East of the Blue Ridge

Chronicles of an On30 quarry railroad

August 2012

What a Surprise

I began the construction of scenery on my layout confident that the far corner would be the best place to start. There was no need to fit anything in particular in the space. The Masonite profile for the back of the scenery dictated that a high, steep hill would fill the coved corner. That would give me a chance to learn how I would build hills and cast rock outcroppings, try various ground covers, tree building techniques, and determine how I would model water.

As the steep hillside in the corner transitioned into the adjoining scenes on either side, I assumed certain elements were going to fit in certain configurations. In my mind’s eye it was obvious.

But, as I went about actually measuring and plotting the positions of these elements, the only thing that was obvious was that my ability to previsualise in three dimensional space is terrible.

For years I had looked at the benchwork upon which this series of scenes would rest, and pictured a progression of elevations above and below track level. In my not-to-scale sketches, it all fit nicely together. But when I got serious about taking measurements, figuring slopes, fitting structures and roads, it became clear that there was not room to do what I had assumed could be done. As this realization settled in, I found it somewhat frightening. How could I have been so blind? Would any of the scenery and structures on the layout actually work out the way I thought they would?

I felt like I was under some pressure to have well designed scenery for several reasons. First, the area I am modeling has beautiful scenery and I want to do it justice. Secondly, up to this point I feel the construction of the layout has been quite successful, and I don’t want to blow it now. I don’t think scenery has the power to “save” a layout that has suffered poor design and construction up to that point. But I know poorly designed and executed scenery can bring down the perceived quality of the layout a great deal.

Besides these reasons, I have enjoyed visiting web sites and saved published articles featuring layouts with excellent scenery design and execution ever since I switched scales. The majority of these layouts are European. I have found British and Dutch narrow gauge modeling in particular to be inspirational and the scenery standards very high. I want my layout to bring to mind the modeling of
Rudy Heise or John and Jenny Mason.

But now I wonder if I am even capable of working at that level. My initial attempts at revising the impossible scenes were not any more possible. Revising became a slow process of rethinking and sticking strictly to scale.

Three separate scenes became two, with fewer elements but a little more drama and depth. I am hoping I pick up the skill of accurate previsualisation very quickly.