Jump to content

* * * * * 2 votes

A flexible layout

Posted by Mikkel , in Layout ideas 30 November 2012 · 3,240 views

A flexible layout I have been thinking about an idea for a "flexible" layout. This is still very much developing, and what you see here is not an actual trackplan, but an illustration of the concept.

The basic idea is a layout where selected drop-in modules can be removed and replaced with other modules. So a particular cameo, building or siding can be exchanged with another cameo, building or siding – thereby changing the look of the layout. This in turn allows for variation in rolling stock and operation.
Posted Image

Ultimately, such a concept gives endless possibilities of varying a layout from one operating session to another.
Posted Image

In my case, though, the aim would be to have a layout that can capture a little of the way in which a railway scene changes over time.

Posted Image

In real life, sidings also frequently changed their length and purpose over the years, as stations were rebuilt, trackplans changed etc

Posted Image

I also like the idea of having the layout change over the course of a single day. Exchanging one lineside diorama for another could be used to indicate that we have now passed from morning to afternoon.

Posted Image

Buildings and their immediate environments could also be prepared as individual dioramas and then used on the layout as appropriate. It would be interesting to buy a couple of ready-to-plonk buildings and then have one in pristine state while distressing the other one, in order to show the passage of time.

Posted Image

The layout could be designed to be viewed from all sides. That would add to the feel of an "interactive" scenery.

Anyway, it would be interesting to hear if people think it is actually feasible? Joins will clearly be the big issue. But I'm sure something similar has been tried before, so if there are any thoughts or experiences out there I'd be happy to hear them.
  • Like x 28
  • Informative/Useful x 1

Great concept - as you say joins may be the big problem however I am sure you will pull it all off admiringly as with all your other layouts.

Look forward to see this one gather momentum ;)
Fabulous idea, Mikkel. They say a change is as good as a rest and this will provide plenty of variety without having to build a new layout each time. I rather enjoyed your video which showed a changing Farthing through time, so this is a concept which you've already tried and tested to a degree.

As for joins, this was something Iain Rice toyed with in one of his tomes (I forget the title but I'll dig it out) whereby buildings were constructed on island like platforms with dowels protruding from underneath which located in holes in the main baseboard below. Each section was interconnecting like a jig-saw, which is how he referred to it, and served to eliminate the age old continuous join of the typical rectangular baseboard.

Like the shape of your proposed baseboard design too - a la Barry Norman.

Best wishes,

Hi Pete, thanks for the encouragement. I actually like the challenge of the joins (although I may regret having said that!).

One option is to look for natural "line breaks" in real railway yards. Photos such as this suggest some options: http://freepages.his...anion/mh185.jpg

But perhaps the most obvious solution is to make it a cobbled yard. Eg: http://www.flickr.co...N04/5468805194/
Nov 30 2012 21:09
As said above, great idea. Look forward to seeing the results. Not thought of extending this concept to include the other Farthing layouts?
Jonte, that sounds great! I haven't actually sen that Ian Rice book, so would very much appreciate if you can find the title :-)
devondyno, I think I better do some testing before expanding on the concept. I have a feeling that each of these drop-in modules will take some time to do - not to mention the core layout part of the itself!
Go for it Mikkel! I really like the idea, take's it a bit further than just emptying coal loads from wagons.


Nov 30 2012 21:46
Great concept! Of course you could extend it further by having a permanent way spine into which you could plug broad gauge or standard gauge track.

Oops...did you just snap that pencil? ;)
I think this is a wonderful idea, you must like making work for yourself it would be like doing 2 or 3 layouts at the same time.
Would be a good exhibition layout, You could start the weekend with a railway set in 1900s and end with one set today with a multi unit running back and forth.
A superb concept Mikkel.., and something to really look forward to seeing how you develop this. The alternatives possible should make this really worth the effort.
I love the idea of that Mikkel, it is good to be able to change the time period of the same thing to show how it evolves and of course a great excuse to run different stock.
Even though I model the Edwardian period I sometimes think I would like the challenge of modelling Hemyock in its final days, recreating the two extremes in a module form is one way of showing the complete history of a line in one package.

Best of luck with it, it's a great idea and one I look forward to.

I think it might have been in 'Finescales in small spaces' by Ian Rice pub Wild Swan. There was also a dutch guy built a layout on those kind of principles where the track was a spine and senic boards were sort of cantileverd out from the spine. I have a feeling it was in one of those modelling magazines almost books that Ian started after leaving MRI. I also remember something in one of the earlier MRJs about hiding baseboard joins. The idea was to find situations were the join wouldn't show. For example is a joins is behind a wall or a hedge it would not be very visible. If it was along say a road curb there is a natural join anywhere. You get the idea.
Dec 01 2012 01:03

I think it might have been in 'Finescales in small spaces' by Ian Rice pub Wild Swan. There was also a dutch guy built a layout on those kind of principles where the track was a spine and senic boards were sort of cantileverd out from the spine. I have a feeling it was in one of those modelling magazines almost books that Ian started after leaving MRI.

