Port Charles at Night

It’s almost as if we are seeing the above scene from a drone at night. We are by a harbor as the sound of seabirds can be heard. It is a foggy evening. Below is the sound of activity in the railroad yard. In the background to the right, the downtown area of the city. A neon sign flashes on a building. A moon hangs in the night sky.

The above world is all contained within the N-scale model railroad of a master modeler (and illusionist) named Fred. This is not your old oval Lionel train set.

Fred sends the above video with the below photographs of night scenes of his city to the UK model railroading site of Alastair Lee.

Above a Bridge
The Railroad Yard
The Cement Plant

But tonight, there is much going on in the nearby city. Fred tells us a little about it in a note to Al’s website.

” I put modeling aside from last April ‘til this December to take up the violin again with a professional teacher and try to finish up a book I’m writing. (Too many projects in my retirement!) But I’m back in the game again, and have been recently working on the N Scale city of Port Charles, complete with its theater street, neon lights, and a rather seedy strip joint. Thought I’d share some photogs with you in case you needed more grist for the mill. In the distance you can see my oil refinery, which is about 25% done. I’m illuminating with ‘Pica’ LEDs, which are very fussy, very expensive, and very time consuming. Every single light you see is rheostat adjustable!”

Downtown Port Charles
A Seedy Part of Town (One you hear music from the Chicken Ranch?)
A Discussion
Another View of Downton Port Charles
A Ship Waits in the Harbor by the Oil Refinery

Fred adds some technical notes on the amazing lighting of Port Charles.

” I think one of my personal triumphs was figuring out how to light up all my cars with fiber optic strands. I’ve been using .75 mm single strand fiber optic line for all the back drop lights, so I managed to drill out the headlights of a couple dozen plastic N scale autos, pushed the strands out through the lights, and through the floor of the car, then passed them through a 1/8″ hole in the street to a light source under the layout. in my street scene. Half were drilled (oncoming) for white headlights, half for red taillights. It really provides some visual excitement to the street at night. Together with high rise kits, neon signage, I was pleased to see my city really come alive these last few months. My city backdrop is just a sketch at this point, but I’ve installed hundreds and hundreds of fibre optic strands to simulate night high rise windows, flashing beacons, aircraft strobe lights, etc.”

* * *

The hobby of model railroading has changed much from those days of the Lionel train set. Perhaps the first move towards realism was in the legendary layout of Monterey, California modeler John Allen with his Gorre & Daphetid (Gory and Defeated) railroad layout. Allen saw model railroading as the creation of stunning mountain scenery that extended all the way to the floor.

John Allen’s Gorry & Daphetid

Over the years, there developed a few divisions in model railroading. There were those who saw the hobby as one of track plans and railroad operations. And, there were those who saw the hobby as allowing the creation the illusion of realistic worlds. With layouts like the N scale layout of Fred, the hobby has become more than something contained in just the hobby of model railroading. With Fred’s layout, there is a mixture of things like the art of dioramists (particular the great box dioramists like Shep Paine), set design in film and theater and lighting. Special effects are added with a smoke machine creating fog around the harbor. And there is the overall sound of the scene, the sound of a city at night heard on the video. Importantly, Fred takes the current idea of sound on model railroad layouts from being contained in just the trains themselves and spreads it to an environment where sounds mix with each other. Like they do in real life for the world is not totally silent except for the sounds of trains. And now, the art of photography is needed to capture the illusions. In effect, Fred’s railroad is more one to be photographed where the illusion can be maintained than a layout for a club where members meet to run trains.

There are a few gaps in the illusions Fred creates. For example, the photograph of the ship waiting in the harbor by the oil refinery. The lighting is superb but the blue of the harbor water meets a line which is obviously the wall of the room holding Port Charles. Fred also posts some daytime photos around Port Charles. The models are superb but the magic of the illusion of Port Charles at night is gone.


See the Home Page of Alastair Lee’s Model Railway Layout Plans

See Fred’s post to Al on his model railroading site with comments at the bottom.

See the Box Dioramas site which contains the works of the great illusionists of model making.

See my Canadian friend Darryl Audette’s page on the Box Diorama site

See my Diorama Page on Midnight Oil Studios

“In some ways, dioramas are so interesting because you are telling a story without words. It’s like silent movies, except that the actors aren’t even moving.” Shep Paine

One thought on “Port Charles at Night

  1. A great impression of Americana at its industrial zenith …, iron bridges, steel railroads, productive factories, etc., etc. Unfortunately, so many of these things that led America to it’s greatness no longer seem to be politically, socially, or ecologically acceptable. Times change.

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