Hiding the End of the World

The priorities I had in mind when I designed my layout were these:

  1. Operations
  2. A stage upon which I can photograph my models.
  3. Large enough to create the impression of a large industry.
  4. Small enough that I can build it, given my limited leisure time.
  5. Easily expandable if things go well.

With these priorities in mind, I chose at 12 foot wall next to a crawl space in my basement, and I think things are going well so far. I’m modelling a small, somewhat outdated and specialized paper plant the produces high quality fine papers. But even in 12 feet, I had to give up many parts of the factory, and fudge others, in order to make it work. Part of the fudging involved two long staging tracks that represent the woodchip unloader and a place to unload a number of different liquid raw materials. I put these under the crawl space at one end of the layout.

It was a challenge to deal with making the transition between on-stage and off-stage less obvious. I couldn’t completely conceal the transition, but I’ve placed buildings in such a way as to make it less obvious.

In the photo below, PC 9574 is arriving at the plant and coming on-stage from a staging track that will eventually connect to the modelled portion of North Tonawanda yard. For now, I back trains onto the staging track before an operating session. The building in the foreground was placed to make it difficult to see the hole in the sky where the train comes on scene. The dashed green line shows the bottom of the wall, which doubles as the sky backdrop.

In the foreground of the photo below, the closest track goes to the woodchip unloader, which is completely off-stage. The second track is where tank cars are unloaded. I’ve sketched the outline of a building that I haven’t placed into the scene yet. The idea is that it will help to conceal where these two tracks slip off the edge of the world. At least, that’s the plan.

Foreground building



  1. Transitions into hidden trackage is challenge for any prototype modeller. One of the problems we face is trying to fit a plausible and realistic slice of the world into our limited space, all the while dealing with railroads, which are among the most expansive subjects for modelling one can imagine. Having the track head off into unmodelled or staged track when we run out of space has been our solution for decades, and finding ways to make it fairly inconspicuous has required ingenuity and subterfuge.

    You are somewhat familiar with some of the methods we are using or experimenting with on the Sudbury Division. Maybe once we have more of those places completed we can put together an article on the subject, assuming magazines still exist at that point in the future…



    1. The polar opposite of trying to minimize the transition to/from staging is to simply accept it, stop the scenery, and allow the trains to pass unabashedly between the scenery and staging. I’ve seen that done and it works as well as the front edge of the layout, for better or worse.

      I think an open and undisguised transition can work if there is no “hole in the sky” that the trains pass through. In the case of my layout, the crawl-space causes the backdrop to make a 90 degree turn, which, to some extent mimics a shadow-box effect.

      There are no rules, but if we were to create a set of best practices, I think it would be safe to assert that subterfuge is made necessary whenever a shadow-box effect is deployed.

      Also, I’ve enjoyed the creative process of trying to devise a way to pull this off. I’ll post another photo when I get the foreground building in place.


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