Flintfield (GER) by Vincent de Bode in the Netherlands, and it was in Modelling Railways Illustrated Vol.2 No.2. More here.
Many thanks for the input and encouragement everyone. Some pretty wild but fascinating ideas there - changing from pregrouping to current time over an exhibition weekend, or from broad to narrow gauge! Not sure how the audience would react though! :-)

Yes it could turn into a big task if I don't control it. I've been wanting to some RTR/RTP bashing for a while though, so that could help save time (I hope!).

Flintfield certainly doesn't show any joins (in the photos at least), so that is encouraging. I think the idea of looking for "natural" joins is the way forward as it won't be easy to find a material that can disguise joins and yet be removeable! I rather like the idea of a cobbled area which I've always wanted to try anyway.

Hiding joins won't exactly be easier if the layout is to be viewed from all sides though. BTW the shape of the baseboards in the Sketchup images was inspired by an Ikea table top:

Posted Image

I think it's out of production now though - and anyway the material probably doesn't lend itself to this kind of job.
Interesting ideas.

For the morning/evening scenario, would you have two lighting rigs, or one adjustable rig, to allow the shadows to change during the day?

Now that's an interesting idea. I wasn't planning on it, but the "passing of the day" notion was actually what originally prompted this. Question is how to have the lighting rigged up if there is no backscene. Need to think about that one...
What a brilliant concept! It's going to be a challenge, I think, but one that will ultimately be worthwhile. I'll be watching with interest.

If there's no backscene, could you just have a simple lighting rig that swings in an arc from overhead, down towards one end of the board?
Yes maybe something like that could work, with spotlights fitted along the arc of the rig. It's all beginning to sound a bit elaborate, but if I keep the layout small it doesn't have to be that complex really.

But don't hold your breath, I'm not exactly a fast modeller :-)
Hi Mikkel, this sounds like a great idea, though obviously going to be about 3 times as much work! In Iain Rices " Layout Design " book, published by Haynes, he mentions the use of a "scenic gasket" to hide base board joins. The basic premise is to use a flexible foam draft excluder strip, which is dressed with scenic material held in place with a flexible adhesive like copydex. I've never tried the technique myself, but it sounds quite promising! I'm looking forward to seeing the fruits of your labours.

Hi Mikkel, a novel approach and innovative concept and if anyone can pull this off, you can.
Thanks both. I've now had a look at some draft excluder strip that we have had lying about for ages. My wife asked with great anticipation if I was finally going to apply it to the windows as promised a couple of years ago. My answer: "Well, I'll be doing some experiments." ;-)
Job's Modelling
Dec 02 2012 14:23
I like the concept. Very useful for me as a diorama builder.
This will give me a change to create different scenes to make the diorama more useful for photographic "story telling".
I will give your concept a try on the diorama I'm building.

Job, that would be very interesting to see!

The fact that every diorama/module will be a completed job in itself might also help avoid things like modeller's block and getting bored with the construction of a layout.
Dec 03 2012 23:38
An excellent and another very original concept - there's an awful lot of mileage for real story telling about the development of the GWR with this. A kind of a 'living' layout. Really looking forward to seeing this one pan out. You could have your Stationmaster live out his entire career - from a 'wet behind the ears' young porter right up to GWR grandee!

I'm sure a modeler with your experience wont find the joins too difficult to master. As far as open viewing; I love your retaining wall at Farthing, you could incorporate it and even have detachable backscenes behind it that could also show the development of a railway town over the years - all done with some well chosen photographs and a few low relief structures. A small market town growing into an industrial location as a result of the railway etc.
A protagonist who leads the story over the years - that's an interesting idea. But it would have to be someone other than the current stationmaster of Farthing, who is already approaching retirement in 1907! ;)

A backscene would certainly make things easier, but I'd like to the leave the option of a completely open layout open for a while longer. However no backscene means that the layout will need a certain depth and careful positioning of structures to control viewing!

I like the idea of having a hint of the town. Earlier I toyed with this idea:

Posted Image
marc smith
Jan 11 2013 14:31

Only just got around to reading this blog,
despite having spotted it a short while ago....
.... appologies for that

I do like your concept, I must say
I built my night-time / winter steelworks with some removable lanscape, drop-in "units"
but alas, I still haven't got around to building alternative modules.....

It isn't difficult, but as others have said,
the joins are one problem

However, with a bit of careful planning, I'm sure you would be able to achieve a great result
I think it's a question of view-blockers, or structures that take your eye away from any joins

Barry Ten has built his American N gauge layout "Gulf, Atlanta & Eastern" with removable
jigsaw-type pieces, so he can get at hidden tracks, for cleaning etc

I think both Iain Rice & Barry Norman have written about removable sections
mainly to hide baseboard joints. I did this on my EM layout "Ogmore Rd"

many years back. I made the end of the platform removable

The resulting "staggered" joint worked well in taking the eye off what would otherwise have been
one big straight line and obvious join.......

