Channeling David Barrow

I finished all of the track and wiring on the new “South End of the Grainbelt” layout. I now have a mechanically functioning layout to operate, and its the largest layout I’ve build to-date.

Tony Koester recently wrote a column in which he praised the clean, presentable look of James McNab’s Iowa Interstate Hills Line (You can see his inspirational work here: https://thehillsline.com/). James painted the benchwork an earthy green, rather than leave it exposed foam and wood. This makes for a nice, comfortable and visually appealing layout under construction, and also helps make sure you don’t have any tiny bits of exposed foam or plywood once you do add ground cover and ballast. I decided to emulate him, and I’m glad I did!

Once I finished the track and wiring, I cleaned the room and work space, as I try to do at the end of every major work session. I stood back and took stock of the project, and was very pleased with it. Despite being little more than track on plywood, I felt the layout already coming together, and that it was something I’d already be proud to show a fellow modeler. Care to make the entire endeavor of modeling Frederick, OK a presentable showcase has started to pay off.

I realized that I didn’t stumble on this on my own. Rather, as Lance Mindheim so insightfully wrote, this was “Barrow’s Stamp.” I’m reminded of an excellent blog entry on David Barrow’s various layouts (most famously the multiple versions of the Cat Mountain & Santa Fe) that Lance wrote. I urge you all to check it out here: https://lancemindheim.com/2013/08/barrows-stamp/

I was a kid when David Barrow’s minimalist Lubbock industrial district layout was revealed in Model Railroad Planning. He eschewed scenery for un-ballasted track and mock-up buildings on plywood for his new switching layout. It caused an uproar on some model railroad forums, but I’ve always thought it was one of the most realistic layouts I’ve ever seen. Because while he didn’t have the detail, he had flawless scene composition. His layout wasn’t just a model railroad, it was a model of a railroad.

Scene composition is so important. I’d rather have a well-executed scene than detailed models down the last rivet running through an unrealistic scene. David Barrow’s un-sceniced switching layout (and his subsequent layout that’s minimally sceniced) will always look more realistic to me than, say, 80% of layouts out there.

I’m no Barrow, of course, but I’m trying to channel him a bit here. As I start operating my little slice of Frederick, OK and iron out the kinks, I might just hold off on the scenery for the time being.

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