Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Some Dude Built His Own Version of a Model Railroader Project Railroad and It's Awesome

The NYC/PC Hitop Branch layout, courtesy of Steve Campbell.
Wait'll you see the close ups!
A link to Steve Campbell's NYC/PC Hitop Branch Model Railroad turned up in the Model Railroad Hobbyist community blog one recent morning.

What caught my eye was the MRH blog headline, "Originally MR's "The Virginian " build"--I always wonder about the lives of track plans and project railroads from the big model railroad magazines.

Naturally, I clicked through and was treated to Steve's inspired rendition of Model Railroader's Virginian 4x8 project layout from several years ago.

Steve kept the Virginian track plan but changed the prototype and the era to a New York Central branch during the Penn Central transition era. Click through the links to see excellent vignettes of beautifully weathered rolling stock against a backdrop of convincing scenery and structures. The overall effect is an improvement on MR's Virginian, and a rare example of a state-of-the-art small layout. The result is some truly inspirational and exciting model railroading.

If I sound a little overexcited about the Hitop, it's only because awesome small layouts seem to get so little attention in the mainstream model railroad press. There are a lot of ways to do model railroading, but sometimes the big magazines make it seem like prototype-focused basement-sized empires and large operating sessions by schedules and train orders are the only, normal way to be in the hobby.

The conspiratorially minded among us make a compelling argument that big, sprawling layout stories with their attendant gigantic rolling stock fleets, miles of track, and complex arrays of DCC and sound gear and overpriced switch machines are favored by model railroad magazine advertisers (Tom Barbelet lays it out in this Modeler's Life interview), and that's why little shelf layouts and 4x8s don't get more attention. To be fair, I think there is an element of self selection in the mix as well--serious model railroaders probably do tend to build bigger layouts. But Barbelet is on to something: it's kind of hard to believe that the magazines can find a couple of dozen or so room- or basement-sized layouts per year for feature stories, but only a few story-worthy shelf layouts or 4x8s.

(The 4x8 project layout I've always wanted to see is Wingate, Indiana as featured in "Small-town railroading, Midwest style" in the first ever MR's Model Railroad Planning annual back in 1995. Staging behind a backdrop, and a modest bit of switching of 50's-era light industry. I'd like to see it built up, populated with state of the art modeling, and then watch an operating session)

Anyway, I'm delighted to have come across Steve Campbell and the Hitop. I'm looking forward to seeing more of his work and hope my small layout can eventually capture a look, a time, and a place as well as his Hitop Branch.