It's certainly do-able, especially by a talented modeller such as yourself,
and you've got me doodling again! - no, I must focus :)

Let us know how you get on Mikkel



Hi Marc, no need to apologise - the web is voluntary after all :-)


Many thanks for these tips. I'll have a look at yours and BarryTen's layouts, I didn't realize they had removeable parts.


I'm gathering various materials for a trial module to see how joins could be hidden with a cobbled surface, including some flexible foam. Will post on how it works out in due course.


As for your doodling: Go on, you know you want to! :-)

Job's Modelling
Apr 27 2013 22:00

I hope you realize you have convinced me not to use you concept of changing the buildings on my Urban Scene diorama.

After showing my at home "critical" partner ( in many ways) my layout design for Northall Dock and telling her how easy it would be to put this one back in time, she became enthusiastic.

How about a GWR Ale wagon with a horse and leader for shunting on the quay. Or will I also leave this one in the late 1950's.

Hi Job, anything GWR sounds good to me. When you combine it with ale and horse shunting it sounds even better! :-)  What a great scene it would make.

Job's Modelling
Apr 30 2013 20:21

I'll keep that in mind. Could also set Urban Scene (Nice Street) back to the 1930's ( GWR ) in the far future.

Just love that advertising around shops in that time.

Welcome to Farthing!

Attached Image: farthing2.jpg


This blog chronicles the building of "The Farthing layouts", a series of small OO layouts that portray different sections of a GWR junction station in Edwardian days.


Intro and concept
How to eat an elephant
Design principles
State of play


Gallery (1900-1904)
Four o'clock blues, ca. 1902
What really happened in the Cuban...
The honourable slipper boy (Part 1)
The honourable slipper boy (Part 2)
The honourable slipper boy (Part 3)


Gallery (1904-08)
The trials of Mr Bull
A most implausible arrival
A parcel for Mr Ahern
Blue skies and horse traffic
The Remains of the Day
Motley crew

Edwardian daydreams


Gallery (1914)
All in a day's work, Part 1
All in a day's work, Part 2
All in a day's work, Part 3
All in a day's work, Part 4


Out of period
Undecided sky (1867)
The sleeping giant (1887)
Bunker first (1927)
Fitted fish and piles (1947)


Once Upon a Time in the West
Summer silliness
The unbearable lightness...
Across the years
The Sidelight Job
Painting coach panels

Traverser testing


Low-tech pre-grouping stock

Short trains for short layouts
Short trains with a twist
Hand-me-down coaches
Low-tech coach restoration (1)
Low-tech coach restoration (2)
Low-tech coach restoration (3)
Low-tech coach restoration (4)
Low-tech coach restoration (5)


Sprat & Winkle couplings
3 plank Open in GWR red
Outside Framed 8 Ton Van

In the red: GWR 1900s wagon liveries
In loving memory...
Scratchbuilt one-planker (1)
Scratchbuilt one-planker (2)
MSWJR 3-plank dropside
LSWR 10 ton sliding door van
SDJR Road Van
LSWR stone wagon
Fake news and wagon sheets
Same but different: 1900s wagons


GWR 1854 Saddle Tank (1)
GWR 1854 Saddle Tank (2)
Shiny domes and safety valve covers
Backdating the Oxford Dean Goods (1)


C+L underlay and Carr's ballast
Experiments with C+L track
Comparing track
Messing about with track panels
Laying track on "The depot"


GWR horse-drawn trolley
GWR 5-ton horse-drawn vehicle
Parcels van and coal trolley


Fun with crates
Barrels, baskets, bales
Small crates and tea chests


Andrew Stadden 4mm figures
Backdated Monty's figures
Footplate crew
HO figures for an OO layout
Lesser known whitemetal figures


Constructing the Down Bay
First bite: "The bay"
Simple structures for "The bay"
Platform trolleys and barrows
Signs, posters and adverts
Six lessons learnt


Constructing the Goods Depot
Second bite: "The depot"
Shunting Puzzle
Sketches of The depot
Soft body, hard shell
Kit-bashed roof structure
Dry Run
Dusting off the cobwebs
Playing with mirrors
Mezzanine floor
Progress on "The depot"
4mm slate roofing
The treachery of images

A roof for "The depot"

A tall bird from Paddington
Cranes for the depot
Shoulders of giants
Flight of the bumblebee


Constructing the Old Yard
Third bite: "The sidings"
Wagon propulsion
Progress on "The sidings"
Rising from slumber
The Biscuit Shed
A shed and a lock-up
Agricultural merchant's warehouse
Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall
Stops, levers, plates, gauge, wall


Constructing the Stables
GWR Park Royal stable block
GWR stables - an overview


Railway modelling and Art
Moving Pictures
Season's greetings


Layout ideas
A flexible layout
Kicking back in Gloucester


Pre-grouping livery clippings
Journey to Didcot
Detail hunting at Didcot
Here's looking at you
The mists of time (and all that)
My friend the operating chair
Ready-to-plonk freight
GWR Modelling website


RMweb Workbench
Flickr photostream

Recent Comments