Photos by the author
I am a "boomer"...and at 54 years of age I can readily recall the names and creative processes of E.L. Moore, Linn Westcott, Malcolm Furlow, Whit Towers, Earl Smallshaw, John Allen...and too many more to mention. The specific events and details are just shadows in my mind, but these names, along with countless others, are as important to what model railroading was back then as it is to what model railroading is today...and will continue to be in the future.
Its true, different modelers helped to define different eras of our hobby. While stalwarts like Earl Smallshaw have endured 50 years of writing and creative expertise, others are known for more specific deeds. The late 80s were in large part defined by Malcolm Furlow, while fellows such as Bill Schopp and Linn Westcott dominated the 60s. But what about the subject of our story, George Sellios?
Its hard to put a real handle or timeframe on the work that George has done or his impact on the hobby. I was first introduced to his work in the early 1990s. I had never heard of Fine Scale Miniatures (Georges small manufacturing enterprise), and would be shaken to discover what was happening on a secondfloor loft in the small town of Peabody in New England.
So many photos have been taken, and with a book, two video tapes (and one more on the way), countless articles, and an almost cult-like following, photographing and re-examining the Franklin & South Manchester would be both a project I aspired to...and dreaded. How to do justice to one of the worlds finest model railroad layouts ever to exist would prove to be a challenge Id not likely have the chance to encounter again.
The methods used in the building of the F&SM might well take up all the space in this publication, so I'm just going to stay with some of the questions I found myself asking George on my last visit. While we can only skim the surface, there is still a lot we can share through his efforts.
Anyone familiar with the Fine Scale Miniature product line is aware that George has always cast his own windows and doors, and many of the scratchbuilt structures on the layout have used similar components. That has recently changed, and although structures are almost entirely wood-based, Grandt Line castings have replaced the metal castings of earlier days. Many of the streets are made from Trains of Texas brick wall sections, laid flat, and weathered to simulate cobblestone. A careful look at many of the structures will reveal awnings... these are simple cardstock creations that George uses to add some relief to otherwise flat-sided structures.
While the tried and true method of lifting individual boards from clapboard siding still prevails, it seems that George is more comfortable with chalks and paints than with an airbrush...he personally doesn't use one! Every structure is now internally lit; its not really noticeable under normal room lighting conditions, but apparently this has been an ongoing project for quite some time.
The smoke plumes that lie along the rear skyboard are cotton and carefully placed to disguise any seams in the commercially printed sky backdrop. There are also many photos, scaled to size, that George has taken and mounted onto the skyboard as well...there is so much going on in the scenes that they just blend in and become a part of the visual fabric.
While most of us have gotten used to sanding down the backs of paper signs to make them snug onto the sides of structures, George has taken it one step further. When I asked him why some of the signs are almost invisible he informed me that hes been using ads from newspaper print as well, and the super thin paper stock follows building contours so tightly that they all but actually become part of the structure!
The newer area of the layout uses trees constructed from wooden dowels and caspia branches. George gets flustered when he discusses these trees...while they look terrific, he can only build about ten per day. He is not used to working at this pace, and it takes a lot of trees to fill a layout!
One of Georges unique abilities is blending a diorama into an existing scene. Two of his recent Jewel Series structures (from FSM) make the point...tearing up older (and beautifully done) areas is something many of us might be squeamish with but, unless you're very familiar with the F&SM, you'd never be aware that things had ever changed from its inception. By using consistent techniques for ground cover and land contouring, the addition of various dioramas on the layout is accomplished with minimal problems.
Since Georges modeling depicts the New England region, one would expect to see many rock outcroppings. Typically these areas are built using castings made of plaster or Hydrocal. George deviated from commonly used practices and took advantage of urethane rock castings. The reason? His preference stems from the concern of having excess weight on his layout since it is located on the second floor of an older woodframe structure. George is able to paint and weather the castings to make them resemble prototypical New England rock. Not only are the castings light in weight, but they are a neat alternative to traditional methods as well.
When it comes to small seaport towns, the F&SM's Port Russell is one of the finest. From the terrific lighthouse (actually built by Paul Saulenas), down to Capt. Franks Seafood Cafe, this area screams New England seacoast!
One of the most difficult things to accomplish on a layout is realistic water, but with unending patience, layer-upon-layer of Envirotex and a critical eye, George has captured both the coloring and movement of an ocean scene... complete with whitecaps and waves.
More mirrors have been hidden than you might imagine. Once in a great while you can spot one, but not that you'd catch your reflection in it. Lately George has removed several of his large billboards on the older section of the layout and replaced them with some of the new lasercut offerings on the market. Figures, street trash, and even some vehicles have also been shifted around to the new part of the layout to help simplify scenes that he now concedes may have been a bit overdone.
While the F&SM is considered by many to be more of a giant diorama than an operating layout, nothing could be farther from the truth. George, like many of us, is reserving the operation part of the hobby for the completed layout. With flawless trackwork and DCC already installed, the actual trackplan of the F&SM lends itself heartily to big time railroading operation. Unfortunately, the F&SM has been somewhat typecast by many of us who aren't fully aware of its operating potential, a point which George emphasizes in person, but publications seem to gloss over.
With so much photographic documentation to study, Georges vision of his hobby can readily be likened to a Dickens novel, with all the color, fantasy, and even reality neatly staged and crafted with the hands of a master. Hence... it is time to end the banter.
On a final note... the photos appearing in this article were all taken in the newer area of the layout. Because there is so much to see, we will feature even more photos of the Franklin & South Manchester in next months issue. George has gone through a metamorphosis of style, from the rooflines to the nature of his tiny vignetted scenes. Ive always found it more insightful to visually isolate scenic elements and view the finished results as a series of well composed concepts. Id recommend the approach to anyone truly interested in understanding the artistry of George Sellios.