Saturday, July 25, 2009

Model Making Notebooks

Making models with the Cricut cutter isn't working so well. I'm halfway through another model of the glass block building in Campbell I mentioned last time, but I'm not completely sure that the cutter's helping me build any faster. On top of that, I just cut out another facade for the building that ended up at the wrong scale and too small, so I'm not in a good mood. It also turns out the software I'm using is having some issues with curves.

So let's get away from all those topics that might get me cranky, and talk about planning.

Building a large model railroad requires planning and making decisions long before you actually start building a particular scene. One common story describes how John Allen, an early model builder, laid wires for model house lighting in his basement's concrete ten years before he ever needed those wires. Different modelers have different ways of remembering those details: folders full of wiring diagrams, binders packed with historical photos, large track plans and maps pinned on the walls, etc.

In my own case, I keep a set of notebooks where I record progress and scribble occasional ideas, and I had some track plans describing what I wanted to build, but otherwise I keep most of my plan in my head. Occasionally, that causes a problem when I don't remember why I wired things in some specific way, but I've been doing ok with minimal designs.

For my historical modeling, I was most worried about matching historical scenes, and knowing where to look when I needed to see a picture of a particular area or read about the location. I occasionally scribbled maps in my notebook, but I couldn't always find them easy, and they were never precise. A couple years ago, I bought another notebook just for keeping track of such historical details. I sketched out a map of each town or scene, then went through all the books and photos I've got and marked the vantage point where each photo was taken.

These were great when I was trying to understand an area. Where was the telephone shack at Vasona Junction? I'd look at all my photos, make some conclusions about how they were related, and then draw my map and make sure all my assumptions agreed.

They were also useful after I figured an area out. When I started putting in the finished scenery at Wrights (at the top of Los Gatos Canyon), I remembered I'd seen photos of a car parked next to the station, but couldn't figure out how the car got to the station - it would have had to cross the tracks multiple times, and I didn't remember if there was a road from the station area to the road bridge. I flipped open my notebook, checked out all the photos pointing in the right directions, and noticed that there was an interesting fence protecting passengers on the platform from falling down a slope to a road below. It looked like the road dipped under the railroad tracks as they crossed Los Gatos Creek!

I never actually found photos showing the road dipping under the tracks, but the idea made sense, and I looked pretty much everywhere I could and found no better sources. I ended up tearing out a bunch of my nice scenery so I could route the road under the trestle. The great thing is that the road routing looks reasonable, and is a much more interesting scene than I'd been planning, either without a road or with the road just sitting on the same shelf as the railroad tracks. Again, trying to model a specific prototype gave me a much more interesting model than I would have imagined doing!

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