1:220 - Seaboard Modules - Inspiration
It is, of course, the real trains and railway systems of this world which inspire people to want to recreate them in model form. However, there are many ways and many channels through which the incentive spark may catch on. Here are some sources of inspiration which had an impact on me.




Although not the first Z Scale layout to tickle my modelling mind, David K. Smith's James River Branch provided an inspirational boost second to none.

After dabbling a bit in Z during the 1990s and early 2000s I had to all intents and purposes turned my back on the scale, but when I stumbled across David K. Smith's Z Scale layout James River Branch whilst idly browsing the web in late 2011 I was completely fascinated not only by his superb modelling efforts but also by the approach (you might even say philosophy) to modelling in Z Scale which he formulated. In a flash, my interest in North American Z scale modelling was not only rekindled, but well and truly fired up.

I had left North American Z scale when the mainstream option was running an F7A (the one and only available plastic injection model at the time) on Märklin track (which was a chore to ballast and never looked really right), so I was also struck by the availability of ready-ballasted sectional track from both Micro-Trains and a newcomer in the field at the time, Rokuhan from Japan. The range of affordable plastic injection motive power available had also gone up considerably since I had last followed the scene.


(c) David K. Smith

When I discovered the James River Branch and its dedicated website in late 2011 the layout had already been five years in the making. I was so taken by the simplicity of its trackplan and the complexity of its visuals and how it all came together that I felt this to be the almost perfect layout concept for me. If imitation is indeed the highest form of flattery, as 19th century English author Charles Caleb Colton thought it was, then my subsequent trackplan doodling was nothing else but paying the highest respects to David K. Smith and his layout. In the end my planning diverged, turning it into an urban setting double track layout which ultimately never got built - but it was the James River Branch which set the wheels in motion again for me as far as Z Scale modelling is concerned.

Sadly enough, the layout was destroyed in a shipping mishap in May 2012, and only a few months later David K. Smith felt he had to end his modelling efforts in Z Scale for what I understood to be health reasons. When the companion website (which had documented construction of the layout in great detail) went offline sometime in 2013 a great source of modelling inspiration disappeared from the web. Thankfully most of the content can still be accessed through the Internet Archive. Through his layout and his approach to modelling David K. Smith made me get back into Z Scale and stick with it. His efforts are miles above what I will ever be capable of doing (such as scale handlaid track) but that never bothered me for a second - what stuck and what inspired was the realization that one of the prime qualities of Z is, quite simply, the ability to have a lot of creative fun thanks to its reduced size.



It must have been sometime around 1992 when my interest in North American model railroading definitely crossed over into wanting to learn and know more about the actual prototype. And in those pre-internet days the standard (and often only) way to get information on a specific subject was to simply buy a book.
I didn't kow it at the time of course, but the two books I had discovered in a catalogue and was about to order would prove to be - definitive.

The book that had first caught my eye was The Train-Watcher's Guide to North American Railroads - no title could have been more fitting to correspond precisely to what I was looking for. I wouldn't know the author anyway as a newcomer to the field, but he was credited as "LIBRARIAN Trains MAGAZINE", and at least that rang a bell. But then this book proved to be a content driven affair anyway, and as such I have regularly picked it up and perused it - as its slightly battered condition, seen in the scan, bears witness of.

Strangely enough, for a work of reference data, it's a book that's very easy to pick up (not the least thanks to its handy format) but extremely hard to put down: The Guide has provided me with countless hours of reading fun, just like the best of crime novels. As the years went by, however, The Train-Watcher's Guide increasingly took second place to the other book I had bought at the same time, and which initially had caught my interest to a lesser degree. Maybe it's because the Train-Watcher's Guide became increasingly outdated (the 3rd printing I have was opublished in 1991), but maybe I also gradually became aware of just how much of a treasure trove The Historical Guide to North American Railroads is.

Whilst you could get lost for hours in the Train-Watcher's Guide, you could easily spend entire days perusing the Historical Guide. After more than twenty years, it is still hands down the book on North American railroads that I take down from the shelf most often - and regularly, as the many dog ears prove conclusively.

Somewhere in time I started to take note more and more of the man who compiled and wrote these books, and the name George H. Drury began to stuck with me as I kept re-reading the biographical information given under the heading of "ABOUT THE AUTHOR". And over the years, that picture of a man wearing glasses and a tie became an integral part of The Train-Watcher's Guide to North American Railroads and The Historical Guide to North American Railroads. And the keyboard he is seen using, well, that just got more and more amusing as it showed how quickly state of the art technology becomes a museum piece.

One might think that just as that keyboard shows signs of a long gone time, the internet may well have rendered both of George H. Drury's Guides cumbersome and obsolete. Nothing could be further from the truth.

And it's all due to the author and how he chose to arrange and present the information contained in both Guides.

Here's an example page showing the entry for the Louisiana & North West Railroad, taken from the Train-Watcher's Guide to North American Railroads. Incidentally, this railroad still exists, but even if the content may have become utterly out of date since it was compiled in April 1983, you'll be hard pressed to find a portrait of similar clarity and comprehensive nature.

The formula was a winner: text (concise but to the point), map, tabled data, picture.

The result was all you needed to know almost at a glance. None of the pages of both Guides feels cramped, yet you always come away with enough information to satisfy an initial interest. If you wanted more, further reading was generally suggested and indicated. It certainly was a winning formula, but someone had to come up with it, and that someone was George H. Drury.

