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Layout Design Elements

Updated: Feb 25


The above photo was taken from a different perspective from any of my previous photos of the Georgia Northeastern Railroad locomotive service facility in Tate, Georgia. For this photo I wanted to replicate a prototype photo I took of the facility so I placed the camera on the layout and used a line of trees placed in a scrap piece of foam to provide a backdrop and screen out the isle. It took several attempts to get everything just right, but I think it turned out pretty close to replicating the prototype photo below.

For those model railroaders that want to model a prototype railroad, how do you decide what to include on your layout? As with most things in life, compromises will have to be made. Very few model railroaders have the room to exactly model a prototype mile for mile. Noted author Tony Koester has coined the term, Layout Design Elements (LDEs) for modeling a visually and operational recognizable part of a prototype railroad. In Tony’s latest book, Time-Saving Techniques for Building Model Railroads from Kalmbach Media, Tony states about LDEs, “The basic idea is that we can choose the best candidates from among many found along a division of a given railroad, string them end-to-end in geographically order connected by segments of main line, and be reasonably certain that the resulting track plan will look and operate like its prototype.”

My Georgia Northeastern model railroad is proto-freelanced, that is it is based on the Georgia Northeastern Railroad (GNRR) but is not an exact copy of the track arrangement or includes all the industries served by the prototype. The idea was to capture the “flavor” of the geographical area and replicate the operations as close as possible, but not build a mile for mile replica. Most of my structures are kitbashed to represent the prototype structures. By painting them similar colors and capturing the key details of the prototype structures or facilities, most visitors to my layout that are familiar with the prototype believe they are exact copies of the prototype structures even though they are not.

One of the key LDEs scenes on my layout is the GNRR locomotive facility in Tate, Georgia. In the numerous photos of the prototype facility a few things instantaneously stood out. The most visible element is the unique sand tower. I knew that if I wanted to closely model the facility I had to include this feature. This involved scratch building the sand tower based on photographs and rough measurements I took at the facility. I also arranged the fuel pump and fuel storage tanks in a similar location to the prototype. The building is a metal two bay service structure that was easily modeled using a Pikestuff two bay engine house. I added a side office area to the original structure with extra Pikestuff siding pieces to more closely replicate the prototype structure. Once all the elements came together, I ended up with a reasonably close model of the prototype facility.

In the prototype photo above, you’ll notice a few differences between the prototype and model. The prototype service facility is slightly taller than the model and has an entry door between the two roll up doors. The track arrangement is also different, but I did keep the main elements at the facility in the same locations. The biggest difference is that on my layout the facility faces north, while on the prototype it faces south. Many visitors do not even notice the different direction as the rest of the facility looks “correct”.

For those that desire to model a prototype, look for features that immediately place the railroad in time and location. If you spend the time to focus on these details the payoff will be when visitors immediately recognize the area you are modeling, even if it is not 100% accurate.


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