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Copyright 1996-2006
Kevin E. Musser



Mockups - the ultimate planning tool

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Above is the mock-up of a Copper Range station in place on the layout.
Once I was satisfied with its position and dimensions I began scratchbuilding the final model.
The finished station is shown below.

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Mock-up: A mock-up is a device which represents a structure or scenery element, which is made of inexpensive or free materials, and is quick and easy to make.

When I was a teenager and built my first model railroad one of the first structures I bought was the classic Interlocking Tower made by Atlas. I loved this structure and moved it many times around my layout always trying to find the best location to show off this great model. As I grew older and my modeling talents improved I learned two important lessons from my earlier experiences;

Lesson 1:

When I first got interested in modeling a specific prototype I discovered that the Interlocking Tower didn't fit on my railroad anymore. If I was going to model a prototype then it didn't make sense to use just any structure. Railroads built all their structures from a set of standard plans. Off the mainline the same is true. Communities usually have zoning ordinances covering the types of buildings and materials allowed. Furthermore, locally available building materials were influential in dictating local styles. For my prototype in the Upper Peninsula this is wood and sandstone.

The Atlas kit I had for so long also left me feeling disconnected. If I was modeling a prototype and was so interested in the railroad then I should try to have the same feelings towards the structures and scenery. I knew nothing about the origin of this structure, what railroad used it, or when it was built. The only thing I knew was that Hillside, NJ. was the name of the city in which Atlas was located. The more I thought about it, the more interested I became in discovering the hidden side of model railroading - why the railroad was there in the first place, who were the people who relied on it everyday, what and how did they make what it was they were putting on all those railroad cars, and how did they live? I feel my railroad now has a true sense of purpose and it keeps me very energetic towards completing this large task. The greatest pleasure for me is having a visitor say "hey, this is Northern Michigan", without seeing a train (kind of like Northern Michigan today).

Lesson 2:

Back to my teenager days. Every time I moved that Interlocking Tower to that ever better location, I had to redo all of the scenery. At the time I wasn't that interested in detail so I didn't spend that much time reworking the landscape. As my interest and talents increased I became more interested in making sure that I had a structure in the right place before I spent a lot of time detailing the scene.

These two lessons came together for me when I started working on my present layout (150+ structures and 180 ft. of point-to-point mainline). I suddenly realized that if I wanted to operate this railroad in my lifetime I was going to have to do something to simulate the final product, while I built the structures and added the scenery. During this process I discovered another problem. I didn't want to finish a structure or build any scenery until I made very sure that the railroad was operational and functional, otherwise no one would ever come over and operate it with me. With the size of my railroad I cannot afford to do it alone-way too much maintenance and expertise, and most of all it's no fun alone.

Enter Mock-ups.

I was preparing a clinic for Division 6 on Mock-ups and I was having a hard time trying to describe exactly what a mock-up is and why you would use one. At about the same time, I came across an ad in a home magazines in which a company in Ohio was marketing a mock-up kit for use in new home planning or remodeling. The advertisement read: " Whether you are planning your own home, addition or remodeling project or working with a professional, there is no substitute for seeing your plan in three-dimensions - before you build. A three-dimensional model helps you visualize ideas, improve design, communicate with builder and designer, and save time and money".

Our brain doesn't work very well in two dimensions. We need depth to fully understand our ideas and especially to convey those ideas to others. If we use the overhead-view method for laying out a town then we only know if the structures physically fit into the space. We have no idea of how each structure plays off its neighbor. Also lacking is a real understanding of what can be seen from each viewing angle, and therefore, what should be modeled. It doesn't make a lot of sense to model what you can't see.

Another approach is to use perspective drawings. But even a perfect picture is only able to capture the viewing angle chosen, not the countless others which will be possible by the visitor to your layout.

