Thinking About Model Trains

I’ve always loved trains. Somewhere, there is a picture of me as a three year old playing trainspotter at the Knoxville L&N yard1. I’ve got endless pictures of trains throughout the years, both on film and digital. I go out of my way to see heritage railroads . So, it’s not a surprise that I have some model trains. Or, now that I am deep in my middle age, that I am building layouts.

I. Thoughts on Layouts

I hadn’t really thought about a layout, per se. At first, I didn’t have a lot of space for a layout: it’s about 11” x 144”, so not even enough space for a turn-around in Z gauge2. It was going to be long, skinny, and have a few switches.

Then I started to think about a layout as telling a story. This really helped me think through what I wanted, and opened up new doors in what I expected out of the layout. At about the same time, I started watching model-building videos on Youtube, and the people made it seem easy. Models no longer seemed hard to me, and particularly in that spoce, it was going to be all flats.

I had always planned for the layout to showcase the various European trains I had gotten. But the main train was going to be the UK train3, and I wanted some accuracy. Trains from three different countries would not be that accurate. I was also dealing with the constraints of my layout. In addition to the width issue, it also had to be built on 30” - 40” modules.

Then I realized the answer: each module is a different era of British rail history. I also decided that I’d tackle four eras: Era 1, Era 3, Era 544, and Era 11 (using the Hatton’s Era Chart, which does not seem the same as other countries). This allows me to finally think about steam engines (Era 1, “Pioneering”; Era 3: “The Big Four”5), in addition to the “classic Diesels” (Era 5: “British Railways Steam (Late)), like the Deltic.

I’ve been trying to figure out how to have a decent HO scale railroad in the limited space I have, and came up with the Verticalville idea: Use a helix to create several levels of detail. I didn’t know what it would be until I thought of a history of Seattle. At the lowest level, it’s a logging/mining narrow guage; early Seattle trams; “Classic” railways; Monorail, and finally Link Light. It’s got some interesting challenges. At least two of these need to be hand-built (Early Seattle Trams, and Monorail). But, with modern 3d printing, this is more a software problem than a hardware problem.

Somewhere in the middle of those two, I have this idea to do at least two N-scale layouts; one to get started in N, and one to test out helix ideas. The N-scale will almost certainly be the Netherlands, again, trying to think about living there so many years ago.

I was going to write two more sections “The State of Model Railroading” and “Thoughts on Tools,” but this is long enough already. “

  1. As will be discussed, I’ve been working on my reasons for building a layout. The L&N seems like an interesting railroad to model. 

  2. At just about 15.25”, it would be possible to have a “bump” or two to get a continous running layout. But my sense is that the Expedit is a better place for that. Especially if you were up for drilling holes in the unit. 

  3. During Covid 2020, when England was cautiously (and disasterously) opening up, I finished up walking the Thames Path, about 80 miles or so. I would always take a GWR Class 800 in the classic British green to wherever I would pick up the path. That was the train I wanted as the exemplar of British Trains for me. Hornby has a good model of it, but right now, there is only one livery available: the Trainbow. It was meant to be. I’ll post pictures at some point. 

  4. Writing this, I realized I had made a mistake in first saying it would be Era 4; I really wanted an excuse for a Deltic model, which is more properly Ers 5. 

  5. I guess I’m Team GWR? Writing this also made that clear, that for Era 1/3, I should emphasize GWR rolling stock. (Now, I wonder if anyone is modeling Brunel scale? Of course, I know the anxwer: Yes. Yes, someone is.)