Initial Planning


When it comes to planning a layout, a drawing will only take you so far.  Fortunately, with a smaller project a lot can be accomplished in 1:1 scale simply by mocking things up full scale with boxes and loose pieces of track.  The elements can be re-sized and moved around until you get the look that you want and done so without committing the time and effort to actually building models.  The last thing you want is to spend months building something only to find out as things come together that it doesn’t work visually.

The East 38th Street project, by choice, won’t be that large.  I’m looking at an L shaped shelf roughly ten feet by four feet.  It is all to easy to fall to the temptation to go wider and wider with the shelf width in an effort to fit more in.  Once you get beyond eighteen inches, however, you lose that shelf-on-the-wall furniture look.  This isn’t a problem for a typical basement style layout but for this project I want to contain the scope.  All that said, the space I have is the space I have so design starts with fitting the elements to the fixed shelf dimensions not vice versa.

1.  This cluster of structures is the signature element that stamps the layout as being in California and as such will occupy prime real estate.  Since they are in the foreground I’ll need to play around with how far I set the track back so that I can make sure it’s visible and that I can reach it.

2,3, and 4.  Background structures can be tricky because if they are to tall and shallow the point where the structure meets the wall can be visually jarring.  The deeper and shorter the background structure, the less of a problem this is.  Since this is a proto freelance project I can move things around.  I’ll probably replace building 2 with building 3 and experiment with structure(s) 4.  Depending on how much room I have I may include the relatively featureless structure 2 as filler.

5.  This block will be compressed greatly and I’ll need to strike a balance between not doing too much cherry picking of interesting structures vs. maintaining the actual feel of the place.

6.  The major industry is some type of chemical facility.  This will be replaced with something that uses a broader range of car types and spots, probably a bakery.

As the planning comes together, my thoughts will focus on element selection, the depth of the background structures, and photo angles.  By being judicious with my industry selection I should easily have enough operational interest to keep me going for an hour or so, more than enough for a secondary switching layout.


While scale drawings are a necessity, especially for larger layouts, you need to be aware of their limits especially when it comes to how things will look in 3D.  A crucial part of this project will be dimensions A,B, and C.  I want to avoid mission creep and have a streamlined furniture/shelf look which will require that the shelf width A not get too out of control.  Ideally I’d like something in the sixteen to eighteen inch range.  The deeper a backdrop structure is, the less jarring the transition at the point it meets the backdrop.  It’s a trade off so I’ll play with dimension B using mock ups.  The commercial storefronts in the foreground are signature elements but I need to make sure I can see and reach the track over them.  To this end distance C, how far the track is from the fascia, will be important.