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Book Review
Planning Your Model Railroad
Planning Your Model Railroad
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by: Frederick Boucher [ JPTRR ]

Originally published on:
RailRoad Modeling

Planning Your Model Railroad by Tony Koester is a new title from Kalmbach Publishing. Catalogued as ISBN 9781627002295 and Item #12494 in Kalmbach's system, this softcover full sized 8.25" x 10.75" book holds 96 pages and bulges with 200 color photos.
    Planning Your Model Railroad is a new book by Tony Koester that tells you everything you’ll want to consider before starting a layout. This conversational, idea-driven book shows you your options when planning a layout. It expansively covers key topics including:

    • Choosing a railroad and scale.
    • Finding prototypes that match modeler interest.
    • Narrowing focus to make efficient decisions.
    - Kalmbach

Mr. Koester is well known to model railroading through his decades of writing about his freelance Allegheny Midland and its association with the iconic Virginia & Ohio, and Mr. Koester's subsequent transition to prototype modeling of the Nickle Plate in western Indiana. His books are universally acclaimed for their scope, micro and marco focus on detail and planning, and execution of amazing modeling.

Let's see what this title shares with us.

Inside the covers
Planning Your Model Railroad brings us the wealth of Mr. Koester's experience through 96 pages divided into 10 chapters and sections:
    1. Defining and refining objectives
    2. Basics of layout design
    3. Understanding realistic operation
    4. Considerations of time
    5. Geography isn't generic
    6. Plausibility
    7. Prototype freelancing - by the prototype!
    8. Planning and modeling structures
    9. Construction and maintenance
    10. Animation

The table of contents in my sample is different than as listed on Kalmbach's webpage.

The author has been writing for a long time and I find his style and method easy to read and follow. Rarely have I had to go back to re-read his work after asking myself 'What did that say?'. This book continues that quality. As well as the text, many insets cull out important ideas. The use of U.S.G.A topographic maps, Valuation maps, and Sanborn fire insurance maps to plan and refine the layout is demonstrated.

Many model railroads are no more than "paper projects" that never move from graph paper ( or CAD ) onto a base. Too many never move beyond the first few feet of roadbed, the opened but unpacked boxes of modeling bounty little more than cozy nooks for sleeping kitties. Some find the physical plant complete but with the railroad interests of the builder transitioned to a new concept. Mr. Koester is aware of those traits of the hobby and helps to guide model railroaders away from those frustrations. In Defining and refining objectives he discusses the desirability of knowing what you want before expending the time and money on models. One important consideration is scale - who desires to model mainline action on the Union Pacific in 1940 yet only has room for an 4 X 8 layout? (Been there, suffered that.) Sure, my HO Rivarossi Big Boy will make it around 18" curves of a 4 X 8 and can pull about an 11 foot string of model cars behind it, but the ensemble will look like the floor of a heavily used stock car. Yes, one should consider what they want to model based on how much room one has, then choose the scale appropriately.

Don't have much room? The situation is addressed and a clever option is forwarded: plenty of time and resources for superdetailing!

Basics of layout design is not simply about plywood framework and types of track. It focuses on determining what the modeler is interested in, where in the land that railroad would be, thus the industries and geography, and how to create the model. Traditional layout planning considerations are discussed such as selecting the desired code of rail, track plans, layout size, making runaround track solutions, and whether to focus on super-detail-sized equipment. The aforementioned question of scale is demonstrated with scenes of Mr. Koester's indoor "G gauge" layout (built on folding tables!). Further, ops running, dispatching and other time-and-train order concepts are presented. Yard design and ready-to-run verses craftsman models is also discussed. Understanding realistic operation looks at designing your layout (should you want to) as part of a prototype or freelance rail network. An inset defines Crewing the Nickle Plate in operations.

Considerations of time explores Why model a specific period. Taking liberties with equipment and an era, i.e., GP30s on NKP before 1962, can be fun. But if modelers what a specific era or even date, e.g., Jack Burgess' Yosemite Valley, the joys of modeling such are offered. "Time hacks" are considered, such as the boxcar craze of the 1970s.

Geography isn't generic looks at the fun of creating scenery that definitely anchors the layout. This chapter is relevant to any modeling genre that needs scenery. Tips and techniques to authentically create land and water and sky scenes are demonstrated to good effect. Use of photographs as backdrops is promoted.

