Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Dynamo article in LDJ-47

It's hot from the printer's - go get it! (and join the LDSIG so that it shows up in the mail like magic every few months.)

  • Planning the Newcastle-Fassifern Railway with LDEs
  • Improving a Classic John Armstrong Plan in N Scale
  • The Continuous Model Railroad: More Railroad than your Room Can Hold
  • Proto-Freelance Midwest NYC Layout Inspired by Published Plans
  • Weighing the Scales: Experienced Multi-Scale Modelers Discuss Pros and Cons
  • Benchwork and Fascia Ideas from LDSIG Tours
 … and more!
Download a free sampler of pages from this issue.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Great MTH Layouts DVD

Great MTH Layouts: Parts 1 & 2Yes, I have been mining the Netflix vaults for model railroad videos to consume, and while I wait for the Bob Symes How to Build Model Railroads DVD (which is apparently popular since I have been waiting for a few weeks already), I had the opportunity to view a Mike's Train House production, Great MTH Layouts.

This is a fairly good quality production of a "hey this is fun" genre video. I will confess I am in the "serious modeler" category that the narrator pokes at a couple of times and not in the toy train collector target audience, so I did not watch every second of each layout tour. The presentation was very geared towards generating consumer interest, and I can get past that considering a manufacturer of toy trains produced it.

Good camera work and the interviewees are well spoken and edited pretty well into the B roll of trains zipping around. There is a good variety of types of layout from the table-top temporary set up with no modeled scenery to the more realistic layouts. The narration continues to point out that these were not models, but rather toys, and that operations and/or simulation of the prototype is not the point of the activity.  

This is where it started my thinking.

The video concentrated on the sensory experience of the toy train market, which I find the most interesting aspect of the video. This was some insight into the hobby that I had not previously figured out, but I've been meaning to give it some thought for awhile now: what are the different motivations behind the different modes of model railroading?

I'm finally getting to the point where I can easily see the connections between my current actions and childhood experiences that inform them, and turning this gaze on model railroading could be amusing. In the video it is clear that the collectors are looking to feel the thrill of the experience of the moving trains that they had as kids. The "sights and sounds" category of enthusiast obviously enjoys that rush we all had at one point or another of playing with a new toy at Christmas, and collecting and running (versus operating) trains tickles that pleasure center. I totally get that. The having versus making satisfaction and the seeing versus doing inclination is what separates the "collector / runner" and the "modeler / operator". This sort of definition could begin to fill out a matrix of scales and type of experience that could map the tendencies of different scales and modeling styles pretty easily (a rainy day project?).

What is great about this is that it is the way someone engages with the hobby that determines the outcome of their efforts and play. Methods of doing and the process of doing them are what is focussed on in magazines as a craft and sometimes with a philosophical foundation for the actions in support of the method. The "good enough" versus the "rivet counter" modelers approach to the practice of modeling in very different ways provide differing results that can/should be appreciated in different ways.

 Number 8, 1949 (detail) 1949, Jackson Pollock
The poke from the narrator about serious modelers' "looking down their noses" at these collectors/runners is an unfortunate comment that helps reinforce the lack of appreciation between different sets of modelers. Yes, it is important to be able to define what one's domain in practice is, but doing so by elevating or discrediting other forms of practice is not productive.

I take the view that the inherent logic and application of one's own set criteria is the more important thing when learning from others. Now when you get within an established order and identify with a set of criteria, then it is open season on criticism to make that established practice better. The problem is when people are judging by their own set criteria other's work that does not share that set of criteria. That is just unproductive at best, and hurtful at worst.

I try to practice this when I visit or see any model railroad (or any endeavor for that matter). I try to be careful to ask questions about what the intent is (usually it is obvious anyway) before I start appreciating the work so that I know how I am supposed to approach it.

Sunflowers, 1888, Vincent van Gogh
An analogous situation would be looking at a work of art. There are certain formal qualities that one can appreciate without knowing anything else about the work, but if one does know something about how it is situated in the art world and how similar works have been approached, it is much better appreciated and evaluated and allows for deeper engagement. I find this approach to layout viewing much more enjoyable than comparing everything against my own personal criteria.

That's being said, I love to challenge both others' and my own criteria to help strengthen the logic and the outcomes. This constant testing of beliefs and goals is a good way to produce consistent and satisfying results no matter what you set out to do.

So back to the video. Like so many things I come across, it wasn't that I could take anything specific away from it that I could apply directly to anything I'm doing, but rather it got me thinking about things in general and helped clarify my thoughts on a different level. For that, I'm glad I spent some time watching something that I wouldn't normally be interested in.

