Saturday, January 9, 2010

What Makes a Town "Not Work"?

It's short, shameful confession time again. I play favorites on my layout; there's specific towns I like that get more attention, and there's other towns that... don't get that attention. I just don't like all my towns.

Does that make me a bad layout owner?

Campbell's always been one of my favorite towns. It's small - maybe 8 feet long from end to end. It's kind of dark because the upper deck is too close, but it's spread out, with space behind the tracks for scenery, and a large shelf in front of town where the Campbell station will go. It's also got a fair amount of switching--two canneries on the far side of the track that require cars to be spotted at specific doors, and a couple of smaller sidings on the near side of the tracks to keep trains out of the way. The switching at the canneries isn't particularly complex, but there's always some work to be done here. There's a big passing siding, so trains usually keep it in mind as a place to get out of the way of other trains. It's also got a main street that's three storefronts long, and I've been having fun building each storefront on each side of the street: the real estate office, the Spanish Revival bakery made from a milled Plexiglas face, the weird "Cricut scrapbook cutter" building, a grocery built from a cheap plastic kit, and the eventual home of the Campbell movie theater in the old bank.

Not the most exciting of towns, but it's an interesting setting. More importantly, it's felt like a success story. I've been able to build interesting buildings, reproduce prototype tracks, build a realistic scene, and do all that while making it an active and important place on the layout. That's what makes Campbell work.

On the other side of the aisle is beautiful Los Gatos. It's again got a passing siding, it's got a cannery, it has space for some interesting buildings such as the side view of the Bank of America building. It's a much more constrained town though, with open staging in front of it, and a backdrop right behind it hiding the helix and the ramp up to Alma. On the positive side, it's a destination - trains from San Jose turn around here, flipping the engine around on the nearby wye at Vasona Junction. It's also a necessary passing siding so trains can wait for others coming down the hill.

Los Gatos gets none of the love, though. It's unsceniced, on a narrow shelf with few options for scenery. And it's been that way ever since I first thought of the layout. Los Gatos was always sort of a compromise, a town crammed into too tight a space, added because I needed a destination but didn't have room to do it justice.

I suppose the idea of "liking" and "not liking" different projects in a hobby is universal. A painter might like how this painting turned out but not that one. A gardener may prefer some area of the garden. We're humans, we have opinions, we'll have better or worse experiences.

But is there any way to change that? Was Los Gatos an unsatisfying town from the first time I drew it on a plan, or did it get that way because I wasn't sure what to do with it? Is it always going to be unsatisfying, or is there something I can do to make it less so?

If it's really an unsuitable location, then maybe the answer is there's no h0pe, and I should put my effort elsewhere. I can leave it as an afterthought, and half-heartedly finish the details I planned. I could also decide that there's something wrong with Los Gatos as planned, and try some changes to the design that'll make it more appealing.

If there's just something wrong with my the design, maybe I should I get rid of the town completely, and just add a country scene extending from Vasona Junction? Or are there industrial areas in Los Gatos - the oil distributor at Farley Ave. or businesses along University Ave. - that would be more interesting? Do I keep the passing siding, or sacrifice it in order to make a more attractive scene?

Maybe I just need to rethink it and get positive - try building some great building flats that will get me inspired, or try some alternatives for scenery?

So do you have any towns on your model railroad layout that are the ugly ducklings? How have you gotten a town out of its unloved state?

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