That all leads into the chapter Plausibility: why weather an Illinois Central engine for Pacific Northwestern climate? Would one model the Rio Grande with backdrops of Maine in the backdrop? Useful weather techniques are touched upon, as is the modern an fascinating idea of using photograph manipulation software to easily modify and assess paint schemes! "What If" schemes are demonstrated, too, such as modern power in the livery of "fallen flags". This also is touched upon earlier with thoughts about graphic standards (railroad paint schemes and structure colors).

This brings us to chapter 7 Prototype freelancing - by the prototype!. It delves into using irregular and uncommon models in a realistic way. This is demonstrated with photos like Southern Pacific tunnel motors running in southern Indiana in 2005.

Planning and modeling structures discusses the creation of buildings to bring a satisfying element to your layout, and the current media and ideas that help guide new layout builders. Next is Construction and maintenance; this covers benchwork, track and laying thereof, duckunders, wiring tips, constructing vertically, backgrounds - commercial posters, hand-painted and now photographs - and thoughts on choosing DCC systems. Finally, Animation is defined and explored. There are now so many aspects to animation (beyond the obvious - running trains!) that one could spend their life adding it while never touching a train. (Please see the link Realistic Animation, Lighting & Sounds, Second Edi, below.)

This book incorporates many topics found in part or as a title in other Kalmbach books. The nice thing is that this book delivers the information in a fresh manner and Mr. Koester does a fine job of folding it all in between the covers of this book.

Photos & graphics
This book includes some 200 color photos. They are of model railroads, real railroads, and products and source material. A strength of Kalmbach books is the superior visual support given to the fine text. This book is full of high-quality color photos of top notch models. Many are from Mr. Koester's personal creations - 'how-to's' and complete models.

Supporting the models are many color and black-and-white images of prototype subjects. This reinforces what the text imparts. So do the tables and other graphics. As mentioned above, informational insets and sidebars emphasize related topics on a page.

Okay, I don't have a layout erected yet, nor are my plans beyond the paper project stage. Yet this book reinforces what I have been doing as well as introducing me to new and improved concepts and techniques. It is comprehensive in layout planning concepts. Mr. Koester does a fine job of making the text easy to read. Novices should understand it and more advanced model railroaders shouldn't be induced to yawn. While Mr. Koester is in the Operations genre of the hobby, I do not think he biases the book towards that community.

Kalmbach does an excellent job of supporting the text with their rich gallery of color (and b/w) photos. Tables and illustrations further reinforce the visual support.

I think Planning Your Model Railroad is an excellent book whether you are moving from toy train sets towards model trains, or further into the realm of a model railway. I thoroughly recommend it.

Please remember to tell Kalmbach and retailers that you saw this book here - on RailRoad Modeling.
Highs: Kalmbach does an excellent job of supporting the text with a rich gallery of color photos, tables and illustrations. The comprehensive text is easy to read.
Lows: De minimis.
Verdict: PLANNING YOUR MODEL RAILROAD is an excellent book whether you are moving from toy train sets towards model trains, or even further into the realm of a model railway.
  Scale: N/A
  Mfg. ID: 12494
  Suggested Retail: $21.99
  Related Link: Realistic Animation, Lighting & Sounds, Second Edi
  PUBLISHED: Mar 02, 2016

Our Thanks to Kalmbach Publishing Co.!
This item was provided by them for the purpose of having it reviewed on this KitMaker Network site. If you would like your kit, book, or product reviewed, please contact us.

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About Frederick Boucher (JPTRR)

I'm a professional pilot with a degree in art. My first model was an AMT semi dump truck. Then Monogram's Lunar Lander right after the lunar landing. Next, Revell's 1/32 Bf-109G...cried havoc and released the dogs of modeling! My interests--if built before 1900, or after 1955, then I proba...

Copyright ©2020 text by Frederick Boucher [ JPTRR ]. Images also by copyright holder unless otherwise noted. Opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of AeroScale. All rights reserved.


Excellent! I know from having read Tony's works in magazines and online that he really is insightful. His points here look to be well-illustrated. I find myself ready to plan another new layout, so I'll probably be picking up this book myself here soon! Cheers! -Sean H.
MAR 02, 2016 - 04:02 AM

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