I am delighted to present the first part of Paul Stapleton's article on the construction of his new Chinese HO layout. In part 1 he discusses the philosophy behind his choice of layout and the decisions he made before the board was cut!
I have always thought that the most important issue with a new layout is the philosophy behind it. That probably sounds a bit pompous and pretentious, but that's just me I guess!
What are the issues?
1. What satisfies me/the group?
Doing something different; in fact doing something no-one else has ever done. Currently this means a large Chinese HO layout, but in the past I have done American O (1980s), American On30 (1980s) and American On3 with dramatic sound and lighting effects (1990s) - all concepts that had not been attempted as exhibition layouts before as far as I know. I lose interest once things become commonplace.
2. What is my/our budget?
Luckily, I have a large budget to spend on this layout and as its my personal layout I can spend money without needing to consult anyone else.
3. What space do I/we have at our disposal?
As its an exhibition layout, why restrict the size of the layout to size of space you have available to build it in? Except for testing I have really no interest in operating/running the layout and so I am building a 26ft x 10ft layout in a shed with internal dimensions of 12ft 6ins x 7ft 6ins (the biggest shed I could fit within our present garden). When I get around to testing I will hire a church hall conveniently located exactly opposite my back garden gates. Yes, that will cost me money, but a lot less than moving to a bigger house with a bigger shed!
4. How much time can I/we devote to the project?
I work on the layout EVERY day. On the days (4) when I work I do at least two hours, sometimes four hours, depending on shift times. On days off I try to do eight hours, I have reduced my days from five to four to make more time for modelling.
5. What skills do I/we have?
Skills? I have no great skill, just determination to do the best to my limited ability. Luckily I have some friends with skill who are helping where they can with specifics like DCC and route selection.
6. One (usually unasked) question which becomes more and more relevant as we get older is 'how long have I/we got?'
How long have I got? Well, I'm 62 and if I want to get this on the exhibition circuit in my lifetime I need to pull out all the stops - no time to dawdle!
If we are building a home layout then issues 1-6 are all we need to consider.
If, on the other hand, I/we plan to take the layout to exhibitions then other issues are important.
7. What is our target audience? i) Fellow enthusiasts of our niche interest
ii) Generic railway modeller?
iii) The general public
The specialist niche audience is so small as to be irrelevant. The general railway modeller? Hopefully things will be interesting enough to be attractive to this market. The general public? Am including some populist gimmicks that will, hopefully, keep the GP happy.
8. What is the layouts USP? Why would an exhibition manager want my/our layout as opposed to some other?
The layout will feature passenger trains of 12/13 coaches and freights of up to 40 bogie cars - what's not to like? And there will be banking on the steelworks branch!! Trains will be eleven coal cars with one 2-8-2 , they will enter the banking station and TWO more 2-8-2's will be put on the back. Train leaves, eventually the two bankers will drift back in. Eleven cars, you ask, with three 2-8-2's! Yes, eleven cars with three 2-8-2's ..... I have the photos and videos to prove that it's perfectly prototypical!! A Chinese layout with long trains and banking - how many of those are there?
9. Is the layout financially viable as a exhibition layout, or will I/we have to subsidise its exhibition outings?
I am reconciled to the fact that the layout may be too expensive for some shows and that I will have to subsidise it, but as I don't/can't operate it at home exhibitions will be my only opportunity to run/operate it ... and spending a few hundred here and there at odd times is cheaper than spending £200,000 buying a bigger house with a bigger shed!
I am sure that Paul would welcome some help with this mammoth project!