Salami Theory

In an episode of one of my favourite TV shows, Yes Prime Minister, a civilian defence expert has been called in by Jim Hacker to discuss the UK’s nuclear deterrent. In one of those wonderfully scripted episodes the show was well-known for, this expert discusses with the PM the possibility of the Soviet Union invading Western Europe. He sketches out scenarios and then asks Hacker whether he would push the button. After he has him totally lost for an answer he suggests that the Soviets will never provide him with a clear case for launching the nuclear missiles, rather they will employ what he calls “salami tactics”: taking small slices each time and never doing quite enough to provoke a massive retaliation.

This scene has been on my mind recently as I’ve tried to decide how thick a slice I can take off the back of a structure before it becomes really obvious and obtrusive. While all railway modellers are faced with the challenge of getting what they want into the available space, O-scale seems to present particular problems in this regard. Due to the size of the structures, there is rarely a circumstance where I haven’t had to chop the back off a building in some way. The question for me is: how thin can the slices of salami be?

I’ve recently been planning for the construction of a water tank and stand on the engine servicing module of my new layout. There are quite a number of different types of tank available to the NSWGR modeller, but the one I wanted to use was of the cast iron panel variety. I had some very nice panel castings from the Waratah Model Railway Co (see link on the right hand side of my blog) which I wanted to use. I needed to make a stand for my tank to sit on and the choices were metal or wood. The design of these tanks and stands were pretty standard across the system so it wasn’t a design challenge: I like the mass and heft of the wooden stands and I had all the materials on hand so the choice was pretty easy. The challenge was in the fact that I didn’t really have enough space on the module to fit a full size tank.

By their nature these tanks need to be elevated slightly to allow gravity to help deliver the water to the water crane next to the track. I wrote earlier about deciding to employ the space at the front of the layout for a weighbridge and this model is just about finished. However this model was positioned in just about the only spot that provided enough space for the tank if it was to be full size. As this real estate was already occupied I had two possible alternatives: pretend that the tank was off-scene or place it in a location against the backdrop as a “flat”.

I chose the latter of these two options for a number of reasons:

1) This section of the layout is struggling for some vertical variation. So far all the structures and scenery are low and fairly flat and the tank would provide some much-needed height to the scene.

2) I really like these tanks and wanted one on the layout as I hadn’t built one in O before. The tank on the real Morpeth was a tiny little structure on a “pig sty” stand and I’d decided that the scenario I’d sketched out in my mind for the expansion of the engine servicing facilities at the Morpeth terminus (which incorporated a 60′ turntable that didn’t exist on the prototype) required a proper, full-sized tank.

3) I like wooden structures and as the stand I was going to build was of the wooden variety an off-scene tank was never really going to be viable.

4) I was fairly sure I could build the tank deep enough so that it wouldn’t “scream” building flat too loudly. Anyone with even a passing familiarity with tank designs on the NSWR will immediately recognise that the tank is not full depth, however I felt I had enough space to make it deep enough to allow it to still have plenty of impact. The result would be a compromise but it was one I felt I could live with.

5) The tank on its stand will be a background model that breaks up the uninterrupted sweep of the backdrop. The tank is exactly where it probably would be on the prototype. In this way the spot was almost calling out for a model of a tank to be placed there.

My normal thinking on salami theory would be that you should endeavour to make a model about 50% of the depth of the prototype you are attempting to represent. In the case of these tanks (which are 27’x27′ = approximately 185mmx185mm on the model) I simply didn’t have enough space between the track and the backdrop to achieve this sort of depth. So in this instance I was forced to make it only 33.3% of the prototype’s depth. One thing I did want was to make the tank its full width. I could have gone for a smaller design that uses only six of the precast panels, but I work in this scale because the structures are big: I didn’t want to have a tank that didn’t look much bigger than one on a HO layout would look.

You can judge for yourself whether the salami has been sliced too thinly: for me the real impact is that the heft of the front of the model has been maintained by building it to its full width. I feel the lack of prototype depth is a secondary consideration. You slice your salami and take your chances I suppose 🙂

2 thoughts on “Salami Theory

  1. A nice quandary to have. Here’s two & a half cents… Move the weigh bridge & put the tank front & centre in its place.
    – the texture of the iron panels plus the substantial support frame with all of its beams, cross braces, rusting bolts & hardware, dripping water, puddles, weeds… so much character. Much more than a pleasant looking office.
    – placing a smaller model, like the weigh bridge towards the rear might more easily add to the illusion of perspective.
    – my favourite: the water tank in front could help divide the scene, providing a visual break that would partially obscure passing trains. Might just make the layout look deeper.

    If you do place the tank to the rear, consider painting that area’s vertical space with trees/buildings rather than sky. I’m thinking that putting it against a darker background might disguise its shallowness.

    One of these days I swear I’m gonna build something!

    • Stephen,
      Thanks for the thoughts but the decisions have been made and the models constructed. There will still be plenty of room for weeds and puddles even in its present location.

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