Valley Heights is a standard gauge, O-scale layout built by a friend of mine by the name of John Parker. His layout made its public debut at the Epping model railway exhibition over the June long weekend (actually it would be more accurate to say “is making”, as the Epping exhibition still has a day to run as a I type this). I tried to get down to the exhibition yesterday (Saturday) to surprise him by dropping in and getting in the way while he operated the layout but things became a little complicated so I decided to cancel the trip and put the money toward expensive locomotive purchases that I can’t really justify 🙂 Another friend of mine, Mark Fisher, sent me some photos of the layout in action and I’ll post a couple of these after I finish writing this. I’d like to thank Mark for the photos, especially as I couldn’t be there to see the layout in the flesh.
I’ve seen segments of Valley Heights set up in John’s garage and videos of the layout on YouTube, but I’ve never seen it in operational mode in a setting that allows it to be run in all its glory. The main reason for this is that John doesn’t actually have a space big enough indoors to allow it to be conveniently set up and run in full at home. He works on sections of it and sets it up when and where he can: a circumstance I can empathise with, having been in the same situation myself for the last 13 years. The layout is essentially a long wedge shape that has no backdrop but includes some spectacular structures such as a cut-away round-house, turntable and elevated coal stage. These are especially impressive in O-scale to judge by the photos.
I know John was worried about whether the layout would hold people’s attention because it’s not a tail chaser, all the movement is fairly slow and deliberate. From the reports I’ve had he need not have worried: it’s been described to me as “spectacular” and evidently the crowds have been standing three deep watching the action and asking questions. I never had any doubt that this would be the case but that’s because I know what a great modeller John is. The photos show a layout of real quality that draws your attention into the scene with plenty to look at. It also has plenty of entertainment value as the locomotives make their way up the inclines and to the coal stage.
Like almost all the O-scale modellers I know including myself, John is a refugee from HO. What impresses me about Valley Heights isn’t just what you can see in the photos, although the modelling is of the highest standard and I think shows what really can be achieved in O. For me the really impressive thing about Valley Heights is mostly what isn’t apparent in the photos: it’s the experimental nature of the layout, its lack of a backdrop, its unusual shape and it’s use of height to draw the viewer’s eye. John has also incorporated some really innovative elements into the under layout design such as manufactured I beams and using speaker stands as legs to hold the layout off the ground. You can read all about these innovative ideas by purchasing back issues of 7th Heaven from the Aus7 Modellers Group web site which is listed on the right hand side of this blog.
What I really like about this layout is that it demonstrates the very best modelling underpinned by some very clever ideas from an intelligent and thoughtful modeller. I happen to think that O-scale brings this out in modellers by the constraints the scale imposes on them. This type of innovative approach is not confined to O-scale modelling but in a modelling world of pre-packaged solutions I have a feeling that non-mainstream scales and gauges tend to force modellers into thinking in new and innovative ways if they want to get what they want. It also forces them to actually model rather than buy their models pre-packaged, pre-weathered and pre-decoderized.
John also happens to a real gentleman who is generous with his time and modelling expertise to others modellers he knows, including me. He also reads this blog and will be extremely embarrassed by these words 🙂