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May 18th- On the shoulders of Giants- Pt 9

posted May 18, 2017, 5:51 PM by Sue Line RailRoad

This time I want to share with you a “Giant in the Hobby” that has had a great influence on me, Tony Koester (see below) , who lives with his wife, Judy, in New Jersey.    After twenty years of editing telecommunication journals, Tony Koester took on more work with Kalmbach and subsequently became the editor of the annual Model Railroad Planning, as well as a contributing editor and the "Trains of Thought" columnist for Model Railroader. He has also written nine books for Kalmbach which may have found their way onto your shelf.


Tony Koester popularized the idea of proto-freelancing with his HO scale model railroad layout, the Allegheny Midland (AM), along with his friend Allen McClelland's Virginian & Ohio.  Blending elements of Nickel Plate (NKP) equipment and operation with Chesapeake & Ohio (C&O) structures and scenery, the AM would be the NKP's plausible West Virginia coal-hauler. Tony believes that modeling the prototype is, in some ways, easier than doing freelance mainly because all the hard parts have already been done for you by the railroad that you’re modeling. If you want to know what the track plans are, just look it up on the Internet. If you want to know what certain towns looked like, find some pictures of the area or, better yet, go visit the place and see for yourself. Take your own pictures of the landscape, the tracks, the trains, the yards, and the structures; bring them back to your railroad room at home and use them as reference photos.


Tony Koester notes that if you research the prototype operations, including scheduling patterns, what kind of trains they used (e.g., fast freight, through freight, passenger, etc.), how many trains traveled through the area in any one day during a era, this will further help you decide on your own train layout design and how your model railroad layout will operate.

One of the concepts I have accepted from Tony Koester is that if you model the prototype very closely, you know up front that you will never be able to replicate it exactly. That’s a given. The first thing you almost certainly won’t be able to replicate exactly is the scale distance from one point to another. Even in N scale, the scale distance of one mile would require 33 feet of layout space. The second thing is that it would be very difficult to include everything in a model that is observable in the prototype, partly because of space considerations, and perhaps partly because there are some parts of the prototype that are just not that interesting or that you don’t really want to spend time on. How do we get around this and still stick to the prototype plan well enough so that our model is a recognizable depiction of that railroad?

Selective Compression is one answer to this question. This basically involves compression of certain parts of the railroad that are perhaps less interesting than other parts, so that you can then focus on detailing the areas of the prototype that are more interesting. For example, you could take the 200 miles that the prototype train travels between towns or other points of interest and compress that into say 3-4 feet of layout space. These compressed areas would not be neglected areas, just compressed; they would still convey a sense and flavor of the area that you’re modeling by the way the scenery is done.

These compressed scenes, of course, would not be “to scale” but they would make sense from a modeling standpoint. You could make your own scale so that you at least use your space proportionately to the real thing.

Tony Koester also believes that Layout Design Elements (LDE’s), are the second answer to the question. These are the elements of the prototype that are recognizable visually and operationally that you do want to model in some detail. Your train layout design elements might include certain industries that are critical for the prototype you are modeling, or they might be certain towns, or even certain scenes, like the Horseshoe Curve on the Pennsylvania RR, that are or were important to the prototype.

Developing model railroads based on train layout design elements is a concept that Tony Koester proposed years ago, and that he explained in detail in his two excellent books on the subject, both of which I would highly recommend as you plan your train layout design.

On the Sue Line, distances between towns have been significantly compressed.  Several structures have either been recreated in kit form or by backdrop painting to recreate specific buildings and businesses in the Shreveport area.  Through a combination of layout design elements and selective compression, the linear design we incorporated in the 90’s takes the operator from scene to scene traveling “miles” along the right-of-way of the proto - freelanced Sue Line railroad that at its heart has the KCS running through its veins if you look closely enough.

Whether it be the layout design side, the scenery aspect, or operating sessions, Tony Koester reminds all of us that we need to incorporate being a railfan into our hobby.  With the internet filled with videos, web cams, and audio broadcasts, it is now easier than ever to railfan along your favorite right-of-way or railroad then transfer that to your layout.

Is it a yard that you most want to replicate?  Maybe high speed double track mainline action?  Is it all about that large industrial area with so many possibilities for your layout? 

That’s more than just a train of thought.

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