The worst thing you can do is to settle for something because it would take too much time or money to fix. To compromise track standards at the expense of structures and scenery will never make for good operation. In order to duplicatethe feel of a prototype, the plan must combine the best elements of structure and scenery placement with the track plan. The objective is to represent the town or scene without including everything. This can best be achieved with the use of mock-ups.

mmjhouse1.jpg (9457 bytes)mock3.jpg (8754 bytes)mmjhousemodel.jpg (15476 bytes)
                    The Prototype                                        The Mockup                                      The Model


The ultimate mistake is one I would have made if I had not used mock-ups over my entire railroad - the mistaken-era syndrome. As I completed town after town of mock-ups I began to realize that the 1950's was really a bad idea for modeling the Copper Range. Every mock-up I made had to be in some state of disrepair. I decided I wanted to go back to a time when Copper was King and not limping along with no future. I'm not sure how far along I might have gotten before I visualized this with the final layout. I'm sure I would be selling more than mistaken-era freight cars at the flea markets.

Another feature of a mock-up is the ability to test the plan for proper car movement. Our Friday night group, the Midnight Pocatello Yardmasters, use the 0-5-0 method of uncoupling cars. This requires the ability to reach easily around scenic obstacles. Good planning now will keep that dispatcher off your back as he persuades you, in a most unpleasant way, to get moving during the operating session.

Developing mock-ups:

A mock-up should be simple and cheap to make. I have even used a small shoe box to representing a structure in order to stop the progress of an aggressive track laying crew. Even though they said it was too big, it made them stop and think for a minute before they threw it on the floor and continued.

When I have chosen a structure which I would like to model I do not start out with detailed drawings. First I sketch the structure freehand and build a simple mock-up to get a better understanding of how it will look on the layout. If I am pleased with this simple mock-up I go to the next step, which is to do a detailed scale drawing of the structure. This final drawing becomes the new mock-up.

If you are scratchbuilding a structure from existing plans, reduce it to scale and use it for a mock-up. Reduction to scale is easy with the advent of reduction and enlargement copiers.

Mock-ups provide two benefits for scratchbuilders - as a tool for determining the proper location on your layout and as a modeling aid in determining the proper assembly steps. I keep my mock-up at my bench at all times during the building process. This helps me to keep my objective always in mind.

Photographs can also be used in building mock-ups. When scaled to the proper proportions it is very easy to use a photo as the mock-up. This can be very useful if only one or two sides of a structure will be viewed. Photos have a lot of limitations as they can only really be used if the photo is taken straight on.

Building mock-ups:

The best thing about building mock-ups is that for the most part the materials are free. I build my mock-ups from discarded cardboard. I try to collect solid cardboard, not corrugated. I collect a lot of this material from coworkers' note pads when the pad is finished.

If you have a plan already copied to scale it can be used to build the mock-up. The plan should be arranged on the cardboard so that the entire structure is connected for easy folding and as few cuts as possible. This will make the construction quick and simple, and in the end create a stronger mock-up.

The plan and the cardboard should be glued together using rubber cement. Rubber cement will hold the plan to the cardboard securely and will not distort the dimensions. Most other glues will cause the plan to wrinkle, thus creating errors in construction. To allow proper placement of the plan on the cardboard brush the glue only on the back of the plan. This will allow for some movement before the glue sets. If both surfaces are coated the plan will adhere immediately to the cardboard. This type of bond is not permanent, but neither is a mock-up.

Once the glue has dried the structure should be cut out using a straight edge and a hobby knife.

Be sure to use a cutting surface, either a cutting mat or a thick piece of cardboard.

Now apply clear tape to the loose ends in order to allow clear vision of the plan. Construct a roof to fit and glue with tacky glue or just leave it loose. Sometimes it may be important to detail exterior features, I would recommend this for any structures which will be scratchbuilt, for use as construction guides.

This construction method is only one of many ways to build mock-ups, but I have found it to be the easiest. In the amount of time it took me to explain this method I could have built one myself.

No layout is ever finished, but I think that you will find that the use of mock-ups will help you get there sooner because it allows you to see where it is you are going.

Try building one today. And if you would like to see a lot of mock-ups come and visit me during Milepost 50, the NCR's fall convention.