As mentioned in the preceding chapter, the structures on a garden railway are the props with which the actor must interact. It is important not to clutter up the set with props.

A few buildings are necessary, however, to suggest the possibility of inhabitants—after all, it is only the train that is animated. Certainly a station must be present, in front of which the train must stop to accept and discharge passengers. A signal box or switchman’s shanty is also a possibility, as are other railway-related structures.

A town, per se, is often not a desirable thing. This is primarily due to the space limitations that most of us suffer. A town—even a small one—would dominate a railway, just as a full size town dominates a full size railroad. But in the garden, the train is the star, and the town must play second fiddle.

A town can be suggested in an area near the track. Just a few buildings are necessary to create the impression of townness. A general store, a garage, perhaps a house or two, are all that is really necessary. However, their placement is critical. They cannot be randomly thrown down or they’ll look like Dorothy’s farm after the tornado. They must be arranged in such a way as to suggest that there is more of the town elsewhere. There should be order to the town fragment, a hint of a plan. Much of this can be worked out on paper but, in the final analysis, you may just have to bring out the buildings and place them in the ground. Study the effect, figure out which ones don’t look right, and move them around again. Do this as many times as is necessary.

You may get a little numb moving buildings around all afternoon. If this happens, take a rest. A few hours indoors, or even a few days away from the railway will let you see it with fresh eyes when you return. When you spy your village for the first time after an interval away, trust your gut feelings, your first impressions. Ask yourself, “Am I looking at a living community, or just a bunch of toy buildings thrown around?” Of course plantings will help the town come alive; more on this anon.

Much of what was said about materials and painting of the trains applies to the buildings as well. Brighter colors can be used, as people are accustomed to seeing brightly colored houses. Bright colors can lend a vibrant look to your towns, whereas subdued, muted, or heavily weathered colors can make a town dull and depressing. We have too many dull and depressing things around us every day to want to create them in our backyards.

Full-size buildings rely on foundations to help them stand up straight and tall. While model buildings are frequently monolithic enough to stand up on their own, they often don’t, destroying the illusion. A wood or (better) concrete foundation, carefully leveled and built permanently in the ground, will keep your structures square with the earth and with one another. If you take your buildings indoors in inclement weather, leave their foundations out. This will not only help you reposition them later, but will assure that they are always plumb and true. Few things ruin the impression of a town more than buildings that are three or four degrees out of kilter in various directions.

Bridges and tunnel portals are functional structures, and you can hardly go wrong with them. A bridge will break up the line of the track. It spans a gap and can suggest a transition from one scene to another. Types of bridges are many and varied, and you can almost always find a way to use one to add interest to a mundane situation. A length of straight track can become monotonous without something to break it up (which may, however, be just what you are after if you are trying to suggest the Great Plains). A truss, girder, or through bridge is just the thing to punctuate the line. On the other hand, if the line of the track needs to be accentuated, a deck bridge that does not visually intrude above the level of the rail can add drama to the scene.

Be careful of scale when using bridges. Look at full-size bridges and see how some of them dwarf the railway. These should be selectively reproportioned for use in the garden, unless you have vast spaces to work with. A bridge is an interesting structure, but it must not dominate the scene.

And, once again, plastic should not be used for bridges, or for anything else on the railway either. Plastic has been used to represent metal, but when the paint comes off, plastic does not weather naturally. It is attacked by the ultra-violet rays from the sun and becomes brittle.

Tunnels must look the part. A mole hill conveniently placed over the track with a hole through it does not a convincing tunnel make. Tunnels were dug through full-size obstacles only with great reluctance. Track went around where ever possible. In model form, a tunnel must appear as if there was no alternative to it. The amount of earth atop the tunnel should be at least the same height as the tunnel portal, though two or three times this height would be better. A cutting often took the place of a tunnel in shallower situations.


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