Plans Vs Reality

I reached a milestone today by officially “completing” the centre module of my layout “Morpeth”. I know we all say that a layout is never really finished but for this phase of the layout’s development the word complete applies: I simply must get on and do something on the final and most challenging of the three modules. No more work will happen on this module, so for all intents and purposes it’s complete.

As I worked towards this milestone it became increasingly obvious to me that I’ve never posted a track plan of the layout. I’m well aware that when I talk about the station module or the turntable module, as a reader, it must be fairly confusing. We all get so caught up with our layouts, and know them so intimately, we sometimes lose sight of how confusing a layout can seem to someone who is unfamiliar with it, even one as relatively simple in its track arrangement as Morpeth. This brings to mind an operarting session I hosted on my long dismantled HO layout Trundlemore. I’d invited a non-railway modelling friend over to participate in the operating session to whom I carefully (and probably condescendingly) explained the operating sequence, the timetable, what a fast clock was and all manner of what to him must have been completely new terms and concepts. When I finally drew breath he asked me the simple question “where’s Trundlemore”? He was referring to the one and only station on the layout! I’d been so caught up explaining the finer points of operating a model railway that I’d completely overlooked the most obvious and simple of details: I’d failed to put a station sign on the platform to identify its location. He dealt with the complications of running trains on the layout with ease but he wasn’t a mind reader. The location of the station was obvious to me but not to a visitor!

There’s actually a very simple reason why I haven’t posted a track diagram of the layout up till now: I didn’t actually have one. Don’t get me wrong, I have plenty of plans of the layout, but not one that accurately reflects the final arrangement of the track and structures as I’m building the layout now. The “final” plan I will post with this text is actually version 5 of the plans I drew for the layout: there would have been dozens of iterations of the plans I developed in addition to the ones that actually got drawn. I’ll also post version 4 to show how the final steps were taken.

Just a note before I start: I draw all my track plans using a terrific little track design program called Trax 3, which comes with a book by the UK author Jeff Geray. The version I use was published in 2011 and you can track it down by googling his name. This program lacks the bells and whistles of the big CAD programs but it lets me do everything I want, it loads in a flash and it has a very gentle learning curve. I don’t doubt I could do a lot more with a more complicated program but the various versions of the Trax program I have used has suited me fine for a good ten years and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Version 4

Version IV

Click on the plan for a larger image

After I decided to post a track plan of my layout I went back and looked at some of the earlier versions of the plan and I suddenly remembered why the layout has some key structures placed in the positions they are and not where they should be if I had been trying to emulate their positions on the real Morpeth. It’s obvious to me that this track plan is nothing like the real Morpeth, but a mistake I made in calculating the amount of modelling space available meant that things are a lot less prototypical than I’d hoped for. Version 4 of the plan includes two elements that were a “must have” for me; the 60′ turntable and a spot for a wharf and a ship model. These two elements meant that everything else was going to be really squeezed but essentially the station, goods shed, engine facilities (coal and water), weighbridge and crane are quite close in their arrangement on the real Morpeth.

The mistake I made in planning was to not take into account a pocket for the lighting rig that would eventually sit at the rear of the backdrop. This simple error led to me having 50mm (2″) less width to play with in the critical area between the backdrop (where the goods shed was to go) and the turntable. There was literally no space to play with in this area so what was originally going to be a building “flat” was now going to be a building “pancake”. In spite of hair pulling, thinking, lots of swearing and a couple of beers I couldn’t come up with a way out of this problem that I found acceptable and this meant I had to swap the position of the loading bank and good shed. This plan is not exactly like Morpeth but all the main structures are essentially in their correct orientation so this small mistake had major consequences for the final look of the layout.

Version 5 (Final)

Morpeth MkII Plan Final

Click on the plan for a larger image

This final plan is the layout as it is being built. Note that the loading bank and the goods shed have swapped positions from version 4 and that there is now an engine shed marked on the layout. This location on the earlier version was left blank. The engine shed was an already completed model from a previous layout that had been sitting in a cupboard for years and I really wanted to fit it somewhere on this layout. I hate to see a good model go to waste, so it now resides on the centre module. The swapping of the goods shed and the loading bank means that I have a layout that is much less prototypical than I’d intended (and was in fact possible) if I’d been a little more careful in the planning stage. There was never really room for the turntable and the engine shed on the far left hand end of the layout and I was pushing it as it was. The 50mm that went missing was simply the final nail in the coffin in that plan. By the time I’d discovered the missing 50mm I’d committed to the module sizes and by that time there was no turning back. If I’d made the discovery a little earlier I may have been able to re-arrange things by stealing a little bit of real estate from one or both of the other modules. The absolute outer dimensions were set by what was available in my trailer, but I probably could have juggled the size of the modules a little and robbed enough width to fit the goods shed into the spot I’d originally allocated. Oh well, you live and learn!

The goods shed and the wharf models are marked, not because they exist, but simply because I’m certain that this is what is going in these spaces. The bridge to the right of these is also a given: in fact I’ve commenced work on the bridge and this is the first model that will appear on this third module. What will be built for the blank spaces either side of the track to the right of the bridge are yet to be settled. The space in front of the track would be a good spot for the Portus Flour Mill, a big stone building that once sat on the banks of the Hunter river, adjacent to the last of Morpeth’s three stations.

This photo shows the approach to the Portus Flour Mill. If this is the building that eventually ends up on the layout it will be the other side that will be visible.

This photo shows the approach to Morpeth rail yard. The Portus Flour Mill is the large industrial structure in the centre of the photo to the left of the track. If this is the building that eventually ends up on the layout the other side of the structure will be the elevation that will be showing in addition to the side facing the river.

The real modelling challenge will be dealing with what is going to go in the corner of the layout to the rear of this mill structure adjacent to the fiddle yard. I want something that will run from the right corner of the goods shed to the far right hand corner of the layout. Looking at this photo provides me with the sort of inspiration I need to start to see what might fit: a long overgrown bank with a motley collection of small, semi-industrial buildings along the top would certainly be in keeping with the overall Morpeth look. This photo also gives you a clue as to why I model my scenes so shaggy and overgrown.

The next step will be completing the bridge model I’m currently working on. I can think about what will go in the gaps while I work on this model and the goods shed.

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