This is Kaustav and Mouli Chatterjee's model railroad exhibit in Hyderabad, India. The model is built in 1:160 scale, popularly known as N Scale and depicts a fictional port in Wrightsville, North Carolina in 1960s.
Years of labour and love bring a fictional 'Wrightsville Port' to life and how!
What is N Scale?
N scale in general means 1:160. The British and Japanese versions of this scale are 1:148 and 1:150 respectively, but the actual difference in dimensions between the varieties are very subtle. Model Trains made in all these scales run on 9 mm gauge tracks that depict 'Standard Gauge' in this scale. An average human in N Scale is just about 10 mm tall!
What is Wrightsville Port?
This is a scale model of a fictional port in a real place called Wrightsville in North Carolina. The imaginary period is the 1960s - containers and inter-modal freight operations are in their infancy, but already started making a big impact. It's a small port and a small town, but interesting nonetheless.
Main Quay at Night (2018-05-02) by Kaustav ChatterjeeRail Enthusiasts' Society
Day time/night time
The model pays special attention to night time details with elaborate lighting that's been recreated in miniature form to replicate how it happens in real life.
Devil is in the details
Every vessel, building, bridge, crane and other structures are careful reproduction of some real life counterpart, hence retains its originality even in the miniature form - an essential aspect of miniature modelling that separates this from toys, and makes it more of an art for serious hobbyists.
A term coined by its creator, imitating a more popular term in model train world called scratch-building which means building a model from scratch without taking help of model kits. This particular term means building a model out of scrap materials. All custom models in Wrightsville are made out of cardboard, wires, toothpicks, reject parts of toys and puzzles, matchstick, or even the cardboard core of toilet paper roll - things that generally find their way to the trashcan even before you know it. All the locomotives, rolling stock, tracks, vehicles and humans are of course purchased off the shelf and in most cases in 'ready to run' state.
The first ship
Before the trains came our ships! In 2008 the first ship, Sirius the Oil Tanker, was built. Modelled after a small steamer from the early 20th century, this ship was an ambitious project to start with. Made fully out of throwaway cardboard, toothpicks, electrical wires and broken jewellery items, this model is precisely where all the madness started.
After Sirius, came the first cranes. Following the designs of cranes from the 1950's and '60's these cranes were built out of cardboard, electrical wire and aluminium foil. Yes, those intricate jibs are thin cardboard too, with truss support of 28 gauge copper wire. The ladders are made out of the same grade of electric wires.
Severus is a small cargo ship that can pack a solid punch in details. Modelled after a real ship, this small 7 inch freighter is essential for any port scene. The derrick and the hold details are faithfully recreated as per the real life vessel. Primary material is again cardboard. Other materials include electric wire, toothpick, discarded pieces of 3D puzzles etc. The name clearly shows the influence of the Harry Potter series on the creators!
The bascule and the tug
2010 continued to see more individual items being made, though the plan of the layout was still taking shape. The bascule bridge is made out of remnant of wooden 3D puzzles - a deviation in material from the otherwise staple of cardboard. The tug boat is made using the 'conventional' materials - rejected cardboard stock, electrical wire, drinking straw etc.
The detailed plan
All good things start with a good plan. Wrightsville Port is an N Scale adaptation of an HO scale (1:87) plan called 'Coalport, Maryland' by famous model train layout designer Ian Rice. This definitely has some originality thrown into it and there are some significant changes from the original design, era and railroad operations.
Model of a model
Since the wooden structure of the display was to be done by a carpenter (in model railroading term, known as benchwork), a 1:15 scale model of the real thing was made for the carpenter for ease of visualisation. Naturally, the carpenter still had plenty of questions.
Late 2010 saw the birth of the Wrightsville Port with the base structure in place. On top of the solid base of plywood, the contour of the port was built using insulation board (Masonite board), small pieces of wood and several Jenga blocks. The square holes are access for electromagnets to operate the turnouts. Here is a mock up of the 'yet to come' with all individual models built so far in their respective positions.
Laying the track
After completing the benchwork (base of the layout), it was time to lay those little railroad tracks. Track laying is hard work even in model form. Everything needs to align properly, you need to keep an eye out for smooth grades, proper flow and geometry of the track for reliable running of trains.
Cardboard concrete and paper hill
By late 2011/early 2012, work was underway to embed the tracks in 'concrete' in the port section - basically careful levelling of the port's concrete surface with the top of the railroad tracks. Primary material was again cardboard. The background hill also started taking shape - made out of home made light paper mache using old news paper.
Painting the backdrop
Here you see Mouli just starting to paint the backdrop in Wrightsville Port's 2nd home. Though there are a lot of colors in that box, eventually it would come down to just shades of blue to start with, and then a mix of green and fall colors for the backdrop hill.
Within 2 years of starting the project, Wrightsville Port had moved to it's third home. Here the display had it's dedicated place and lighting, and the place below the layout and the staging yard were converted into storage and a bookshelf respectively.
