76 How to design a layout
He’s a newcomer to railway modelling, but MIKE HARRIS has some very specific and demanding objectives for his first layout. Can layout planning guru PAUL A. LUNN help turn his vision into a reality?
Mike Harris attends one of Paul A. Lunn’s design clinics, in a bid to transfer the vision in his head into a workable track plan.
The Model Rail team consists of some of the most respected members of the hobby. And then there’s me. When it comes to railway modelling, I’m a complete novice. Now that’s not to say I’m entirely clueless - I cut my modelling teeth building plastic kits and painting wargaming miniatures. But building a model railway is very different to military modelling or wargaming, and I stumble at the first hurdle. Why? Because I’m struggling with the most important stage of all: the track plan. I’m not short of inspiration - my head is full of layout ideas. But how I transform those ideas into a cohesive, workable plan is a huge challenge. I’m faced with a multitude of questions that, to a beginner, can seem entirely overwhelming: What gauge should I model? What stock should I use? How can I fit everything I want onto my baseboard? So, before my excitement at earning my railway modelling stripes turns to disaster and disappointment, I’m calling for backup, in the form of Model Rail’s very own Paul A. Lunn.
Sitting down with Paul at his home, he asked me to identify anything that I deemed non-negotiable, before proceeding with an open mind. I had two stipulations: the layout had to be military-based and set during the Second World War, and both the fiddleyard and the scenic section had to fit on my 4ft by 2ft baseboard. With that established, Paul did something extraordinary - he let me talk and talk (and talk). We spoke about why the Second World War fascinates me, what themes I would enjoy modelling, and what sort of layout I would build if I had unlimited space or resources. This wasn’t idle chit-chat - not that I was aware of it at the time. Paul was allowing me to think freely; he was gathering information without putting me on the spot. While I’d been rambling, Paul had been sketching several plans. Focusing on each plan individually, we then cobbled together three rough but entirely workable track plans. The first was an ‘N’ gauge layout, inspired by the Longmoor Military Railway. The small scale would allow the baseboard to accommodate a complete circuit; something that would certainly appeal to those focusing on operation. The second was a ‘OO’ gauge layout, representing a military hospital theme. The baseboard still provides ample room for track, allowing for plenty of shunting potential - thanks to the addition of several cleverly placed cassette fiddleyards. The third and final idea was an interpretation of the layout I had in mind: a forced perspective layout, incorporating a 1:43 scale (‘O’ gauge) foreground and a 1:76 scale (‘OO’ gauge) railway in the background ambitious, but not impossible! In little over an hour, Paul had made rough drawings of all three layouts. Happy that we’d discussed all of the necessary details, I left Paul to turn his sketches into fully fledged track plans.
One of the first things Paul will ask you during a design clinic is to describe the room that will house your layout. This might seem a little curious, but it’s actually very important. Take my single-bedroom flat, for example. Space is precious and my layout will sit flush in a corner. As such, I can only access the layout from the front or right-hand side. The right-hand side is easily accessible and does not encroach on a walkway. From this information, Paul is able to consider the addition of cassettes and possible future baseboard expansions (should you want that).
EYE IN THE SKY
Choosing from Paul’s brilliant bird’s eye view track plans wasn’t as hard as you might think. In fact, I’d already chosen it during the design clinic itself; as we fleshed out the first two designs, Paul said: “I think your enthusiasm is elsewhere.” And he was right. Track plan number three represents my layout of choice, and it occupied more of our time, which is why Paul’s summary is slightly more fleshed out. However, the other two track plans have still been included because they were important steps towards settling on the right design. And besides, a ‘OO’ gauge First World War hospital complex, or ‘N’ gauge LMR inspired loop might just tickle your fancy - in which case, I’d love to hear about it! So, without further ado, let’s hear Paul’s take on the layout options.
I’M NOT SHORT OF INSPIRATION - MY HEAD IS FULL OF LAYOUT IDEAS. BUT HOW I TRANSFORM THOSE IDEAS INTO A COHESIVE, WORKABLE PLAN IS A HUGE CHALLENGE