It took me a few years to come to truly appreciate this. Today, both The Train-Watcher's Guide to North American Railroads and The Historical Guide to North American Railroads are books I simply keep on browsing and reading again and again. You'd think I'd know them by heart now, and some pages I probably do, but there's always something new to be found or rediscovered. A newly developed interest in the Norfolk & Western or the Seaboard Air Line? No problem. George H. Drury will instantly provide sufficient information to put you in the picture - along with, in my case, lots of modelling inspiration.

With every additional time I thumb through these books, I value the work of George H. Drury more. On his website, which he had used to promote the seemingly many railtours he organized and railfan guides he'd written, he called Switzerland "a theme park for the railfan". Born and raised in that theme park, I owe my sustained interest in North American railroads, both contemporary and historical - and much of the fun modelling them - to a large degree to George H. Drury and his two Guides.

Sadly, he passed away on 21 June 2013. I am not quite sure how familiar the name is to rail enthusiasts today; his Guides have now long been out of print, but both new and used copies are still available through various book stores (Kalmbach published a 3rd edition in 2014 of The Historical Guide to North American Railroads which effectively combines this with The Train-Watcher's Guide to North American Railroads - the result is a fine book, using Drury's concept and most of his maps whilst adding some colour and updated information, but the enlarged (now coffee table book size) format somehow loses much of the original appeal).

Another book which I keep coming back to again and again and which many times has sparked the thought of "I'd like to model this" is Tom Nelligan's Bluebirds & Minutemen - Boston & Maine: 1974-1984.

  Published in 1989 it is essentially a portrayal of the Boston & Maine RR between 1974 and 1985 (which was two years after the B&M was purchased by Guilford Corporation) and thus highlights a period which was largely dominated by the so-called "bluebird" paint scheme - which basically was an all-over coat of blue paint with varying degrees of simplification with regard to logos, branding and numbers (Tom Nelligan provides a brief but excellent recap himself online, cf. The Boston & Maine on the Eve of Guilford).

Certainly not the most captivating way to paint your motive power, it nevertheless grew on me every time I was reading and browsing Bluebirds & Minutemen - which says a lot about the atmospheric qualities of the photographs as they are entirely rendered in black and white with only a very few exceptions reproduced in colour.

Just like Drury's two Guides, Nelligan's Bluebirds & Minutemen is a book that gets thumbed through a lot, simply because it transports the unique qualities which railroads have so well and provides those sparks of inspiration without fail, again and again.
Model railroading already had a noticeable presence on the internet when I began to surf it around 1994, and today websites really are the primary source of information (as with any other topic). Most often, however, it is the accumulated content of numerous websites which provides inspiration - such as doing a picture search for e.g. "Z Scale layouts".

Individual websites do this to a far lesser degree, but one important exception to the rule was David K. Smith's James River Branch website, already mentioned above. Initially dedicated to documenting the concept and progress of the layout, it ultimately grew to be a hub of information - and inspiration - on Z Scale modelling.


  Apart from specific modelling "clinics" which came with a lot of friendly and sound advice, the website also provided a number of trackplans which DKS had adapted to Z Scale, complete with parts lists for Märklin, Micro-Track and Rokuhan. Beautifully rendered and enhanced with a portrayal of their respective main characteristics and layout building challenges and rewards, they were in themselves a treasure trove of inspiration.  
It was only later that I realized that I share another interest with the man who single-handedly brought me back into Z Scale: the 1960s British TV series The Avengers, for which David K. Smith had also assembled a formidable website from 1996 to 2008.
Whilst all the aforementioned layouts, books and websites inspired me to want to plan and build and run a Z Scale US prototype layout, it was seeing the actual trains in 1:1 scale trackside which defined the "how".

Watching CSX trains blast through Wildwood FL completely changed my perspective on what a Z Scale layout could - and in my case should - look like.


Previously focused on minimum space continuous run layouts which also incorporated some amount of switching, the trackside experience at Wildwood made me reconsider this format. It struck me that Z Scale was ideal to replicate precisely what I was seeing here - trains speeding by or trundling by or awaiting their turn to get back on their way from A to B. Continuous running yes, but in a more linear orientation - just like the yard layout at Wildwood. The ideas of "modular" and "not necessarily permanently set up" followed almost by way of sheer logic - inspired by the James River Branch's philosophy to make the smallness of Z Scale work in your favour.
  Wildwood is a great place to be trackside, with trains passing through regularly both day and night. The town is situated less than an hour's drive from Orlando towards the Northern end of Florida's Turnpike; US 301 northwards takes you into town and right alongside the yard, where a small parking lot is conveniently located.

Just remember to stay within bounds - trains are frequent and usually pretty fast, too.

Amongst the numerous other souces of inspiration pictures would seem to rank high in a natural way - frozen in one moment of time, the atmosphere of real trains is sometimes so concentrated that one picture alone captures it all. Naturally (as with all sources of inspiration, no matter what the subject) personal tastes prevail, but to me Wiley Bryan's shot of Seaboard E7 #3019 with the Silver Meteor starting its trip to Florida out of Richmond VA in a flurry of snow on January 9th 1966 is a perfect example of a photograph depicting a scene simply crying out to be modelled. It also serves as a good example to show that sometimes it takes only very few elements to create a railroad vignette - in this case, the heavy blanket of East Coast snow maximizes the focus on the train.  

Wiley Bryan (ATW collection)

  Inspiration can also come from the model: it can be a scene, a track setup - many things, in any scale.

In my case, American Z Line's December 2015 release of their GP38-2 model in the paint scheme of shortline giant Genesee & Wyoming pushed another inspirational button, and loco #3101 made me look to the territory and operations of today's Buffalo & Pittsburgh Railroad and inspired the setting of one of the two 180o loop modules.





page created 30 November 2014
page updated 04 February 2016