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DESIGNING AN EXHIBITION LAYOUT

High in the valleys of a snow capped mountain range in Southern Oregon grow some of the best stands of yellow pine to be found. To harvest this timber, the McPhee Logging Company has laid itís 3 foot gauge slim rails. The track winds around tight curves and steep grades, often with the grade high up on rock shelves, where men using blasting powder and raw muscle had wrestled with nature to open this up wilderness to logging. 

Early on a bright spring day, the companies Shay and Climax locomotives begin their daily struggle to bring this yellow bounty down from the cutting areas high in the valley down to the companies saw mill. The companyís railcar can also be heard down by the engine shed warming itís motor in readiness to carry a new team of timber cutters and haulers up to the logging camps. All is ready for the start of another typical day on the McPhee Logging Company's railroad.

 

1. THE LAYOUT CONCEPT 

Before picking up a hammer and the first piece of timber, an exhibition layout has to be carefully designed and planned. They canít be just thrown together and hoped for the best. After all these layouts are to be viewed by the general public who have paid an entrance fee to see it, and we want to present our hobby in itís best possible light. 

Where do we start? First I set down what I want to achieve with this layout and the concept that has inspired it. As well a list the various options and things that I want to include in the layout is worth having. It can be referred to as the design process takes shape, because it is easy to get side tracked with the pencil and ruler in hand. However, be prepared to modify these as the constraints of transporting, setting up and running the layout start to take shape. 

The concept behind the McPhee Logging Company can be seen in the opening of this article. I have tried to set the scene and the atmosphere that I want the layout to have when viewers of the layout see it. I also want them to get a feel for the logging process that was used a century ago. Have I achieved this aim with this layout? Only the viewer can answer that question. 

This is the first constraint on our layout design Ė what we want to achieve.

2. TRANSPORTING THE LAYOUT 

It doesnít matter how good the layout is, if you canít transport it to and from an exhibition, it is only a modular home layout. Even if you do not intend to display the layout, it is a good idea to design and build it in manageable sized pieces just in case you have to move house at some stage. 

In my case I have a layout carrying trailer with a weatherproof metal box, whose internal dimensions are 1120 mm wide by 750 mm high and 2070 mm long. All of the layout, lights, back scenes and the layout stand must fit into this box. 

This is the second design constraint.

3. THE MODELS 

We usually have locomotives and rolling stock from a previous layout or that we have been collecting or that we have always wanted. I have several locomotives, including a brass Climax, that were used on my previous logging layout, THE BIG SKY LUMBER COMPANY, and I had always wanted a small Shay locomotive. While these types of locomotives will negotiate tight, steep curves, there is a limit to the minimum radius and the maximum grade they will travel on. For these locomotives I have found that the minimum radius is 550 mm and the maximum grade on these curves to be 3.5%.

 We now have our third design constraint.

4. VIEWING THE LAYOUT 

What height do we display our trains and models at? This always provokes a healthy debate, with probably no one being right or wrong. I have always worked on the theory that the bigger the scale of the models, the closer to eye level they should be displayed at. At the top of the scale, I consider that Ĺ inch (G scale) should be displayed at just below eye level for the average adult (about 1.4 meters) so as the fine detail can be seen and we get a feel of being right up close to the trains. In contrast to this, ĎNí scale is more suited to expansive vistas where we see the whole train moving through the scenery. Itís like being on a hill and looking down into the valley and seeing the train. This viewing height should be a ccomfortable angle for an average adult to look at from about 4 feet away. This normally averages out at about 0.8 meters above the floor. The other major scales lie in between these two, with ĎHoí at about 1.0 meters and ĎOí scale at about 1.2 meters. 

We now have our fourth constraint.

5. LIGHTING THE LAYOUT

This is probably one of the most important and often most neglected considerations when designing an exhibition or home layout. The correct type and positioning of layout lighting can really enhance the look and feel of the layout. In the theatre, lighting the stage is considered one of the most important aspects of the experience. 

I try to use the layout lighting to highlight important areas or mini-scenes on the layout. To do this the lights need to be reasonable close to the area they are lighting, as well as between the viewer and this area. The viewer should not see these lights or have them glaring into their eyes. The use of lights, the correct height of the lighting valance and the layout fascia and curtains all combine to focus the viewers attention onto the layout and the models it contains. Thus the height of the valance is also critical in the overall design. The height of the bottom of the lighting valance should also not be in the way when you have to lean in to work on the layout or de-rail some rolling stock. This height is the same for all scales, with the exception of ĎGí scale where it will be a bit higher. I work with an underneath height of the valance on my layouts of 1.7 meters (the height of an average adult) which seems to be a good compromise.

Thatís the fifth design constraint.

6. PUTTING THIS ALL TOGETHER 

Seems like there are a lot of constraints, especially when you add the smaller ones like the height of our trains, the size of the structures we want to use and the size of things like trees, etc. Well, at least itís a challenge!  And no one said it would be easy.