David Lotz updated June 18, 2012

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  • Restricted Space Industries

    On the author's Dixon, Wyanet & Lake Superior, this industry at the town of Wyanet occupies only about six inches of space between the main line and the wall. By using staggered building walls, siding tracks entering the structure and half-relief construction, the impression of a much larger complex is created. Even without a finished backdrop, the scene looks complete because of the careful attention to structure placement and visual lines of sight.
    Prototype Modeler - December 1986 - Page 7 width=

    Some illusion and imagination help use valuable layout real estate

    by John Swanson photography by the author

       The concept of using building flats against the wall is well known and used frequently. However, there are times when the desire to create a major industry cannot be realized in the available space by using just building flats. Yet, the space is still there, something more than just an inch between track and wall. If the space available is just six inches deep, a major industry can be constructed that will generate the desired level of traffic and appear to be a large complex. In addition, I've always had a mental block about supposed major industries in a three-inch by five-inch space. To me, this reinforces the concept of model railroad rather than something which helps create the railroad model.

       Industrial building flats are most effective in a "large city" scene. In such a scene, there usually are enough three dimensional foreground buildings to help the illusion of the shallow flats (usually one inch or so deep). At an online small town, while the "downtown" buildings can be quite convincing as flats, an industry comprised of flats will lose some of its effectiveness. To really be a contributing part of the small town scene, the industry should be deep enough to have a feeling of three dimensions. This also allows some roof clutter to be shown to a far greater degree than that allowed by a building flat. All of this adds to the overall "feel" of the town.

       Another subtle part of the industry is the arrangement of the trackage serving it. The building flat allows little more than parallel track(s) along the front of the building. This again is no problem in a city scene-there is so much in such a scene to distract the eye that the simplicity is an asset. In the small town the industry would usually be the main employer and is an important part of the town's economy. An interesting trackage arrangement will add to the character of the industry. Note that I said an interesting trackage arrangement, not a model railroad switching puzzle. The railroad company has to pay the crew working that industry and wants the train over the road, not dying for time working a switching puzzle.

    Prototype Modeler - December 1986 - Page 8 width=

       There are two other techniques to help create the illusion of a large industry in a restricted space. One is the use of trackage actually entering the factory buildings, and the other is the concept of "buildings in front of buildings." The trackage inside the buildings idea is a straightforward design consideration. The "buildings" technique is one of those which utilizes the easily-fooled human eye. For example, assume you have a building flat against the wall and another free standing building which together are a "complete" industry. The space in front of the flat can be only three inches wide (room for one track), but it will look much deeper because the eye sees the industry as a whole and tells your mind it is a large complex. A little depth also allows you to have some variation in wall angles, steps in the walls and variations in roof height without a sawtooth effect. These visual "aids" also help to create a believable industry.

       The problem of limited space where I wanted a major industry came up at the towns of Wyanet and Midway on my layout. At Wyanet, I wanted to create the impression of an agricultural facility that was once in the town where I grew up. At Midway, I wanted one of the canning companies that were once very common around the Midwest. For these towns to be believable, the industries, although large, should not totally dominate the area. If you take a serious look at most industries, they will be no more than a point of focus in a prototype scene. Only huge facilities, such as steel mills, will overwhelm a scene.

       The space at both my industry locations (running parallel with the track)was a total of about six or so cars. If I used a building flat, one or two car lengths would be lost because of a power house which would be part of each industry. Even if I used two tracks, only ten loading "spots" maximum would be available. This is fine, but the real problem is that using a flat with two loading tracks creates a rather "toneless" scene. The following descriptions show how I solved both situations.

    During construction of Hayes Industries (the industry also seen on page 7) the visual effect of the siding entering the building is already apparent in the photo above. The overhead wall above the siding and the "interior" walls are made of brick sheeting. In the lower photo, the full width of Hayes Industries can be appreciated despite its mere inches of depth. From this angle, the structure is obviously not a "flat," and only one's imagination limits how deep it appears.
    Prototype Modeler - December 1986 - Page 9 width=

       At Wyanet, I wanted Hayes Industries to look as though tracks went right into the plant. This vastly increased the apparent size of an industry to the eye without actually using more space - if it is handled right (from past experience, I knew for sure how to handle it wrong).