Besides all that, though, sometimes it's just fun to watch toy trains be toy trains.

Friday, July 20, 2012

'Charming' is a good thing

I watched a charming DVD this evening called A Lineside Look at Model Railways:

2009 NR 50 minutes
Whether you like building model railroads or simply enjoy exploring trains, you'll relish celebrated railway enthusiast Bob Symes's guided tours of an impressive range of model train layouts, including Borchester Market, Chiltern Green and High Peak. In addition to revealing the details and workmanship of each model railway display, the program includes tips for constructing line-side furniture and scenic features.
Bob Symes, Shirley Rowe
I say 'charming' as a completely sincere reaction to such a gentle and straightforward introduction to the hobby of model railroading. It helps that Bob Symes lilts with the quintessential calm British documentary presenter's cadence and inflections that can enthusiastically explain anything from cheese production to nuclear winter with an even, yet understatedly encouraging tone. The video made me want to be a model railroader almost as much because of the activity itself as for the amazingly reserved layout owners I would get to hang out with.

I can't fail to mention that almost every man wore a tie and the few ladies in the production were in their Sunday best with very nicely manicured hands and tastefully selected jewelry.

This is, though, what tickled the 'charm' reaction from me.

There is a connection between the British proper-ness and poise of the participants that blankets the model layouts in the show as well. None of the layouts portrayed trash heaps, industrial blight nor seedy streets. Most were of the very well-kept English countryside of gentle rolling greens and nicely maintained hedgerows and fence lines. Even the seaside venues were of orderly fashion and subjects. Very civilized and all that, pip, pip.

I suppose I'm not surprised at all that there is such a consistency in thought, mannerisms, approach to the hobby and end results, but I did take pleasure in recognizing and feeling it in the fantastic fifty minutes of earnest, innocent and matter-of-fact overview of the state of British model railways c1980.

I just added another Bob Symes production to my queue: How to Build a Model Railway, which I fully expect to tickle me in the same odd, but satisfying and completely wonderful way. I'll spare you a review of that one, but do picture me in 2-3 business days sitting in my living room being charmed, impressed and mesmerized by the talents of British modelers from about 30 years ago. It might not be inaccurate to visualize the scene with me in a sweater vest and tie and with a half pint just within my comfortable reach, but I'll deny it if anybody asks.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Union Tank Car Dome

An interesting 30 minute documentary on the Union Tank Car facilities outside Baton Rouge, LA. A 384 foot diameter geodesic dome was constructed with the assistance of Buckminster Fuller to service 50 foot tank cars in a unique circular work area that sported a central turntable which provided great flexibility in servicing multiple cars at once. A car would enter the dome and move to the center onto the turntable and be spun around to an available work bay.

Previous facilities were rectangular which restricted servicing to a linear path where only a few cars could be worked on at a time and a car had to be finished before the next one could be started on. The circular arrangement allowed many cars to be attended to without dependence on finishing any one before another to move cars in and out of the facilities. The downfall of the facility was the introduction of the 60 foot tank car, which did not fit on the turntable.

The documentary presents the conceptual framework of geodesic domes, the design and construction of the Union Tank Car dome, a nicely illustrated diagram of operations near the 4:30 mark (if you are in a hurry), and the ultimate demolition by the Kansas City Southern Railway. When built in 1958, the dome was the largest clear-span structure in the world and was a model for thinking outside the box and inside a dome. A novel and beautiful solution melding an understanding of the car servicing process with a unique an efficient structural system.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Garage layout

I was asked by a YouTube viewer about plans for a garage railroad that appears as a 3D SketchUp model in a video I made several years ago. While I don't have measured drawings for the track work since we worked off of the 3D model, I do have some images of the track arrangement and photos of the finished piece as well as the bench work dimensioned plans we used for construction. I hope this helps him out with his own project.

The layout is in half of a garage and is a commissioned project for grandparents who wanted something to engage their grandchildren when they came over.  The end result is pretty nice for a garage layout, with fantastic mountain scenery by Chuck Ellis and the rest done by the owner, Tom Pearson and me.

Since the initial build, there were some changes made. There is an elevated town where the roundhouse was, and the town streets are a little different as well as several minor adjustments and detailing. It is, however, amazingly like the SketchUp model, and it was certainly a good way to present an idea for a layout to a customer.

Following that there is just a photo dump of some construction and detailing photos. I don't seem to have any photos of the finished product, which isn't good, so I will add that to my list.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

LDJ article

Look for a cleaned up and fleshed out version of the DYNAMOS article in the next issue of the Layout Design Journal. Weighing in at about 12 pages, the article in LDJ-47 includes some redrawn graphics and edited text in a convenient printed form.