Monday, November 27, 2006

101 reasons for a change?

The book 101 Track Plans for Model Railroaders (Kalmbach, 1956) is deservedly a classic. The designs include a few neat early offerings by John Armstrong and some very skillful illustrations, most by editor/author Linn H. Westcott. 101 Track Plans is a great time capsule of layout design thought from the period. In fact, I believe the only updates since the initial publication are the addition of a paragraph on N scale (which did not exist as a commercial scale at the time the book was written), the inclusion of N scale in the size calculations, and a succession of new cover art.

Of course, there has been some progress in design thought in the last 50 years, and many of the designs in 101 Track Plans suffer when viewed in light of these new ideas. Many of the designs are based on the "Prairie Dog Village" system of scattered access holes for construction, operation, and maintenance. Most people today would find it troublesome to crawl under the benchwork and pop up over and over again. Many, even most, of the designs require built-in-place hand-laid track to fit as drawn, with very tight radii that don't work well with models of prototype equipment built since 1956. And many of the plans have inaccessible areas that would be out-of-reach if built as drawn. Of course, newer design ideas like multi-deck benchwork are absent, as well.

Unfortunately, Linn Westcott's clever renderings make each of the designs look good. Much better, in fact, than they would look if executed in plywood and plaster, in my view. But these plans are offered up to hobby newcomers without any disclaimers or suggestions in the book. And I think that does a bit of a disservice to both the model railroading neophyte and to these classic designs.

I think it would be great if there were a more modern equivalent of 101 Track Plans*. Many of the plans published in Model Railroader and Model Railroad Planning would be good candidates for a new book that explored current layout ideas along with the classics. I think there is still a place for 101 Track Plans, but it should be in the context of the times. Simply re-titling the book "101 Classic Track Plans from the '50s" (or something similar) would help newcomers understand where these designs fit alongside current thinking.

I enjoy reading through my copy of 101 Track Plans for a nostalgic view of the hobby, so I am glad it is still in print. But a bit of context could help newcomers avoid 50-year-old mistakes.

* A year or so after I wrote this blog entry, Kalmbach did indeed come out with a new book/magazine, 102 Realistic Track Plans. You can read my thoughts on 102 Realistic Track Plans here.

Currently listening to: Devlar Surf Sessions on Live 365 . Gotta love that reverb!