...perhaps too closely?
I've always been drawn to proto-freelance-style model railroading. Creating a model that looks and acts like a real railroad without the constraints of having to match a particular prototype seems perfect for me. I will admit that much of my draw towards the freelancing side of the hobby can be attributed to my lack of knowledge about how real railroads operate. In the past, this knowledge gap could have been attributed to the fact that research was so much more difficult and time intensive. As relevant information has become more and more available online, that excuse holds less and less water.
The very earliest iterations of the Metaline Falls Railroad can be traced back to a small LEGO Trains layout I built on a table in my basement over 11 years ago. The layout was very small and limited in it's operation, but I wanted to give it a real-world location and a bit of "legitimacy". At this point in time, all I was really looking for was a real-world location that had three key features.
- A Bridge
- A Tunnel
- A Cement Industry so I could include my favorite type of railcar: 2-Bay Covered Hoppers
One of my custom-built locomotives now relegated to display duty on a shelf at the office.
When I finally decided to jump back into more traditional model railroading, I tore down that LEGO layout, but the inspiration that was Metaline Falls survived. I started to research the area more in-depth and found myself fascinated by the history and industry of the area. Although I was very limited by space constraints, I wanted to do the prototype justice. I decided to model the industries on my little layout around the "industrial theme" of the area. Thus, the cement factory took prominence, The real-world paper mill became a paper recycling facility, and the small-diameter lumber mill became an off-layout representation of a pulpwood mill. I even made an effort to include the Box Canyon Bridge and Dam at as close to full-sized as I could for a layout so small.
At this point I really felt like I was leaning into this whole "proto-freelancing" mentality really well. I was taking inspiration from the real world while going my own way. It's easy when you are working at such a small scale. So many compromises are forced on you that the decisions about what you can and cannot include are pretty much already made for you. It's easy to be a freelancer when being prototypical is completely out of the question.
All of that changed when I decided to expand the layout to fill a decent sized room. Suddenly I had the room to include a respectable representation of the paper mill. I had the room for the lumber mill, and that tunnel, and a more scale representation of the bridge, and don't forget the interchange yard, or the old Great Northern Depot, or that one lumber yard down the river a bit, and while I'm at it I might as well include a trestle, or two...
Before I knew it I found myself collecting images of the real-world grade crossings from every angle I could find in order to correctly model the angle and rise of the road leading to the tracks. I'd watch vacation videos posted to Youtube by people who visited the area in order to get an idea of the variety of types of trees found along the mountainside. I began studying timetables of trains that pass through the interchange yard and used Google Earth to following those routes to their destinations in order to get an idea of where those trains go and what they haul. I've collected engineering drawings of key bridges. Heck, I even read through the past two years of meetings and minutes of the prototype railroad in order to get an idea of the real-world challenges a railroad in that part of the country faces on a monthly basis.
This is not what a freelancer does... These are the patterns of a madman... A prototype modeler.
How could I call what I'm doing "Proto-Freelancing" anymore when the plan for the model railroad has become such a carefully considered representation of the real thing? There are plenty of small changes I've made for mostly artistic reasons. I consider myself an artist first and foremost and I do think of model railroading as an art form. That said, the only really major departures from the real world I've designed are:
- I've included a cement industry that hasn't existed on the prototype in many, many years and added rail service to an industry that in the real world doesn't have any need for it.
- I've omitted a few industries and mashed three or so small towns worth of industries into one town for the sake of compression.
- I've re-ordered where many of the signature scenes are located because of space constraints.
- I secretly hate the paint jobs on the prototypes locomotives (I also find the name of the prototype railroad to be difficult to read if you don't know the proper pronunciation) so I've come up with my own name and color scheme.
So I'm not Freelancing, nor am I really prototyping. I'm only sorta proto-freelancing. Maybe I've got to come up with a new term? Free-Protoyping? or maybe Creative Prototyping? Oh, oh that's it! "CREATIVE PROTOTYPING!"
Serendipitously enough, Lance Mindhiem just released an article while I was coming up with this post where he explores some of these same ideas I've been struggling with.