The World Ain’t Flat!

As a callow youth I spent some time at college studying Ancient Greek history and philosophy. This was very interesting and spiritually enlightening and all that, but it was basically useless in terms of getting a job. However I did get to read some good books and I picked up the occasional pearl of wisdom so it wasn’t a complete waste of time. I seem to remember one bod by the name of Socrates writing something along the lines that if he knew one thing, it was that he knew nothing. At the time I read this it made absolutely no sense to me: like all young people I was convinced that I knew everything. However as I’ve grown older I’ve come to realise that Socrates was probably onto something. I’m no Socrates, so I’m not really smart enough to know nothing, but I have found that often the most important things I know also tend to be staring me right in the face and can be easy to overlook. So after years of studying at the feet of the great philosophers of our hobby I have come to realise that…wait for it, the world ain’t flat! Pretty deep hey? 🙂

In spite of many years in this hobby I have managed to go about building any number of layouts that quite happily ignored the fact so clearly demonstrated to us by Christopher Columbus (and probably many others) by not sailing off the edge of the world: namely that the world is round. And I know I am not the ony one! My layouts have not been flat through any lack of ability to make the landscape rise and fall in a more realistic manner: rather it as been the result of sheer laziness and quite possibly the rush to get trains running. I would build the layout benchwork, lay the track, wire it up and only then think about what to do with the surrounding landscape.

I also think that many of the more influential model scenery books I grew up with, the ones which tended to concentrate on the dramatic scenery in places like Colorado, did me a bit of a dis-service in a way. While I’m as impressed by the scenery of Colorado as everyone else the problem is that there’s not many dramatic mountain panoramas on the line from East Maitland to Morpeth. Knowing how to texture and colour dramatic rocky crags isn’t a lot of help when what you actually need to model is a distinctly unimpressive concrete culvert and a line of fence running along the line.

I reckon I have learnt a few lessons over the years and one of them is to apply the advice often trotted out to first time writers to our hobby, that is to write about what you know. Nothing beats the real thing and so I think any modeller who wants to model realistically should get out and take a look at the real thing and get to know it. While you should always take a camera and a note-book on site visits (and observe relevant safety regulations) I also think you need to actually observe as well as just look. While the countryside around Morpeth is not as dramatic as the Rocky Mountains, this does not mean it’s a billiard table either. I actually think that modelling gently undulating countryside is in some ways just as difficult, if not more difficult, than moldelling dramatic hillsides. If it was easy why do so many of us get it wrong or simply don’t bother? I’ve come to realise that one of the really important things that separates an ordinary layout from an extraordinary one is the way the builder/s handle the landscape surrounding the train lines and the way the built environment sits within this.

So I’ve deliberately set myself a challenge on my new layout that no single piece of surrounding landscape will be flat. As I recently posted I’ve been using extruded foam board to form the landscape on this layout and it would be very easy to simply leave this nice, flat material as it comes and plonk the buildings on top. However this material is eminently suited to carving and shaping (that’s why you use it!) and so I’m determined to take advantage of this and make sure that the landscape on Morpeth Mk II undulates up and down in a manner that closely mimics the real world (I hope).

Of course this is easier said that done because, while the foam itself is wonderful to work with, making it go up and down forces the modeller to confront the same challenges faced by builders and architects: all your buildings need foundations. In my loco servicing scene I have decided that the small piece of vacant land in front of the line will be occupied by a weigh-bridge. I’ve been working for the last couple of weeks on a some of the models that will go to make up this scene but the time came recently to confront the fact that the weighbridge hut needed a wooden foundation. I have several photos of a similar structure taken in the mid western NSW town of Dunedoo (I’ve now posted some of these photos). The small hut on this site is on relatively flat ground but the site slopes gently away at the rear of the structure and this required the builders to build it on a wooden foundation. This was exactly the feature I wanted to incorporate into my scene. In fact I deliberately decided to site the hut facing away from the viewer so that this feature was in fact emphasised.

The weigh-bridge scene will incorporate a weigh plate, the hut and a concrete approach that I will install after the hut and plate are in place. After installing the foam board I shaped and sanded in a road and dips where I wanted them to allow for an undulating landscape. I cut a slot in the road to allow the plate to sit beneath the surface of the road and I made up a small styrene box that will hold this plate in place. I constructed the wooden foundation from stripwood and dowel rod that was distressed and then stained with india ink and rubbing alcohol. I have spent the last few days getting the hut assembled ready for painting and building the foundation. These major components are now complete and I’ve been doing a bit of testing to see how they sit. As the foundation is a separate model I’ve been using a small brick layers level to ensure everything is level. I’m about half way through the process but I wanted to take some progress shots and I’ll post a couple of these after I’ve finished writing.

To be honest, making the landscape undulate slows things down a lot. As I’ve demonstrated with this little, insignifcant model, having to fit a building into non level site can really complicate things. However I’m convinced that the effort is worth it.

2 thoughts on “The World Ain’t Flat!

  1. Hi Trevor,
    Some really great points in this piece. Just like in the real world the landscape came befor the railways. It is more difficulty to think this way but very rewarding.
    I also find myself agrreing with your comment that modelling gently undualting country is more difficult than rugged mountain ranges, or for that matter heavily forested country.

    • John,
      I’m coming to the conclusion that the way the building sits in the landscape is actually as important as the building itself. Probably more accurate is that it gives a model greater impact as it simply looks more realisitic. So you get more bang for your buck and make more of the effort you put into the model. This is especially needful when the model is such a ealtively unimposing one as a weighbridge hut.

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