Penn Central Stockton Branch

Chapter 5: Modeling Ugly

Iím not the first to do it, and likely not the last. But I must certainly belong to a minority
of modelers who have chosen to portray acute urban decay on a model railroad. At the
outset, Iíd planned a much ďhappierĒ layout, where most if not all of the industries and
scenes were alive and well. And while I confess Iíve always had a curious fascination
with abandonment, dereliction and decayówhich Iíve consciously allowed to influence
my modeling for a long timeóIíve never delved into it as deeply as on this occasion.

As the layout progressed, I ďabandonedĒ more and more of it, until abandonment overtook
the majority of structures and scenes. Iím certain a psychiatrist would have a field day
with this; however, I can save the couch time and doctorís fees by flatly admitting Iíve
turned the layout into a canvas for my own troubled psyche. Urban blight could be viewed
as a manifestation of the many hardships and emotions with which I now wrestle, and this
project has changed my perception of it. Itís still ugly, but less disturbing. It is what it is.

About a month into the project, I awoke one morning with a strange new perspective. Iíd
felt all along that this compact version of the Reading Central bore some resemblance to
the ill-fated Penn Central; why not just make it the Penn Central? This new idea allowed
me to avoid casting my Reading Central concept in an unfavorable lightóassuming it ever
saw the light of day, that is. As a bonus, I didnít need to repaint or even patch any rolling
stock; I could utilize stock PC merchandise from my collection.

When I struck upon the idea of switching from my fictional Reading Central to the equally
fictional Penn Central Stockton Branch, the visual theme I was pursuing suddenly seemed
even more right, since the setting shared the same ďdoom and gloomĒ overtones as the
railroad itself (as well as, not-so-coincidentally, my life). This is not to say I have anything
against the Penn Central; I neither like it nor dislike it. It is what it is.

Admittedly the layoutís era is kinda rubbery: it floats somewhere between the 70s and 80s,
and might even push into the 90s. Fortunately, modeling a quasi-non-existent railroad
allows me to justify playing with time and space as I may see fit. Iíve said it many times:
Iím no proto modeler. Iím not a proto-lance or freelance modeler, for that matter. Hell,
I donít even operate! I just model. Iíd like to think my modeling is just a bit better than
average, and that it compensates in some way for the many deviations from reality I may
take, consciously or otherwise. But if it doesnít, ask me if I care.

Once the layoutís identity and theme were at last firmly established, I began a concerted
effort to be true to the subject. For one thing, Iím adding graffiti, something Iíd always
been loathe to do in the past; it seemed hypocritical to be selective about what forms
of urban decay I include. To that end, Iíve had to research graffiti: the layoutís temporal
setting is the end of the Twentieth Century, and graffiti looked different then than it
does now; thus, itís useless to purchase graffiti decals because nearly all of them are
based on current-day graf.

Iím even adding hints of crime and violence on the layout, thanks in part (oddly enough)
to Preiserís ďstreet scenesĒ figure sets, which Iíd never imagined having the occasion to
use before now. Welcome to the Penn Central Stockton Branch, the layout that packs
an ugly punch. Youíll need an open mind and a strong stomach.

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