When trying to actually model a particular place, it is often times hard to locate, research, visit, record, document, and finally model a selected scene for your railroad. So below I am offering my system of locating a prototype to model. you can do as I listed, or you can blaze your own trail or follow another person's example. This method simply works for me, so I put it forth in hopes that it helps someone who reads this article. Remember though, the point is to have fun, not to dwell on accuracy:
- I first read, think, and process the idea for a prototype in my head. Of course, I may not know the names of places, or any specific scenes off the top of my head, but I don't really worry about that until later. During research usually yields some features that enhance operations. Sometimes I decide to pursue a specific scene and look for other interesting features around the scene selected. A map of he area would be helpful as well. Let me use and example: I like the Midwest for railways, so I'll simply go with the one closest and most familiar to me, the SOO Line. I also want long trains, as well as locals, so I need a spot with lent of small towns, major industries, and should be located on or near a main line. The Paynesville Subdivision in Minnesota, running from Glenwood, MN southeast to Minneapolis. So now I go on to research the subject in the next step.
- After getting a rough idea about what I want out of a railroad, I the move on to actually researching. This part of the research process is more of probe to see for sure what I want is included in the prototype area. I make out a list of what I want on the railroad. I try to look for about 80% of the things I want, if the number of features is limited greatly, and my checklist. I often use the tool, Google Maps, to follow the line from point A to Point B and try to identify industries. I can also snoop around the industries with the use of the street view. In the example, I followed the line looking for all the points I want to model. Bridges, industries, and towns are some of the things I pay attention to. At most grade crossings, I go to street view on Google Maps to check out the terrain and look for the quality of the track, plus I look at how the buildings line up with the tracks.
- At this point, I can now tell if the prototype is up to my standards. So now I make a file of the towns I want to model and I research. I also try to find online sources of the line's history, or the railroad's history. This allows me to estimate what kind of motive power was used, what types of cars and structures saw service. How busy the line was, or when it was active. In the example, I found that the motive power was fairly up to date with the rest of the area since this was a main line. Cars were lagging a little bit as the Soo Line was conservative with their purchases, buying cars where needed, but going with the policy- "if it aint broke, don't fix it." The line also saw a steady stream of traffic with both locals and through trains headed both directions all day, every day.
- As I research the towns, I begin to make points on what I can realistically model. This is where the old "givens and druthers" by Armstrong comes in handy. Since I am operations oriented, I want more industries and less empty space. However, I also understand the need to have a decent amount of space between towns to convey the idea of distance and set the tone for rural Minnesota. In the example I would finalize what I can use, and narrow down my towns to only what I can have, despite what I might want. Thankfully things like scenic compression, helix's, and scenery dividers give me more bang for the buck space-wise. I might even try to do a serious track plan for my space.
- At this point, my background research has come to a close. If possible, I then travel to the sites I want to model to take pictures and video. Having a blog like this to store notes and pictures can also prove to be a good tool for keeping everything organized. After taking pictures, I can now start modeling knowing that what I have is accurate, realistic, and bound to be fun to run.
Of course, this is just one way to find out about prototypes, and there are endless methods for this topic. However, this is simply what I use. I like it because most of it involves the Iternet and not the car. Some people strive to know the history of a prototype, others try to replicate what they saw or remember but this system that I use gives me the chance to know the history of the line, and to know what is on the prototype in the past and present, from point A to point B. To me personally, knowing what I can about what I model gives the models more life, and more representation than a simple display. How you feel about this topic and what you wish to know and see are completely up to you, and there is no wrong way of doing it. The point really is to sit down and operate your trains! Prototypical or not.