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Selective Compression: Two Viewpoints.

October 22, 2010

For those not familiar, selective compression is a technique used in modeling to “compress” the character of a very large object, such as a building, into a smaller footprint to presumably fit onto a diorama or layout. Most often when a large complex industry is modeled on most model railroads, the complex is compressed to the most interesting parts of the factory. They usually go about omitting redundant walls, sheds and outbuildings and more often than not shrinking the main structures as well.

Selective compression has always been popular with manufacturers of kits, and I’ll use one of Walther’s more interesting structures as an example. In the Mid 2000’s Walther’s finally realized that the entire US isn’t filled with brick buildings and decided to debut some structures unique to the west, California in particular. Of these was a neat little kit, the Valley Citrus Association. Interestingly it was based on a real prototype, which was really neat I thought as I happily purchased the kit. After doing some research, I came across the prototype via Jim Lancaster’s excellent citrus modeling website. After looking through the Orange County archives, I located what originally was the Del Monte Packing house located in Santa Ana, Calif. The original building was massive, all clapboard with some delightful mission-revival touches. Obviously too large for your run of the mill Walther’s kit, unless you consider the size of a kit like their Steel Mill. The only problem I found with this excellent kit is that it’s way too small. The selective compression was a but overzealous and despite capturing a fair bit of it’s character, it can only spot 2 cars on it’s platform, not exactly useful when the rush of Oranges or Lemons arrive in harvesting season. (Do note that some varieties of Oranges and Lemons used to be harvested year round in the now paved-over parts of the former “Inland Empire”.) So you’re posed with a serious issue. The kit is $45, not cheap, and even buying nearly $100 worth of kit will only net you a paltry two more reefers at your loading docks. You could go the route that Jim Crowell III went and build a beautiful scratchbuilt version of one third of the structure. I suppose another option would be making it part of a complex of smaller structres.
In this case, I think that selective compression on the Walther’s kit detracted from the overall design because it rendered the actual structure’s function inadequate to serve the needs of a real industry, itself only being about the size of few reefer cars in floorspace.

walthers packing house

Too many modelers in the olden days often had industries so small the freight cars were actually larger than the buildings from which they were supposed to be loaded from! An absurd theory, to be sure. I’m not sure why modelers have a phobia to include a few truck-only served industries on their layouts as well to keep their industrial districts filled with variety and preventing them from being a complete spaghetti bowl (*unless the prototype calls for it) I know space is valuable on a model railroad, but still, the cafe on main street doesn’t need a reefer spotted out back, nor does a small hardware store need a boxcar’s worth of tools weekly. (Yes, I’ve seen both of these gaffes on different layouts over the years..ugh!)

However if the complex or factory is truly massive, like a lumber mill or a paper mill or an automobile plant, I’m not against selective compression.

There is, however a better way, prioritizing the buildings you want to put on the layout. Most rail served buildings were close to the mainline whenever possible, and when they weren’t it was to ease the loading or unloading the goods. What you could do is prioritize the portions of the industry you want to model to only those rail-served and if you have space for the ancillary or main structures that produce the goods versus just the trackside loading yards or warehouses, go and build those as well, minimizing the need to compress the structures to the point of absurdity. It would be pretty neat to have some truly massive structures on your layout if you can manage even just a building flat of some aspect of the industry you’re trying to model so that you drive home the reason why this industry truly needs to be served by rail versus truck!

What are your thoughts? Would you rather satisfy your modeling desires with large industries that need rail service or a small facsimile of the industry as a stand in?

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Paul Saunders permalink
    October 23, 2010 12:35 am

    I like one large industry on my railway. A car manufacture, oil refinery or steel works. All my other industries on my layout are based on which ever large industry I have decided to model.
    The smaller models that represent larger industries look rather foolish and I wish model manufactures would make the larger more realistic looking models.

  2. December 26, 2010 3:13 pm

    The trouble is always the size of everything. “Small everything” looks good on 99% of model railroads. Agricultural branch lines or short lines make very good model scenarios because most industries were small operations, in small towns, in small structures serving small numbers of cars. Team tracks are great because they have no structure associated with them. Unoccupied open space is very important to realism, but too many model railroaders try to cram everything under the sun into zero square feet – the “urban” model railroads probably being the worst offenders. If I had the space to build a layout with 10 scale miles of track I’d still model the same Southern shortline I do now……. but with longer passing tracks and longer sidings at industries, more farmland, and longer single tracked ROW between very small towns.

  3. January 11, 2013 6:34 pm

    Many layouts are so small that anything large would overpower the world. One approach to that reality is to model an earlier time when railroads served LCL freight houses, smaller grain elevators, small town bulk oil dealers, etc. Things will still need compression, but not to the point of absurdity. By the way, all modeling is selectively compressed, thank heaven! Imagine the boredom of being called up just after you went to bed in order to operate a train over 95 scale miles of track for the next four hours. We capture the interesting parts for a reason.

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