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Thursday, January 16, 2014

Top 10 Micro-layout Mistakes

Although this hobby is not built around one "correct" way to build a model railroad, there are plenty of errors which may affect the enjoyment of a layout.  Most of us know enough not to put track in hard to reach places, to leave enough room to walk around, exc...  We all learn these basic rules either before, during or after our first layout, depend on how much thought is put into the planning process.  However, there are some guidelines which aren't so obvious or stated enough.

One group or 'camp' in the modeling community is the micro train layout community.  These modelers take pride in building small layouts, usually below 24 square feet down to as little as a square foot or so.  These layouts offer several advantages over 4x8's and larger layouts.

Micro layouts are:

  • Simpler to build
  • Faster to build
  • Cheaper to construct
  • Take up very little space
  • Require less rolling stock and motive power
  • Great learning tools
  • Capable of being expanded
  • Known for being very unique
  • Portable
  • Great train show displays
However micro layouts have their own set of guidelines and practices to avoid.  Below is a list of the top ten things which make a layout more enjoyable and easier to operate:

  1. Avoid running with the train.  We've all done it at one time or another at a show, but some layouts need a person to be in front, in back and even to the side of the layout in order to operate.  Larger layouts typically have a middle section that is open so operators can monitor their trains without blocking the view of the layout.  Other layouts have the operator seated to the side of the display and monitors the operation of the train.  Still others operate their layout from the front.  Few are designed in a manner that requires the operator to run the train from multiple places.  However micro layouts, as small as they are, are often designed with a need for the operator to be in front, behind and sometimes off to the side of the layout; in other words too much movement.  Below is a good example; the fiddle track is in the back while the switches are in the front.  Without a control panel and/or the ability to reach those turnouts, the layout could be a pain to operate.  It is much better to be able to sit in one place and operate the layout comfortably.  Not only is it easier on the operator, but also is easier for the audience to focus on the detail of the layout.
  2. Manual turnouts are bad at a show.  While perfectly fine for a home layout, manually operated turnouts ruin the effect of the train layout because you have to stick your hand into the display to flip the turnout.  That said, if going to a train show, use remote turnouts.
  3. Keep it Simple.  The KISS principal is perhaps the advice a modeler could use.  A micro layout does not have to be complicated to be fascinating.  A few turnouts and one or two key industries that need to have certain cars in certain places is not only easier to operate, but surprisingly fun and simple.  Below are some perfect examples of layouts which are easy and simple to operate.
  4. Leave some elbow room.  A train layout not only should be easy and simple, but also very believable.  While at the drawing board a track plan with many turnouts, a lot of track, and all in a small space leaves minimal room for buildings and scenery.  At home the train will look great if it is surrounded by landscape and buildings, at a train show the majority of the people not interested in the trains will gaze in awe at the craftsmanship of buildings and the natural flow of the modeled landscape.  Even myself enjoy looking a great scene or an excellently modeled building much more than the most detailed of rolling stock.
  5. Details, details, details.  Perhaps the most boring layout to have is one where a train runs through a scene that vaguely looks like a town or a forest.  What is needed are details.  In the streets; cars, people, trash, litter and pets should be seen.  While out in the country; animals, dead trees and the occasional person will complete the scene.  On a farm, people expect to see cows, horses sheep, pigs, chickens and a host of other livestock right down to the ducks on the pond.  Not only will the layout look better at home, but also the layout will appeal more to the masses while at a show.
  6. Lights are great.  I'll bet anything that even the most well lit rooms in a home still aren't good enough for great modeling.  Therefore, even the smallest layout should have some system of lighting which gives the models a natural look complete with shadows that are noticeable, but not too dark.  If taking pictures, such as for a blog like your's truly, lights help with pictures immensely. 
  7. Add sound, smoke and layout lights.  A layout that has puffing, steaming, hissing locomotives draws attention.  While not every locomotive needs to have sound and smoke, one or two (or as many as you plan to operate during an open house or a show) will be good enough to keep people interested in the layout.  Lights I believe are a must for structures and for trains, especially at night.
  8. Good enough to operate in the dark.  A layout that is reliable during a nighttime session will be reliable at any other time; so that is the goal a modeler should work towards for operation.  When a train can be operated with nothing but overhead black lights, and lit operating panels; then the layout is equipped well enough to operate in the daytime.
  9. Animation domination.  The more things move on the layout, the more attention it gets.  Fair rides, Circuses, buses, trams, and sometimes even boats and planes will attract attention and make for a very fun layout both for the public and for the individual.  On a micro layout this is especially important because unlike the huge modular displays, micro layouts are more prone to being past by, so attention is needed.  This also applies to #7 and #10.
  10. Advertise.  A sign that declares the name of the layout, town represented, modular group, or whatever will be noticed at a show and will give the layout a sense of completeness and professionalism.  Even at home, the banner could be hung just as the team flags are displayed at every high school gym.  If nothing else, a sign lets people identify the layout.

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