Queens Wharf: Planning Considerations

My Queens Wharf layout had a fairly long and tortuous path into existence. It started out as a fiddle yard on wheels serving my less-than-permanent layout of Morpeth. Because a career move led to a house move, the permanent layout was dismantled but QW survived because it was deliberately designed to be light and portable. Consequently it is one of the few layouts I’ve ever built that has survived long enough to be considered “complete”. QW’s state of completeness is fairly fluid; I was refurbishing the scenery a couple of weeks ago in preparation for an exhibition. I’m sure we’ve all heard the old cliché that no layout is ever truly complete: just because a cliché is old doesn’t mean it isn’t true! 🙂

I provided copious details about the long gestation of QW in my Australian Model Railway Magazine http://www.australianmodelrailways.com/amframe.html  article (June 2009, issue 276). For this reason I won’t go back over old ground. Just as a matter of interest, I’ve just visited the above web page and discovered that the latest CD compilation of articles from this magazine has a photo of QW on the cover.

I’ve always considered QW as a bit of an experiment: or a fiddle yard that got ideas above its station. In building it I was testing out layout construction and design ideas in O-scale, a scale that for me at that time, was still quite new. After switching from HO to O I’d quickly discovered that designing a layout in O wasn’t just a matter of transferring the concepts and thinking I’d used in HO and scaling things up. I’d designed and built numerous layouts in HO both for myself and as club projects. The last of these was Upper Hunter, a big, double-deck monster that I worked on while I was a member of the Wyong and District Model Railway Club. You can find photos (some of which I took and feature locos built by me)  and details of this layout at http://users.tpg.com.au/adslophl/. Designing for a larger scale doesn’t just mean addressing the need for wider, space eating curves, although this is an issue you will confront if you start working in a larger scale.

What I discovered as I started working in O-scale was that the design challenges are far more subtle than simply struggling to fit larger radiused curves into the available space. There are simple answers to this fairly straightforward problem: you trim your sails to suit the conditions. You either modify the design, find more space or work in a smaller scale. Trevor Marshall is worth reading on this in his blog about his Port Rowan layout http://themodelrailwayshow.com/cn1950s/. However I feel this 2 dimensional issue, namely the size of the radius of the curves you need to work with, does not address the 3 dimensional challenge of the volume of the models: that’s all the models, not just the ones we tend to focus on, the locomotives. While the scale I work in produces models exactly two times the length and breadth of HO models, when you cube any dimension you get models that are eight times the volume and it is this which gives the models their impact.

I don’t want to start getting all philosophical about this but I can’t help thinking that O-scale layout design really requires a Japanese design aesthetic: one where simplicity, functionality and beauty guides the design considerations. I specifically choose to work in a scale that I feel is the largest practical indoor scale. Until I accept the fact that I would need a space the size of an indoor football arena to run large steam (for this I mean Pacifics and above) I’m going to be frustrated with the designs that can be crammed into any available space.

In spite of this, I find that the very thing that appears a limitation in O-scale is exactly where the scale’s strengths lay, once you accept that you really can’t fit a quart into a pint pot that is. I’ve joked to friends that as I moved up to a larger scale I seemed to find less and less space to work with, and there is some truth in this. I’ve been without a permanent layout since 2004 but this has never stopped me modelling, working on layouts and developing skills I never knew I had. Having no space for a layout has actually allowed me to finish a layout for the first time in 20 years of building them!

QW is essentially a fiddle yard to terminus design: a style of layout I’ve seen hundreds of times in UK magazines over the years but which seem much rarer in the Antipodes. My basic criteria for the layout was that it had to have a run round loop so I could run a train onto the senicked portion of the layout, detach the locomotive and then run the train off scene without pushing the wagons. I’ll post the track plan of the layout on the blog so you can see how things are arranged. This need for a run round was a simple desire to follow the prototype: I’m no railway engineer, but I know that trains rarely, if ever shuttle back and forth on NSW rails without the locomotive changing ends. So the design challenge in this layout, even though it is very simple, had nothing to do with curve radii, there were no curves to speak of. However the design still attempts to address the basic need I have for semi-prototypical train movements.

The layout is 3m (10′) long on the scenicked portion with a 2m (6′) long fiddle yard. The track is handlaid in code 125 &100 rail, with heavily modified Marcway point kits on wooden sleepers. The rail is pinned with Micro Engineering small rail spikes in every second sleeper. I’ll provide more details about the design of the basebaords, track and scenery elements in later posts.

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3 thoughts on “Queens Wharf: Planning Considerations

  1. Pingback: Another interesting Blog: Morpeth in O scale | Model Railroad Imagineerings

  2. Matt,
    I was getting really zen with that post wasn’t I? 🙂 Me making claims to use Japanese design aesthics is a bit of laugh really when you see how crammed with details my layout is. It might be more accurate to say that it is inspired by a Japanese city street aesthetic. I’ll post a photo.

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