After visiting his spectacular train layout recently, I invited Ron Hoess to write a guest blog describing his project. After his text and images, I’ll add a few images of my own showing some of the wonderful small-scale details he has added to his project. Ron’s project is an example of the value of a deep dive into historical research and also an attention to provocative details.
In 2014 I decided to tear down my old train layout, by then a couple of decades old, and start over again. What I envisioned for my new layout was to construct something referred to as a prototype layout, meaning the depiction of not only a particular railroad but also a specific time and place. Hopefully for the viewer it should be like taking a time machine back to some destination point, albeit in miniature.
For the layout I chose a short stretch of the Pennsylvania Railroad in North Philadelphia circa 1958. The location symbolizes much of what Philadelphia once was, a great industrial metropolis that had certainly earned the label “workshop of the world.” A notable feature was the integration of factories within neighborhoods, undoubtedly a remnant of when workers lived within walking distance to their jobs. While the deindustrialization of the city was well underway by 1958, much of industrial infrastructure was still intact.
To develop an accurate picture for the viewer two components are required. First, a detailed knowledge of the area is necessary. For instance, where were the factories located and what did the buildings that housed them look like? What did the adjoining neighborhoods look like? All of this takes detective work and visiting various archival repositories. Second, the accurate depiction requires all the buildings be scratchbuilt. Commercial kits are too often generic and unlikely to represent an exact building in a specific location, thus failing to meet the accuracy required for the project. Scratchbuilding also allows one to more readily capture the architectural elements unique to Philadelphia. Obviously this is a time consuming process and, as the 5 year mark approaches, probably about half the structures have been constructed.
When I visited Ron’s layout, I noticed these wonderful details that added both interest and realism to the scene.