Thursday, October 1, 2020

Structures and Scenery - How Big?

One of the things that I've noticed over the years is that non-railroad portions of many layouts are under scale. In particular, this tends to be the case for roads, trees, and structures. I'll address roads and trees at a later time, but let's look at structures.

Many times structures one model railroads are undersized. This is particularly true of industrial structures such as factories. Why would this be? 

To start with, a lot of commercial structures seem to trend towards compressed. This makes some sense, since they want to make the building capable of fitting on more layouts. Not everybody has the space for very large factory buildings, for example, and I believe the most common layout footprint may still be a 4' x 8' sheet of plywood. One or two large industries fill up a lot of space on a layout that size.

There's nothing inherently wrong with that, but I really like the idea that sense of scale with really large industries. Particularly when modeling railroading's past, it's a reminder of the sheer scale of industry that was spawned by the industrial revolution. For example, the Stanley Works and Russell & Erwin smoke stacks.

Of course, big industries take a lot of space. And other compromises come into play when building a model railroad. For example, if you're building a double-deck layout, the clearance can often limit how big you can go. But my general approach is to start with a scale footprint, and then make modifications from there.

Right now I'm tweaking the corner to the east of Elm Street. New Britain Yard, between Elm and Main Streets, is modeled somewhere between 70% and 80% to scale. I haven't measured things in a while. While this seems very high, there are still compromises that must be made with even that amount of compression. We'll see what impact that has when I get to building the structures.

But east of Elm St is worse, because the track has to curve back around to the helix. As I've noted, on the prototype this section of track is curved the opposite direction. So nothing can be in the exact place it should be.

So how does that affect the scenery, particularly the structures? As it turns out, City Coal & Wood, later City Supply, can be modeled almost entirely to scale. The placement of some elements might be a little off, but overall it can be modeled very faithfully. 

As you can see in this picture, I've cut out footprints of the two main buildings. These are fully to scale and will fit pretty well. Here's a reminder of the prototypical layout. Note that the coal bins, the footprint on the right, is already gone in this photo.

So the oil tanks can be modeled, just not in the exact location. I can probably add a bit of the structures across the parking lot, which are still part of the same industry. But what's different is that Swift & Upton/New Britain Lumber Company won't be in the correct location behind it. Instead, it has to be next to it as the track curves away from the first industry on the layout,

Furthermore, it's clear that the prototypical length of the lumber sheds won't fit at all. They would cross over the mainline, and it leaves no room for the stacks of lumber that are outside. Clearly this will have to be shortened or, more likely, run into the backdrop. 

Fortunately, these are very straightforward and plain structures. There are no windows or loading doors, no real features that would indicate that the model is compressed. Most of the time, this is much more complicated.

Another signature structure will be the freight house. Fortunately it looks like I'll be able to model that do scale, a full 7 1/2' in HO scale. I'm going back to the Sanborn maps to cut out scale footprints for the other structures I'll be modeling, and use that as a starting point to see what will need to be compressed for each of them as well. Part of the art of model railroading, is figuring out how to compress things without losing the character of the scene. Most of the structures are still a ways off, but it's good to revisit the plan and see how things fit together while I'm (re)finalizing the plan, gluing track down, and dropping feeders. Because after that's done I'll get to work on ground cover, roads, and ballast. Knowing the footprints of the structures will be important to get worked out before I do that.

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