Model Railway Themes

This page has a bunch of themes that could be used for your own model railway layout. There are some less comon ideas here, as well as a few that have never been used before (to my knowledge).

Feel free to use them, and email me if you have any other themes I haven't thought of yet.

I will group the themes under these Basic Concepts:

Common Carrier
Storage Facility
Other Industrial

Under the concept of mining we have several different approaches to consider:
Hard Rock
Soft Rock
Horizontal shaft
Vertical Shaft
Open Cut
Hillside Quarry

And then you get to decide what is being mined:
Oil Shale
Metal Ores such as iron, zinc, silver, lead, copper, gold...
Bird Poo (Phosphates, which was mined out of many small Pacific Islands such as Nauru and Christmas Island)
Purely imaginative stuff, such as Ball Bearings, Craddonium (Gazette), Stupidium, Flatulene gas(those last two from the On30 Conspiracy), Unobtainium...

Method of mining and what is being mined is determined by local geological conditions, so it is best to either set your layout somewhere and find out what was mined and how it was mined, or choose a method and mineral and find a setting that fits. The former method is probably easier, unless you are willing to freelance.


Logging is governed by geographic location, so choose a spot on a map, find out what grew there and start logging it. Some popular timber species to log were:
Red Cedar
Huon Pine
Eucalyptus (many varieties)
Mountain Ash

Logging practises were very much dependent on local conditions, for example, there were never any log ponds at sawmills in Oz, because the majority of Australian timbers species are heavier than water. Also, Australian logging operations were never as large as US ones, the largest operations having maybe 4 large (eg geared or tender engines) and 2 small (tank) locos. Logging winches were common on the majority of logging operations until the advent of the caterpillar tractor. But the design of the winches changed substantially between locations. In Australia, vertical boilered winches were uncommon comapared to horizontal boilers, as the vertical boilers were much sought after for cramped conditions such as factories. Out in the bush, there was much more space for a horizontal boiler. It is interesting to know that the US Dolbeer donkey was invented approximately simultaneously to the first Tasmanian winch.

Common Carrier
Shire Tramways
A poor excuse for government funding

Private lines that were common carriers were uncommon in Australia, and most had a dominant traffic such as timber or ore.
Shire Tramways were built by local governments in order to get their ratepayer's produce out, they were mainly in rural areas. Some were dominated by a certain crop, such as sugar cane or timber.
A Poor excuse for Government funding refers to the private companies who want to build a railway to serve their own ends, and as it was easier, and possibly cheaper, to have it legislated as common carrier they built it as such but rapidly downgraded services to the minimum required. You could easily represent this by running a 4 wheel trolley once in each direction each day as the passenger transport and having an open wagon or two rotting in a siding somewhere, intended for general goods traffic.

There are almost as many possible plantation crops as there were plantation railways. A few ideas for crops are:
Sugar Cane and sugar beet
and for something really different, why not a Drug plantation? You could have green and/or brown leaves in covered wagons, white powder in V tips, heavily armed guards on a special flat wagon, rich men in white suits, a lavishly fitted private passenger car and ornate locomotives. Just think of the scale smell effects! The more you watch the better it looks!! And of course a drug plantation would be very well funded, so the drug lord (in this case you!) could choose to have your locomotives from whatever manufacturer you wished! Ever wanted a Garratt next to a Porter? Here is your chance!
Sugar cane has traditionally used gauge of 2' up to 3'6", but has had, and still has, huge locomotives, such as double bogie diesel hydraulics converted from standard gauge locomotives. Cane was initially carried in small flatbed trucks with high skeletal bulkheads at each end and a small, hand operated winch and wire rope used to hold the cane stalks down. In more modern set-ups the cane is machine harvested, cut into billets about 18inches long and carried in high sided wire mesh cane bins. Often the bins are 8' or more wide, which REALLY dwarfs the 2' gauge track.
Wheat and cotton would be carried in closed hoppers, wheat is very flammable when its wet, as it can spontaeously combust. A neat gizmo to add to a humourous layout. And flour mills of varying size and design could add plenty of interest.

Estate Railways
A peculiarly English tradition, though now expanding to other wealthy countries, estate railways were built to transport the produce from farms on the estate to the mainline siding from where it was shipped to market. Featuring sharp curves, steep grades, small locos and rollingstock and lots of fun they are ideal for larger scale layouts such as Gn15 and On15/18. Your estate might feature lots of market gardens, a large estate house with pleasure garden, a small quarry or a forest. A lot of modern day estate (read as hobby) railways use imported locomotives and home made rollingstock.

If you follow a particular prototype then people will expect to see certain rollingstock and locomotives on your line. If, like me, you desire trains from various parts of the country, it can be hard legitimising your collection. So I follow the way of the freelancer. Who can count the rivets on something that doesn't have a prototype?




any comments?

Email me: trainbrain @ optusnet . com . au
(remove spaces from address before sending)

Mark Kendrick 22/08/04

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