"The lure of the full-size railway is what in the first place draws many people to the model railway hobby. It is at this intangible level of the emotions that the railway makes its strongest appeal, although the technological and historical aspects are undeniably full of interest." (Terry Allen, Encyclopedia of Model Railways, 1979)

There are many ways and many channels through which the incentive spark for railway modelling may catch on; here are some sources of inspiration which had an impact on Pecan Street in specific as well as on my railway modelling in general.

 

WESTWARD HO!


 
Like many others, I was introduced to the hobby as a young child through an oval of track laid out on the living room floor, and a train whizzing around, backwards and forwards. Those trains were either Tri-ang OO models based on British prototypes or Lima HO continental European models.

And like many others, my interest in model trains gave way during my teenage years to other things. The impetus to get back into the hobby as a twen was in no small way triggered by a display of a few HO American models in a local model shop's window. Neither the locomotive type (GP40) nor the railroad company (Cotton Belt) meant anything to me at the time, but I liked the look and feel of it enough to buy one - and get back into model trains.

While the model shop has been gone for a good thirty years now, I still have that Atlas GP40. Back in 1984 the running qualities of this flywheel equipped locomotive were head and shoulders above the average European model specifications, which was slightly ironic since this GP40 was made for Atlas by Roco in Austria.

 

 
 

MODEL TRAINS WITH A PURPOSE


 
 

Even when I got back into the hobby, an oval of double track and a few sidings seemed to be what model trains were all about (albeit now run on a sheet of plywood).

Terry Allen's Encyclopedia of Model Railways (Octopus, 1979) changed all that, by making me realize that you could actually run model trains with a purpose. It was the first time I read about waybills and how North American modellers ran freight trains in a way that emulated the real thing. I also discovered that an end-to-end layout could be a consuming challenge if you actually followed British railway prototype practice. It was nothing short of a revelation, and it totally changed my perspective on railway modelling.

A book was, of course, a typical information channel of the 1980s and early 1990s, before the advent of the internet and social media. Today, inspirational input on how to not just model railways but do it in a way that provides sustained entertainment can be found in enormous numbers and in generally high quality. Websites, online videos, social media groups and many more provide almost endless ideas and encouragement, and no matter if you're a beginner or a seasoned modeller, there's bound to be something out there that will kickstart your creative thoughts.

 
 

FROM SMALL LAYOUTS TO MICRO LAYOUTS


 
One thing the "Encyclopedia of Model Railways" didn't change was the idea that you needed one of those sprawling and grandiose layouts the modelling press was (and often still is) championing in order to have fun. It wasn't until the arrival of the world wide web in the early 1990s that I gradually discovered alternatives in the form of small layouts focused on operation: John Allen's Timesaver, Alan Wright's Inglenook Sidings, or Scot Osterweil's Highland Terminal. They all provided inspiring templates and introduced me to the shelf-style "small layout equals great fun" formula.
 

  But there was something even smaller than small - the minimal space "micro layout".

Its champion was Carl Arendt who, having built his first micro layout in 1966, launched a highly influential website in 2002 which ultimately became the definitive take on tiny layouts.

"Micro layouts are small model railroads, usually less than three or four square feet in area, that nonetheless have a clear purpose and excellent operating capability." (Carl Arendt)

Arendt (who also published three books on the subject matter) passed away in 2011, but his website continues to be accessible.

 
Another highly influential source of inspiration for small and tiny layouts was Chris Ellis, who self-published the bi-monthly Model Trains International magazine from 1996 to 2015 for a total of 118 issues. I would regularly browse Carl Arendt's website and had a long-standing subscription to MTI throughout the mid- to late 2000s, but for the longest time micro layouts were more of an interesting curiosity to me than a template which I would want to use for my personal layout. As is so often the case, the right circumstances had to emerge.

When I replaced my 2004 Little Bazeley 00 scale shunting puzzle in 2021 with its Mk2 version, I remained without a layout for my small collection of HO scale US locos and freight cars. I was, it seems, in layout planning and building mode, and found myself contemplating the possibility of having a second, American style switching layout.

 
 
But being, at least for the moment, without a dedicated space to permanently set up a layout (let alone two), a second layout would need to have a very small footprint. And that's when I remembered a specific type of micro layout.
 
 

THE "TUNING FORK" LAYOUT


 
Working within the micro layout framework, Chris Ellis (himself a prolific designer, builder and operator of such small layouts) first introduced what he called a "tuning fork layout" as an "ultra simple multi-mode switching plan" in Model Trains International #45 in March 2003.
 

 
The concept as such is much older, but Ellis was the first to pin it down and give it a name that stuck.

"A very small layout indeed, not much more than a diorama (...) just 4 ft long and 4.5 in. wide; I call it the "Tuning Fork", because that's what the track layout looks like - a Hornby Y point in the middle giving two parallel tracks or sidings (...) This doesn't sound like much but in practice it is immense fun, very quick and easy to set up, totally portable, light and quick to build." (Chris Ellis, The Hornby Book of Model Railways, 2nd edition, 2009)

 
I was inclined to believe Ellis, since another prolific author, Lane Mindheim, arrived at the same conclusion (and pretty much track layout), albeit coming from a completely different angle of approach (his "one turnout layout" is primarily rooted in the greatly simplified track layouts of contemporary US railroads). So whereas Ellis saw the "tuning fork" as an escape hatch for the space-starved modeller, Mindheim perceived a realistic track pattern for prototypical operation in an achievable format:

"A layout that [...] is within the reach of any hobbyist, is inexpensive, and only has one turnout [...] can be both highly plausible and fulfilling to operate."

