Thursday, 10 March 2016

What's in a name?

I've recently started thinking about tweaking the final presentation of my layout, given that I'm about a month away from seeing my layout completed. Yet I can't help think of how some model railroaders come up with names for their layouts. The choice of names seems just as vast as the choice of scales available to begin with, and range from the stoic and regimental, right through to the down-right hilarious. At the end of the day however, the name of your layout is what will appear in a model train exhibition guide or on an exhibitor's plaque. So what exactly do you want your layout's name to say about your model train layout?

My Countrylink station sign for Philden to the right, stands alongside an older circle shaped sign behind the tree at left.

If you're modelling a prototype location, choosing a name for your layout should be easy. Provided that is, that your layout actually resembles the location or area you are trying to present. Often a prototype layout takes on the name of the railway station depicted. Naming a freelanced layout however can become a little more tricky. I named my layout PHILDEN, simply because it is the first half of my name, Phil, and the first half of my wife's name, Denise. We liked it so much that we stuck with it for the name of our business, Philden Cleaning Caloundra. I guess a freelanced layout gives you the freedom to do that, but for the name of a station somewhere in New South Wales, Philden sounds like it actually belongs somewhere.

The name of your layout may have to fit into some very small spaces, such as on this signal hut.

The advantage of using a short name for your layout becomes evident when you start to do projects like adding the station's name to signs and signal boxes, such as the Auscision Models NSW CTC signal (shown above), that I installed on my layout. Philden fitted just nicely, but I'd hate to have chosen a funny Australian name like Wadidgeridoo Creek!

Each letter was measured and space allowed between each letter and word before I stuck the antique letters in place.

After buying some old NSW station indicator nameboards on eBay to dress up the cabinet style presentation of my layout, my thoughts turned to what I could next do to further present my layout like a museum exhibit. I found the answer at my local Spotlight store in the form of some antique map designed 30 mm printed stick-on letters to stick onto the light support beam that runs the length of my layout. With 1830 mm of 43 mm high double-side sky blue beam at my disposal, simply sticking Philden in the middle would have been an anti-climax.

These 30 mm high antique-style stick-on letters let me have some visual fun naming my layout.

Inspired by the Bruce Springsteen album Greetings From Asbury Park, NJ, I set to work measuring out each letter and the spacing required to spell Greetings from Philden, New South Wales along the light support beam. Allowing 3 mm spacing between each letter and 25 mm spacing between each word, I calculated the length of the layout name, subtracted it from the length of the support beam and divided the answer by 2 to find out how much I needed to indent from the end before I simply started sticking down the letters. I made some 3 mm and 25 mm spacers from some scrap balsa wood, and stuck the letters 3 mm from the bottom of the support beam so that the greeting would not be obscured beneath the lid of my layout.

The finished result puts my layout's name up in lights. Cue the Broadway musical score!

As the beam was visible anyway due to the structural nature of the layout's backdrop being reversible, (and also to hold the weight of an upper deck for future expansion), the LED light strip was always going to be impossible to conceal. But thanks to the antique-style stick-on lettering, my layout now has a Broadway appeal that makes my layout's name appear up in lights!

And another view from the reverse side of my layout. Watch what happens below when I reverse the backdrop.

I haven't yet decided which side is my favourite view of my layout. So I simply refer to it as the reverse view (from behind the station), and the front view (from the platform side). But the advantage of having a reversible backdrop is that I can change the view whenever I want.

And the front view as viewed from my desk, with it's own unique greeting.

I decided to give the other side of my layout a completely different greeting. The catch-cry from the banner of my website; Somewhere in New South Wales, at a railway station far, far away...... as well as being a little too Star Wars-esque, measures a whopping 1160 mm long. In trying to centre it above my layout, I somehow tightened up on the spacing a little, and had to add an extra 3 dots at the end of the greeting instead of the 5 I'd allowed for. All up this project cost me only $19.90 for two packs of stick-on letters from Spotlight.

All the railway inspiration a writer needs above his desk. And a little too much detail to distract him from writing!

Once more I have probably ventured a little too far from tradition in the presentation of my bookshelf layout, but as a writer I'm sure it will provide me with hours of inspiration to pen some railway mystery novels in the years to come. With only the railway station building, installing lights inside each of the buildings and some steps leading from the back door of the cement plant to complete, it is the little things like this that lend an air of finality to a year of working on a small layout. Picture some black curtains suspended around the front of the layout, and a small 2 to 3 foot removable staging shelf beyond the mouse-hole escape door at the cement plant end of my layout, and my layout is practically complete. Now what do I move onto next, the cement plant or the station building?

See also; Adding that WOW Factor!


  1. Hi Phil,
    My favourite side of the layout would have to be the side that shows the sign "Mt. Kuring-gai" Not that I am biased.

    1. Yeah, those station indicator signs were a great find on eBay. The 4 polished aluminium signs shown at the top of this post are for my upperdeck expansion, and I think Point Clare (where I grew up in Gosford) will have to be placed on my favourite side when I expand. I wonder how many of these station names are now mounted on model railway layouts across Australia?


Thanks for taking the time to visit Philden. I hope you'll book a return ticket soon. Cheers, Phil