Book review – ‘Planning your model railroad’

Of all the writers and ex-writers in Model Railroader, Tony Koester has always been a good read.  High quality modelling, interesting and sometimes unconventional ideas, and an occasional whimsical look at our hobby makes him someone worth listening to.  His latest book for Kalmbach looks at the planning, construction and maintenance of a model railway from his own perspective.

Chapter titles are:

  1. This way, that way, or down the middle?
  2. Basics of layout design
  3. Understanding railroad operations
  4. Considerations of time
  5. Geography isn’t generic
  6. Plausibility
  7. Prototype freelancing – by the prototype!
  8. Planning and modelling structures
  9. Construction and maintenance
  10. Animation

Perhaps the most interesting chapters are (1), describing how to choose a layout theme and scale, (6) on how to make your layout feel and look real, (7) on freelancing, and (10) on adding animation to the layout.  The chapter on freelancing prompted a few thoughts.  Prototype freelancing is where one puts together a coherent railroad, where locos, stock, buildings,  liveries and operation are imaginary, but firmly based on the  prototype.  It’s commoner and easier in the States, where closely similar locos and stock were supplied to many railroads.  Here in the UK, almost every railway was different, and then fairly uniform in British Rail(ways) days.  However, does the modern privatised UK railway offer an interesting opportunity?  Could a new, imagined, operator take over a line and offer opportunities to run an interesting collection of DMUs and locomotives.  The key would be in designing a coherent company livery and image.  Any colours would be possible!

A few good quotes from the book…..

It’s difficult indeed to plan something without a clear vision of where we’re going.  When it comes to planning our next model railroads, for example, there are almost limitless choices.  Do Job One is obviously going to be narrowing these options down to a select few, preferably only one.

To some extent, we’re all freelancers.  I can only think of one modeller who has modelled an entire railroad inch for inch; even his elevations are accurately depicted.  Almost all of the rest of us have bitten off more than we can possibly chew.

Railfan or modeller – In addition to the distinction between freelancing and prototype modelling, there is another dichotomy that we need to acknowledge: the different viewpoints of those who are modellers vs. those who are primarily rail enthusiasts.  Like prototype modelling versus freelancing, it’s not a black-or-white issue.  But decades in the hobby have made it clear to me that there are modellers whose primary interest is the models themselves and there are modellers who see the models as a necessary means to an end, not the end itself, as they strive to emulate full-size railroading on a practical scale in their homes or club rooms.

(Phew, Mr Koester does like a long sentence!)

As with all Kalmbach books, this one is full of interesting photographs of Koester’s, and other modellers, layouts.  Overall, an excellent read that gives good ideas not just for modelling American railroads.

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About snitchthebudgie

Secretary of the East Surrey N Gauge railway club
This entry was posted in Hints and tips, Inspiration, Layout design, The trade and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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