Researching Your Chosen Prototype

Before you start building a model railway based on a given prototype you need to make some decisions. The decisions you need to make include:

The answers to these questions will determine how much research that you are going to need to carry out before you start building your model railway.It will also determine which aspects of the prototype that you give priority to in carrying out that research.

Depending on what you find out during the initial research step you may decide to change the answers you initially gave to those initial questions. Not being able to locate sufficient information during your research may lead to your deciding to be less specific in what you model, perhaps modelling a more generic location rather than a specific one, or even change the selected prototype completely to one that you are finding out a lot more about.

The best place to find out about your chosen prototype is right there on site.If your plan is to model a current arrangement then if you can actually get there and take your own photos and notes then you will have the most accurate information available about that prototype.Of course this may not be possible if you have selected a prototype that is at a location at a distance from where you are that makes visiting it inconvenient. Selecting to model a prototype that no longer exists makes visiting it to take your own photos and notes impossible unless you just happened to do so back when it did exist and have selected the prototype because of the information you already have available to you. You shouldn't rule out a visit to where the prototype used to be just because it isn't there any more as in most cases there will hopefully still be something that can be gained by actually seeing the area for yourself. This applies even more when you arer modelling a region rather than a specific location as much of the non-railway aspects of the region will still be around from the period you are considering even if the railway itself isn't.

Unless you have decided to model your local railway line the way that it is today (and possibly not even then) you are not going to find out everything you need from an examination of the site. You are going to have to make use of information compiled by other people.

In the past the main source of this information has been books and magazines written by those who did have the access to collect the information about the prototype onsite at the time. Today with the internet there are additional sources of information where people who do not have the expertise or sufficient knowledge to write a whole book about a subject have at least put what they do know online.

This means that in addition to what is recorded in books you may also be able to find web pages on the subject that perhaps cover other aspects of the prototype not covered in books. You may also find a much larger range of photos of your chosen prototype that were taken by people who happened to visit at the appropriate time.

One thing to watch out for is that not all of the information you find in books or on the web will be completely accurate. Often with photos that were taken many years ago there were no notes placed with the photo to identify just exactly what the photo is and when it was taken. The current caption with the photo has most likely been recreated recently and reflects were and whent the owner thinks that the photo was taken which may not always be correct (even more so where the captions are being added by someone other than the original photographer). Also not all books and web pages use only information collected on site by the author themselves, in many instances they also do their own research using books and other web pages to gather the information that their onsite inspection missed and so mistakes made in one book or on one web site may end up being copied to others.

A partial solution to this problem lies in the fact that web pages are not the only source of information about a given prototype on the internet. Another perhaps even larger source of information is all the other people around the world who share an interest in your chosen prototype either specifically or in general (the more general you consider the protptype the more people who will share your interest). These people will also be carrying out their own research into the prototype and may have access to sources of information that you don't. One option for finding out something where you can't find the answer yourself is to ask those people. One easy way to do this is to join one or more email groups (eg. through Yahoo Groups) where people interested in your chosen prototype share information about it. The people who join such groups are usually quite happy to share what they know about their chosen prototype. After all the more people who are modelling their prototype the more likely that they'll be able to purchase accurate equipment rather than having to build it themselves or modify something else.

The more you can find out about your prototype the bettereven if what you find out has nothing to do with what you can incorporate into a model because all of the information is interrelated and so that information may help you in deciding which is the more likely when it comes to trying to fill in the inevitible gaps where the precise information just isn't available to you at the moment. Besides which finding out about your prototype is an interesting field in itself.

Of course you don't need to find out everything there is to know about your chosen prototype before you start to construct your model. In fact you will never complete the research step as there will still be more to find out even after you have finished building the model. That's why I included that third point about the most distinctive aspects of the prototype. What you need to know before you can start building your model will depend on how accurate you need the model to be but if you are not modelling an exact prototype then the most important thing is for the model to present the right atmosphere so that it clearly represents your chosen prototype and that's where the most distinctive aspects comes in. If you start by identifying those things that distinguish your prototype from other railways and make sure that you include those things in the model then the prototype that the model is based on will be identifiable even if not everything in the model is currently anywhere near as accurate as you'd like.

Another thing to consider in deciding whether you have enough information to be able to start modelling is how difficult something would be to change on the model if you started building without all the information and then found out you'd got it wrong. Where your prototype used specific track layouts to allow particular train movements to occur then identifying the track layout before you start laying track is useful as that means that you can install an appropriate track layout at the start. Learning exactly how the railway used that track layout is less important as you can always obtain the appropriate rolling stock at a later date.

Researching your prototype can be an interesting hobby in itself even beyond that required to be able to construct a model (particularly if your intention with the model is to just present a general atmosphere or a given region and timeperiod where ony minimal research is required). Once you actuallty start researching and get caught up in what information you have found out about your prototype and perhaps more inportantly identified gaps in your knowledge, you mmay end up spending significant amounts of time on research for its own sake. Perhaps that model railway will never get built because you are spending all your time on research.

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Copyright Stephen Chapman