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Book Review
Compact Layout Design
Compact Layout Design
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by: Frederick Boucher [ JPTRR ]

Originally published on:
RailRoad Modeling

Compact Layout Design from Kalmbach Publishing is a book by esteemed model railroad designer Ian Rice. It is part of Kalmbach's Layout Design and Planning series and contains 60 color photos.

By choice or circumstance most model railroaders are constrained from assembling expansive layout empires of towering mountains and expansive vistas, with multi-track passenger stations and full classification yards, filling basements and family rooms, or even bedrooms. Yet, like real smaller Class Is and shortline railroads, dynamic and plucky and eminently satisfying small layouts can be assembled and run, providing a lifetime of pleasure. This book demonstrates this and takes us into the realm of pikes small in square feet yet huge in potential.
    Compact Layout Design helps modelers integrate all aspects of layout design for compact spaces into one process from benchwork to budgeting. Author Iain Rice presents the material in a practical, conversational tone and aids understanding with his beautiful hand-drawn track plans. The book provides ideas and inspiration to efficiently plan for people, trains, and space. - Kalmbach

This softcover book is 96 pages of text and images introducing the reader to the how's and why's of designing a satisfying authentic railroad in limited space. Kalmbach catalogues the book as number 12487 and it has the ISBN 9780890249963.

Mr. Rice writes in a flowing style, well organized, detailed and engaging. Compact Layout Design is delivered through 12 chapters in 96 pages:
    1. The compact layout
    2. Design techniques for compact layouts
    3. Designing for operation
    4. Practical design for compact spaces
    5. Asphodel & Southern (HO scale)
    6. New Hampshire Northern (HO scale)
    7. Crossville (HO scale)
    8. Fort Boyd (HO scale)
    9. Bridgehampton (N scale)
    10. Black Creek & Buda (HO scale)
    11. Duwamish Belt (N scale)
    12. Pandora Junction (On30 scale)

In The compact layout the concepts of the title are explained in text, with copious examples of many modelers. He discusses cost constraints, size, definitions, and researching and design. That a layout may occupy limited space is shown not to be a drawback as it allows the modeler to create fantastically detailed scenes that can actually be enjoyed without distractions.

In Design techniques for compact layouts, designing the layout space for holistic effect and for operator ergonomics is presented. Finding inspiration from diverse sources, i.e., Farm Security Administration photographic archives, is demonstrated. Old tricks like compressing of scenes, tricking the eye and focusing viewing vantage points to create the illusion of grander scenes, and other concepts are explored.

Another aspect of planning often not considered is using full-scale drawings and paper cutouts to visualize the layout before any roadbed is tacked down. Atlas Model RR Company used to offer free track planning software that included the ability to print out your designs, and I recall there are other specific programs out there not to mention the book's ideas of CAD or Adode Illustrator.

Planning goes better if you know what you are planning for and a chapter is dedicated to designing the layout for operation. Designing for operation includes not the OPSIG idea of making your electric trains into a model railroad, it also discusses the need to move around the layout. Aisle widths, heights, train control systems and staging are examined. One clever system this book introduced me to is the Cassette System. Popular in space-starved Europe, modelers make lengths of track to assemble and store whole trains until their stage call, in easily handled and stored track "cassettes."

Finally for the design portion of the book, Practical design for compact spaces discusses how tight the curves can be, as well as loading gauge (distance) between the trains and structures. One example shown is a modular layout made bookcase style, for ease of storing and moving.

Track plans
Those first four chapters lay out (pardon the pun) the stage for the following layouts:
    1. Asphodel & Southern - based on small local railroads with eclectic consists, such as the Smokey Mountain Railroad, etc.
    2. New Hampshire Northern - based on a larger system.
    3. Crossville - a prairie interchange.
    4. Fort Boyd - WWII military post railroad.
    5. Bridgehampton - bridge route for large Class I lines.
    6. Black Creek & Buda - West Virginia coal town inspired by a photo feature.
    7. Duwamish Belt - large industrial layout.
    8. Pandora Junction - large 19th century rail hub.

Modelers need not be constrained by the scales these layouts are illustrated for. Each of the preceding chapters presented the groundwork to increase or decrease these layouts in scale. Modelers can add or remove elements of the designs.

That's the text, now what about...

Photos and Graphics
An outstanding feature of Kalmbach books is the wealth of photography and illustrations they have in their archives; after all, Trains magazine has been out for about 80 years, and Model Railroader has been published - with original artwork - for about as long. Mr. Rice illustrates the layouts found in this book as well as many of the detail images. I am a fan of his style of illustration so I find the graphics to be very effective.

Additionally, the book boasts a superb gallery of photos. These are of both color and black-and-white. They are from a multitude of sources, from Trains, Model Railroader, and non-hobby sources, such as insurance valuation file and government sources, e.g., Farm Security Administration.

Without much hyperbole, those photos are in and of themselves inspiration for a diorama or layout scene. Kalmbach continues to set the bar high with the level of visual support in this book.

Compact Layout Design is a valuable book that should benefit model railroaders whether they are novices looking to enter the hobby, or veterans of many complete layouts. The quality of the graphics and photographs compliment the excellent text.

If I have anything to question about this book, it is the size of the layouts. We modelers all have our ideas about what constitutes a compact layout. Yet, several of these layouts - even N scale Bridgehampton - will fill a good sized room.

Be that as it may, I happily recommend Compact Layout Design to railway modelers as well as military modelers looking for a more authentic way to incorporate railway subjects into their dioramas.

Please remember to tell vendors and retailers that you saw this book here - on RailRoad Modeling.
Highs: Excellent graphics and photographs supporting excellent text.
Lows: Some of the presented compact layouts do not seem to be very compact.
Verdict: This book is a valuable book that should benefit model railroaders whether they are novices looking to enter the hobby, or veterans of many complete layouts.
  Scale: N/A
  Mfg. ID: 12487
  Suggested Retail: $21.99
  Related Link: 
  PUBLISHED: Apr 16, 2016

Our Thanks to Kalmbach Publishing Co.!
This item was provided by them for the purpose of having it reviewed on this KitMaker Network site. If you would like your kit, book, or product reviewed, please contact us.

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About Frederick Boucher (JPTRR)

I'm a professional pilot with a degree in art. My first model was an AMT semi dump truck. Then Monogram's Lunar Lander right after the lunar landing. Next, Revell's 1/32 Bf-109G...cried havoc and released the dogs of modeling! My interests--if built before 1900, or after 1955, then I proba...

Copyright 2020 text by Frederick Boucher [ JPTRR ]. All rights reserved.


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