and have another go. Keeping the areas to be soldered together clean and well fluxed is important. Most important of all is that you won’t gain skills over night: they come from having a go and keeping trying until you find what works for you. What works will be different for everyone and personal preference comes in.
“Most important of all is that you won’t gain skills over night: they come from having a go and keeping trying until you find what works for you.”
Have a look at this simple, beautiful picture:
Yes: it is a train; there is woodland; and there is a river.
No: it is not just that; it is not even a simple case of the whole being more than the sum of the parts. There is more to it than that. But not too much more, and best of all, these are basic principles, attitudes and activities which can be applied to any creative activity, but which lie at the core of “finescale with feeling”.
- Observation – This could also be called “attention to detail”, in that it is about identifying the detail points in the prototype: the slope of the embankment (“fill”, if you are North American); the texture of the grass and leaves; the size and shape of the trees; the correct details on the train. If you get this stage wrong, then the result cannot be “closer to the prototype” and I would argue that it is not finescale. To get this right, spend time observing.
- Composition – How best to arrange things. Not as simple as it might seem. The prototype often disappoints in this respect: notable painter Constable altered the arrangement of the real world to improve his famous picture, “The Haywain”. Trevor has written some interesting musings on his composition of the Lynn Valley, and of course has put them into practice, too. There is a large element of “love of subject” here, as the aim is to make subtle adjustments to the real scene so that the model displays it all in the best light. This is feeling. To get this right, spend time immersed in information: books, photos, videos, site visits, and then play around with plans, card mock-ups, etc.
- Execution – The quality of workmanship. A high degree of skill is required (the hallmark of finescale) but also the care of that workmanship – back to feeling – makes this a believable representation of the real world, even if it isn’t an exact copy of a real place. This is true finescale with feeling. To develop and hone a skill, spend time getting a feel for tools and materials.
None of this comes automatically, except maybe to the very gifted few. Not all of us can reach the high standards displayed by Trevor, but as the major requirement for each of Observation, Composition and Execution is simply time, we can all try at our own pace, and each of these can be practised whenever and wherever desire and opportunity coincide.
At the end of the process, what do we see? Just a train running through some woodland, next to a river...