The thought-stream that underlies this blog series is that a community sits behind our thoughts more than we are capable of giving credit to. With respect to our hobby, what do we see when we focus on the larger group? It is a philosophical exegesis of sorts--you know, philosophy trains.
Real metaphysical train bullshit.
An idea was introduced in the previous blog that I would like to develop a little further. I proposed that the creative impulse that existed in John Allen's work is an undercurrent in the hobby today. Some people may find this assertion odd insofar as modeling tends to laud a different aesthetic (think Pelle Søeborg, again from my previous blog). However, I believe that a kind of baseline creative impulse is at play for a lot of what we do. And, it exists even among layouts that don't present themselves with Allen's fictional aesthetic.
Let me explain:
Consider the photo below. It is from Rob Spangler's HO scale Western Pacific layout.
This scene depicts a Western Pacific freight train moving along the WP's 8th sub. On Spangler's layout, the 8th sub is a fictional subdivision that served the WP as an alternative route at the east end of the railroad. Where the prototype railroad operated into Salt Lake City via a route to the south of the Great Salt Lake, the 8th sub is a fictional route to the north of the Great Salt Lake. It is reasonable that the WP could have built a line as depicted by Spangler's layout. The terminal city, Odgen, is a de-facto railroad hub in the state of Utah, and by using this route, the 8th sub. would have followed the original transcontinental line. So, it is all in the fabric--so to speak.
Where Allen created a fictional universe, Spangler has created a fictional narrative that intelligently coheres with the real universe. It is so well placed that, in fact, one would have to know a fair amount about the WP to be confident that it is actually a fiction. And, one would have to know an awful lot about railroads generally, history, and geography to appreciate just how well the 8th Sub. narrative is at rest within the actual universe. (Hint: it is not unlike how well he blends the back drop with the background scenery in the photograph above.) The impulse to create--to tell the story--is still at play with Spangler as it is with Allen, and it is at play for a lot of people who participate in this hobby.
Spangler is proto-lancing. And for what it is worth, I think that Spangler's layout can serve as a thought exercise to beg questions about how we conceptualize "prototype modeling" and more fictional modeling as dichotomous. Differences exist, for sure. And these differences are the result of different ideological persuasions, for sure. But, I think what proto-lance teases out is the degree to which there is overlap in these ideologies. it is not the case that "prototype modelers" are individuals who give deference to outcomes that are only faithful to the prototype-which, by the way, is what the meaning of the words "prototype modeler" suggests. (And it is sometimes how we like to represent ourselves.) My experience is that many people who refer to themselves as prototype modelers accept fictions in their modeling all the time. And so, it seems to me that the difference between prototype modeling and other kinds of participation has more to do with what fictions are permissible for each of these two ideologies.
Let me explain:
In what now feels like another life, I once managed a group home for people with relatively severe mental disabilities. The primary interest of my employer was to create the highest quality of life for these individuals, and I can attest to the fact that, in many cases, we did. In this industry, documentation is important, and one method of documentation is the creation of scrapbooks. Scrapbooks tell a story, and from the point of view of this institution, these stories are important. They speak to its quality-of-life kinds of objectives in ways that other forms of documentation cannot.
And I learned something when scrapbooking for the business, a photograph from a camera is not objective. There were occasions where a particular event was a hot mess, literally diarrhea and fist fights and hurt feelings. And yet, a camera in the right location and at the moment time shows only social euphoria.
Less the diarrhea and fist fights, prototype modeling can be a little bit this way.
Always in modeling, regardless of what is being modeled or how it is being modeled, there is always the question of where and when to place the camera. For model railroading, 'placing the camera' relates to how one represents a scene in an given space. What does one show and what does one exclude? How does one transition between scenes? A story is being told regardless of whether one is prototype modeling or proto-lancing or operating with upside-down trestles (does anyone else remember that article from Model Railroader?). Given that model railroads are mired in selective compression, subjectivity is always at play. It will always be the case that there is a subjective timbre to everything we do--even when we are prototype modelers.
Despite a fictitious route, Spangler has created a layout that captures the look and feel of the late Western Pacific as well as any other railroad of which I am aware. When you operate on it, you are there. Yet, there never was a "there." Meanwhile, I have visited other layouts that are more prototypically bent, and yet, they are far less persuasive. Shouldn't prototype modeling keep that from happening?
And this is the point.
I think an ostensible response recognizes that there are a lot of ingredients to make a meal. And for a layout to be persuasive, good execution needs to happen on a number of levels. But, I think that there is something else going on too. When the term "prototype modeling" is used colloquially, the domain of things it refers to is narrow. We are comfortable describing ourselves as 'prototype modelers' pretty much if we don't accept fictions in our rolling stock and locomotives. When we use 'prototype modeling' in this way, it is as though we only to refer to the quality of the flour when baking. 'Prototype modeling' doesn't normally describe how well one represents a scene in an given space, what one shows and what does one excludes, or how one transitions between scenes. And like the scrapbook, this kind of "documentation" also contributes to the story, as Spangler's layout demonstrates.
So let me close by doubling back on something I said earlier.
We conceptualize "prototype modeling" and more fictional modeling as dichotomous. But, the difference between prototype modeling and other kinds of participation has more to do with what fictions are permissible for each of these two ideologies. They aren't diametric. The way we solve the problems of space and time allow for extraordinary creative latitude--even for the most rigid of prototype modelers.
So, where do you place your camera?