Book Review

 An Approach to Model Railway Layout Design, Finescale in Small Spaces

 Published by Wild Swan Publications Ltd. 1-3 Hagbourne Road , Didcot, Oxon OX11 8DP

 1990 ISBN 0 906867 85 1

  soft cover, 64 pages, illustrated with black and white photographs and drawings

 Author: Iain Rice


            The name Iain Rice should appear familiar to those of you who read Model Railroader as he has become a regular contributor to their pages. Iain hails from Clun, Shropshire , England . My interest in his writings was peaked after reading his Small, Smart & Practical Track Plans (ISBN 0 89024 416 2, $18.95), published by Kalmbach in 2000. If you are interested in layout design you should buy this earlier book as well. Don’t be fooled by the relatively few pages contained, Rice’s book is set in fine print. There is a great deal of information presented.  

This book is organized into seven chapter as follows: Introduction, Chapter One – The Acorn and the Oak Tree; Chapter Two – Preliminaries; Chapter Three – Siting and Staging the Layout; Chapter Four – Designing the Infrastructure; Chapter Five – Designing for Visual Effect; Chapter Six – Designing for Operation; and Chapter Seven – Examples, broken down into Section 1, Rural Idylls, Section 2 ‘Bitsa’ Stations and Section 3, Urban and Industrial.  

            In chapter one, The Acorn and the Oak Tree, Iain explains that he defines the layout design as “the combination of track, landscape and buildings”. He adds, “These are the two key aspects – the idea, and the realization – that are immutably linked in the layout-designing process, just as in order for an acorn to become an oak tree, it must weary itself with a century or two of growing.”  

            Rice explains in chapter two entitled Preliminaries the importance of planning. He feels the underpinning to any plan is “to have a very firm concept of the theme of the layout”.  

            In chapter three, Siting and Staging the Layout, Rice covers how to cope with having only a small space to build your layout. He then goes on the cover such topics as “Staging the Layout”, “Viewing Height”, “Proscenium Arch”, “Convex Layouts”, “Side Screens”, “Backdrops”, and “Lighting”.  

            In chapter four, Designing the Infrastructure, Iain covers benchwork in a section called “Layout Structure Design”. After first covering the design of what Rice names the “baseboard” structure, be moves on to what he calls “structures for staging” – the proscenium arch fascia, the backdrop support, and the lighting gantry.  

            In chapter five, Designing for Visual Effect, Rice commends his readers to two of what he calls “Design Aids”. While they may not be new to most modelers, recall Rice’s book is eleven years old, they bear repeating. He suggest modelers utilize the technique of building either mock-ups or build an actual scale plan of the layout.  

            In chapter six, Designing for Operation, you will learn about the British penchant for fiddle yards. You may recall a few years back that Paul Dolkos introduced the readers of Model Railroader to this concept as a result of a visit to England where he encountered these yards at train shows.  

            In the seventh and final chapter, Examples, fifteen small layouts are described as well as illustrated. I found particularly instructive Iain’s insight that “in terms of the small layout, it has long been obvious to me that the cramped, confined industrial or inner-city location is far more suitable as a subject than the more sprawling rural rhapsody usually chosen.” I can be excused for siding with Rice as I am currently building an urban-oriented layout in HO scale.  

Honestly, I had, at times, felt I was reading a foreign language, but any confusion was usually soon cleared away. I obtained my copy of Rice’s book through the United Kingdom ’s Wild Swan Publications does not accept credit cards so the only other way to get hold of the book is to send pound sterling.  

            Rice’s book was an enjoyable read. Do not make the mistake of dismissing this book because of its strong orientation toward British modeling. The principles enunciated in Rice’s pages are universal. I commend it to anyone serious about building a model railroad. Iain Rice should serve as particular inspiration for those of our division members planning a small layout. I hope someone will reprint and revise Model Railway Layout Design for an American audience. Kalmbach, are you listening?


Reviewed by Nicholas Kalis