A "San Juan Central" for Pacific Narrow Gauge Prototypes
With Blackstone Model's "Diamond Stack" freelance 2-8-0 on the horizon, it seems that having a small HOn3 narrow gauge layout which doesn't feature a Colorado prototype is becoming much more approachable for the average modeller. Looking back, the canonical entry point for HOn3 railroads was easily Malcom Furlow's San Juan Central. But even for it's time it was rife with issues: sharp curves, steep grades, and a poorly designed yard (Montrose). Layout design has changed some since then, so I've been thinking about this lately -- what would the SJC look like if it was designed by today's standards and targeted a more pacific west narrow gauge prototype?
The original SJC was around 90 ft.² and was designed to be movable (movable here being different than portable). Both of these seem like good attributes to keep around, though if the track radius were to be brought up to a modern standard, the layout size might be more in the area of 140 to 150 ft.² which potentially seems permissible. For reference, the average bedroom is around 99 ft.² and the average single car garage 264 ft.² A likely more relevant figure would be how many ft.² a single model railroad can complete in a given year but I've never seen any real discussion of this and it probably varies too widely based on the individual anyways.
Possible prototypes for such a layout include: North Pacific Coast Railway, Ilwaco Railway & Navigation Co., Columbia & Puget Sound, or the Nevada County Narrow Gauge. With traffic possibilities being some mix of passenger, general freight, coal, logs, cut lumber, fish/seafood, sheet/cattle, some type of agriculture (cranberries for example). Imagine a smaller, HOn3 version of something like Paul Scoles' Pelican Bay Railway & Navigation Co., Boone Morisson's North Coast Narrow Gauge (MR March 2001), or even Vic Dowd's Lorigan Lumber Co. (MR July 98).
What many will agree to that fundamentally sets the SJC apart was it's use of vertical scenery; and from what I hear from those who completed the layout, it looked a lot better than it ran. This importance of vertical scenery could meet the prototypes above in the form of waterfront or very tall trees.
The two tricky bits seem to be that of every free/protolance railroad: 1.) How to identify which signature scenes are important and 2.) How to compress those into a reasonable amount of space which still keeps the "feel" of the prototype(s)? A third and somewhat intangible objective is woven into the middle of those two: tie all of the pieces together into a layout which has impact and drama (excitement).
This post is more or less thinking out loud, but the biggest difficulty I seem to be at right now is keeping things small. It's easier in one sense to make a huge layout that's nice. It seems like it's pulling teeth to make a small one that is.
So, what is the canonical, "small" narrow gauge layout of the past 10 years? Is there a new standard for small narrow gauge layouts that railroaders should be looking at to move up from the beginner's layout? What really makes a small layout stand-out?
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