 
  Mindheim's concept of how to design, build and operate a realistic (modern) switching layout is highlighted in four books he published between 2009 and 2011, but quite unlike Ellis, he is rather generous with the actual space allocated (notwithstanding the occasional reference to a "tiny footprint"). Which makes sense, since Mindheim's "one turnout layout" is concerned with maximising prototypically correct operation, not minimising the layout's size.

I wasn't therefore going to follow any of Mindheim's layout ideas per se, but combining his operations-based approach (which I tend to call "modern minimalist") with Ellis's space-saving concept provided me with the inspiration to incorporate a little bit of both of these sets of modelling ideas.

It also reminded me of the late great John Allen, whose advice was to "start small and build well, plan for operation and build with care, and you will be amazed at how much fun a small pike can be".

 
 

BOXCARS


 
Every modeller has their prototype favourites. When it comes to North American railroads, I find that I pretty much like any kind of locomotives, old or modern.
 
However, when it comes to rolling stock, I have a real soft spot for boxcars.

They are, as the Union Pacific points out on its website, "one of the most iconic pieces of railroad equipment and certainly the most recognizable".

But there's more to boxcars than just that.

Together with the paint schemes used on locomotives, they are also the single most colourful element of North American railroading, even if they come in the classic "boxcar bauxite/brown" (since these days they are inevitably covered in graffiti).

Of course boxcars have been pronounced by many to be on the way out, and their numbers have certainly dwindled in the face of intermodal traffic.

But boxcars are still around (mostly within mixed freights, but on rarer occasions you can also find modern power still pulling an entire string of almost nothing but boxcars), and some experts even see a future for them.

In terms of modelling inspiration, having a preference for boxcars is of course a perfect fit with most switching layouts, since these commonly use boxcars as a major type of rolling stock - so a "tuning fork" layout would provide me with the perfect excuse to build up and run a nice collection of boxcars.

 



North Carolina Transportation Museum, Spencer NC, 13 April 2022



Markham VA, 18 November 2019
(click image to view short video of a string of boxcars)

 
 

WHAT'S IN A NAME?


 
Where do layouts get their names from? Usually there is at least some degree of personal connection present in choosing what you are going to call your creation.
 
  So why Pecan Street?

There actually is a Pecan Street located in Abingdon Va, and not only does it run up to a level crossing, it also intersects with Railroad Street. What more of a hint (or, in this case, sign) do you need?

The name has a nice ring to it, and since Abingdon Va is one of my favourite places in the US (and still has Norfolk Southern trains running through it), it sort of stuck with me right from the planning stage.

 
 
 

THE PROTOTYPE SPARK


 
With inspirational sparks both decades old and recently acquired, a vague idea slowly began to take shape and started morphing into a project. Now I was curious to see if there could also be a "prototype spark" - what did railroad locations with just a single turnout look like in the real world, and was there enough visual and operational appeal?
 
My first discovery really shouldn't come as a surprise - railroads in the United States aren't the only ones who rationalised their operations and simplified their track layouts over time.

Colnbrook Rail Terminal, located on the western edge of London, England, receives jet fuel which is then transported onwards to Heathrow Airport by pipeline. It was originally part of a railway line that closed in 1966, and the remnants of that line now form the oil terminal.

It is evident at first glance that Colnbrook is most one of the closest prototype example along the lines of Chris Ellis's "tuning fork" layout concept you'll find anywhere in the real world. In this view, taken in May 2021, Class 60 054 has cleared the switch after a shunting move.

 



J. Foulger photo
(
licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License)

 



Green Mountain RR, GP9 #1850, Smithview VT, 1991

George Melvin photo, Adrian Wymann collection



Springfield Terminal, SW9 #1424, Winslow Me, 1992
Adrian Wymann collection

  The prototype locations in the US featuring a single switch and two tracks illustrated here are but a sampling - there must be thousands of them. Not all of them are "true" tuning fork track layouts like Colnbrook; often one of the tracks continues on as a through line. However, these vignettes do convey an idea of what a layout could look like in terms of atmosphere.

A bit of research into this type of track configuration in the real world quickly showed just how diverse the settings can be, ranging from switching across a street to just two tracks in what seems like the middle of nowhere, surrounded by nothing but trees - and pretty much all and anything in between.



Boston & Maine, GP9 #1804, unknown location, 1983
Adrian Wymann collection

 
Applying these findings to a model layout with just one switch meant that there was an enormous scope of different types of settings and overall atmosphere to choose from - yet another point very much in favour of the simple "tuning fork" layout.
 
 

THE "FOR LATER" BOX(ES)


 
I assume every modeller has them - one or (more likely) more boxes full of kits and items that were bought at a point in time in the past for a layout or a module or a project that, at least so far, has not materialized.
 
In my case, I had a stack of various items that had been aquired over time for a US prototype switching layout based on an industrial park.

Plans had been drawn up, and even a few tentative first steps undertaken, but things never progressed too far because, quite simply, I lacked the space I felt was needed.

Of course, it was very convenient to have all those items stashed away and thus ready at hand when the inspirational flash for Pecan Street hit. But perhaps most importantly, putting together this micro layout also meant that at least some of those items stored "for later" actually got put to use.

Using mostly what I already had then became a major drive in making Pecan Street happen.

 
 

 
 

 


Text, prototype and model pictures are (c) 2022-2023 Adrian Wymann.

 

page created 11 March 2022
last updated 21 January 2023