That long-awaited model railroad update: finally a progress report!

As the estimable Barry Popik observes, “A model railroad [is] never finished. There is always something to add or to remove or to modify.”

So I can’t simply postpone this report until my model railroad is finished!

But “I’ve been workin’ on the railroad!” There has been one good thing about the pandemic: I have had plenty of time to work on the model. At this point I’m only 42% done—probably an overestimate, but it’s such a good number—so I’ll share with you some photos of four selected neighborhoods.

But first, as you may know, some model railroads are prototypical, meaning that they closely model a compressed version of a real railroad at a particular time and place. At the other extreme are freelance ones, which are limited only by the modeler’s imagination. Mine is somewhere in between, starting a dozen years ago near the prototypical end and now being closer to freelance. It does, however, have a particular date and place: September 2, 1969, in the Boston area. (Why that date? Because it was the day I started my first teaching job.) My fictional city is called Rose City, indirectly inspired by the neighboring city of Newton, known everywhere as the Garden City. (“Why,” you ask, “is Newton called the Garden City?” Because there’s a rose in bloom around every corner. Get it? You have to say it out loud.) In theory everything should be consistent with my chosen date and location.

We’ll start with the neighborhood known as Center City, since that’s the part I built first—about 12 years ago, in fact. It was originally intended to represent Harvard Square and environs, but that idea didn’t last. Here are a couple of shots of the current incarnation. Zoom in on either or both to see details:

Center City is only one of the nine official neighborhoods of Rose City. Here’s the full list, with a very brief comment about each. Neighborhoods 2, 3, 6, 8, and 9 are too incomplete at this point for me to show:

  1. Center City (the first neighborhood that I built)
  2. Commerce Way (high-end commercial zone)
  3. Newtown (with the oldest buildings, of course)
  4. PowerTown (industrial zone)
  5. The ’Burbs (informal name of a lower-middle class suburban district)
  6. Pine Village (mostly leisure activities, almost a rural feel)
  7. Orchard Heights (originally orchards but now a pricey residential area)
  8. College Town (just what it say)
  9. Main Street (another commercial zone, mostly low-end)

Before I go on, I should point out that this is a scale model, not a toy train set! Everything is precisely 1:87 (HO) scale, thus appealing to any geometry teacher’s heart. Actually, the word “precisely” isn’t precisely accurate. Every model railroad requires what is called selective compression: distances have to be shortened, streets can’t be as wide as they would be IRL, trees can’t be as tall as scale would dictate, neighborhoods have to be compressed to a small fraction of their scale size. And of course there is another problem with scale models:

Now three photos of the current state of PowerTown, plus a fourth showing a little bit of the commercial stretch of The ’Burbs, still insufficiently scenicked [I hate that word!] and otherwise incomplete:

By this point you need a map, to show you what’s where:

Finally, two glimpses of Orchard Heights (seven inches above the rest of the layout, or 51 feet IRL). It is pretty much only barely started, but at least it’s further along than some of the other neighborhoods not shown here:

What’s left to do? Too much to list here, but some neighborhoods need more structures (most of which I will build from kits or by kitbashing), they all need more landscaping, trackage needs to be finished, so do the roads, signs and signals have to be installed, a lot more of the little people need to be placed appropriately, buildings and trains need weathering, water features have to be located here and there and filled with fake water, and it all of course needs to be wired for lighting and electricity. Gulp.

I’m sure I’ve left out several tasks, so I guess I have to reduce my initial estimate of 42% complete. How about half that?


Categories: Model Railroading