       Hayes Industries is kitbashed from the AHM Delta House/undertaker/stores/fire house/etc. kit. This kit is also offered by Model Power. The walls leading to the "interior" of the plant were made from brick sheet as was the overhead walkway between the buildings. The boiler house is the single story addition to the AHM Grusom Casket Co., with the roof from a LifeLike Like Mt. Vernon Mfg. kit. I can't re member the origin of the stack, and the coal shed is a building I built back in my high school days. By the way, if you intend to use it for industry bashes, the AHM Delta House or townhouse version of the kit is best because their front walls are not storefronts and thus can be used as other factory walls.

       The drawing shows the arrangement of the sidings and buildings. The trackage serving the industry is not complicated but is set up to add visual interest (it makes switching a bit more fun, too). The crossing permits a good angle for the track entering the structure without requiring a switch in the middle of the loading track. The stepped wall at the right rear of the main plant takes space already occupied visually by the boiler house. Doing this enables a couple more cars to be spotted on the interior track with out having to increase the overall physical size of the industry.

       Cannova Canning at Midway was a different approach. A large number of canning companies shipped their product in refrigerator cars. The canned goods did not need to be kept cold, but exposure to freezing temperatures or having the interior of the car getting hot while sitting in a yard were not acceptable. I had built the main Cannova building for my previous layout. The structure was appealing and served its purpose. When the present layout was constructed, I found the location of Cannova required the addition of a second building to convincingly portray a large canning company.

    The author built Cannova Canning by using two separate structures. The rear building, seen alone in the top photo, is the plant itself. It "extends" beyond the area of sight. The front building is the shipping warehouse, surrounded by sidings. See the diagrams for the exact arrangement of structures and track for both industries discussed in this article.
    Prototype Modeler - December 1986 - Page 10 width=

       Like that of Hayes Industries, the available space had about six inches of depth. The original Cannova building would also hide most of the new structure, and because of this, the new building was made of leftover walls from Superior Bakery and Grusom Casket kits I had in the parts supply. You see, I have a mental block about spending hobby dollars where they won't do any good. The hobby dollar is usually last on the disposable income list, behind items like housing, food and other irritations. This "creative use of time and material" approach (it sounds better than saying I'm cheap) worked very well. The Superior Bakery walls were the right height and provided a nice visual contrast to the original structure. The Grusom walls served simply as place keepers behind the original structure, and since the bottom of these walls would never be seen, I supported them with pieces of scrap styrene (leftovers cut from walls, bases, roofs, etc.).

       With the main building in place as the shipping warehouse, the rear buildings become the plant itself. Like most canning companies, Cannova receives tinplate, labels, cartons and other packaging material and makes its own cans. The drawing shows the final arrangement at Cannova.

       The next time you contemplate an industry, consider the total space available. By combining flats, staggered buildings and "interior" or "into the plant" trackage, you may be able to get a lot more industry for your space.

    Article Details

    • Original Author John Swanson
    • Source Prototype Modeler
    • Publication Date December 1986

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7 comments
  • Graham Stokes and mike allred like this
  • Adam Peszel
    Adam Peszel This is a common practice in steel mill modeling. Many mill buildings hundreds of feet long and make perfect viewblocks. A couple tracks heading in with/for loads and tons of details on the side. I believe a member on this list has done something similar.
    June 20, 2012
  • Adam Peszel
    Adam Peszel Here is a link for some great steel models like this: http://www.trainweb.org/ddminingsteel/SteelDivision.html
    June 20, 2012
  • Darrin Godwin
    Darrin Godwin This is a great article David. Most of us battle with small or tight spaces. Thanks for the post.
    July 1, 2012
  • David Lotz
    David Lotz Graham, Matt, Adam and Darrin - thanks for the positive comments! I'm glad you enjoyed the article.
    July 2, 2012