The process of embedding the tracks in concrete was a time consuming work that continued till end of 2012. It required a degree of precision where a millimetre is either too high or too low! Concrete details were printed concrete patterns glued on the cardboard. The pieces between the rails are styrene (A type of amendable plastic). The end result is definitely realistic.
Individual models of buildings continued to populate both the port and the town of Wrightsville. Architectural model grade cardboard were used for the later creations to provide better structural strength. The tall hotel building is made out of plastic scratch-building kit - one of very few plastic versions that I've built.
Realising the plan
In 2013 the layout started to look more and more like the plan drawn 3 years ago. More buildings and structures were coming up, and the scenes were getting busier every month.
Here you see Mouli making water effect using acrylic gel in the creek in front of the lighthouse.
Yes, sometimes bringing out those fine details in a scale as small as 1:160 takes some immense concentration!
Time to have some fun
Now model trains are also about having fun - listening to the inner kid in you! This is also a great way to bond with family and let the creativity of the youngsters flow. Here Kaustav's nephews are enjoying an operating session and getting the hang of playing with trains.
Life thrives at Wrightsville
A lot was happening in Wrightsville by 2013 - Lizzy, the attendant in the local small grocery store Ducketts is cleaning the floor. In the floor above, Mr. Shaw had his long time friend Simon Green visiting him for an evening drink and some serious discussion on books and arts - you can spot the fancy blue whiskey bottle and the glass on the table in front of Mr. Shaw. On the second floor, however, there is romance brewing! Local college student Dan Andrew had his new girlfriend visiting this evening and we expect the lights to go off very soon in that apartment!
As the model takes shape and the layout makes its way to magazines and publications, the feeling is nothing short of a proud parent. But before they knew it, life would throw a curve ball very soon! Wrightsville Port, along with its creators would move nearly 1500 km to Hyderabad at the end of 2013.
After moving to Hyderabad in it's 4th home, Wrightsville Port had its first operating railroad signal. Totally handmade, these were made out of aluminium tube, brass wire, cardboard and very small incandescent lamps (1.2 mm in diameter). The signals denote whether the block it is protecting is occupied or not.
Little details go a long way
Now that the Wrightsville Town is developing, the streets and roads are being populated every month, however, attention had to be paid to little details that you might not expect to see in a model so small. Here you can find the gutter and the drain beside the main street leading to the town, right in front of the hotel.
Let there be lights
2014-15 saw more finer details being added. Those tiny vehicles were installed with optic fibre headlights (even that 15 mm long motor bike!), the hotel had it's neon sign, Frosty's cold storage came up in the corner and you can spot more people on the road.
What's on the Menu?
A difficult scene to capture on camera is the interior of the Cafe where you see a woman deliberating on her choice of meal while the waiter awaits.
Kite-cam view 1
An unusual angle of the layout that is not very often filmed - the entry/exit of the trains is behind the tall hotel building.
Kite-cam view 2
Another unusual angle to show the details of the entrance of the port. The night scenes definitely capture a different feel of the area.
New tall yard lights were installed in the port in 2015 that definitely brightened things up. These are actually HO scale street lights that served well as tall N Scale yard lights.
A very important part of detailing is capturing the effect of the elements. Using artist pastel color and acrylic paints rust and dust details were replicated on the locomotive and the rolling stocks. For a scale as small as N, waethering actually increases contrast and more details on these wonderful miniatures are revealed easily.
No port is complete without heavily rusted pile of junk and scrap. So, here is Wrightsville Port's collection of junk that includes a rusted old locomotive parts, machinery, pieces of odd corrugated sheets etc. One can spot the growth of long grass grown on the cracks of the less maintained concrete surface. By this time Wrightsville Port moved to its 2nd home in Hyderabad, and in its 5th home since 2010.
By end of 2016, all minute details of the oil facility were completed. Just like the other models, the oil unloading arm, the spacing buoy for the ship, the oil tanker loading platform, are all based on real life equipment. The storage tanks are the cardboard core of the toilet paper roll.
By the time Wrightsville Port moved to it's current home in 2018, the towering grain elevator and its elaborate conveyor belt structures were completed. The pneumatic un-loader and the step conveyor structure is based on real life equipment again, and for a change the material used for this model was mostly styrene.
The container facility also received a large blue crane modelled after the first generation container cranes in the port of Seattle in 1960's. The ship Betelgeuse, the largest ship in the layout at 23 inches long, is also modelled after a small container ship.
More work to be done
The boat yard still requires completion - a project that is currently underway. However, most other details are complete and you can spot a variety of characters on the wharf.
Sea weeds and effects of elements are added in 2018 as well. The ships received complete mooring to ensure they don't float away!
Never too late to chat
Workers at the Wrightsville Port quay are busy in their daily chores around the large warehouse. However, as you can see here, they like their daily dose of gossip and chat amidst all the work.
To be continued...
Wrightsville Port has come a long way from its humble start in a small rented house back in Calcutta a decade ago, but it's not done yet! Further detailing projects are in the pipeline and those additions are sure to make a solid contribution to this Lilliputian land.