Sunday, August 25, 2019

Scenery Inspiration: A Visit to Ken Karlewicz' D&H Cherry Valley Branch

Since my last post about doing scenery in East Berlin, there have only been two developments - one major, and one minor.

The "minor" development is that I've added a coal yard next to the power plant at the building-soon-to-be-Stanley-Chemical. I'm still working on it, so not quite ready to report much on it yet.

The "major" development is that Dave Messer sent me the model he did of the East Berlin station(!). I'll do a proper post about that soon (with pics), so stay tuned.

Additional news about those developments will have to wait for now, because today I got to visit - and operate on - a layout I've been admiring for a long time. And in the process, got a HUGE dose of scenery inspiration and ideas to try on my own layout.

If you've been 'round these parts for a while, you know I tend to gravitate toward layouts that depict the "smaller" side of railroading - the short lines, the branch lines, the secondary routes. Jim Dufour's Cheshire Branch and Kip Grant's Sonnyvale Branch are two great examples, just to name a couple I've had the privilege of seeing in person.

Well, now I can add Ken Karlewicz' Cherry Valley Branch to my list of favorites. Ken's beautiful layout has been in the hobby press a lot lately, from his "Perspective" article in this month's Railroad Model Craftsman, to being featured on the cover of this year's Model Railroad Planning magazine. I'll leave it to those magazines - and others - to describe the layout in detail, but suffice it to say here that Ken has really nailed the look & feel of the D&H in upstate New York. Everything looks right and more than anything else gives you - to use Ken's words - "a sense of place."

While I and other "prototype modelers" do everything we can to depict our prototypes as accurately as possible, I fear that sometimes we can miss that certain je ne sais quoi* that really captures and conveys our prototype realistically. Sometimes, in the pursuit of being technically "correct," we lose the essence of what we're modeling. Worse yet - at least in my case - being "correct" sometimes becomes so difficult it actually stops our progress. Or am I the only one to never get around to modeling a certain building or putting in a backdrop because the photos don't exist?....

But Ken has mastered the "Art" of railroad modeling. The scenes he depicts and the lines he models may not be "correct" in the sense of being a perfect rendition of actual places, but every place he shows through his models convey the sense of the actual places. And that, in some ways, is even more powerful - and, dare I say, "correct" than the perfect copy.

Really good fiction can speak to you and hit you in ways that the best non-fiction can't.

So, in that spirit, I'll close by sharing a selection of the photos I took on the Cherry Valley Branch today. They come nowhere close to doing the layout justice. There are no captions or descriptions of what you're seeing. But if you're familiar with Ken's work, you know these places already. If not, the beauty of his art speaks for itself.


*It's a testament to Ken's influence that I actually felt it necessary to use the French. It just sounded so much more "arty" :^)
Thanks to Ken, Tim, John, Jim, Mike, and Dave for such a great day - hope to get to operate with you all again sometime soon!
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  1. Chris,
    Thanks for sharing your photos of Ken's wonderful modeling.
    As for your recent posts where you seem to justifying not being 110% prototypical in all things perhaps the following exercise will provide some insight:
    1. List your 10 favorite movies of all time.
    2. Of those 10, how many were documentaries?

    Literal duplication in model railroading can quickly become a combination of frustrating (nothing fits) or produce a result that fails to evoke an emotional response.

    A more art driven approach to the hobby is far more likely to produce an emotional response. I think that's what you're coming to realize.


    1. Yup Marty, you hit it! "A more art driven approach to the hobby is far more likely to produce an emotional response." If what I'm trying to do is convey what it was like to work on the Valley Line in the Autumn of 1948, I'll be better served taking the more artistic path to be able to give you that feeling - that sense of time and place - rather than continue to chase the impossible dream of 110% prototype fidelity (which, even with unlimited space, time, and resources may still fall short of evoking the emotional response). Thanks for putting it so succinctly - and don't be surprised if I still a few of your thoughts on the matter! >:^)

    2. Quite true Marty! This is something I'm starting to discover as I'm rebuilding the club layout more prototypically. At one time, I had to model a scene that didn't exist on the prototype due to space constrain it honestly, it looked much better than when I redid the same scene according to prototype later. I'm seriously thinking about going back to the former scene. I recall Lance Mindheim saying reconciling arts and accuracy was a fool's errand. He was indeed right.

    3. Thanks for weighing in Matthieu! And you/Lance are right - but the "best" layouts IMO strike just the right balance between arts & accuracy. Unfortunately, that "right" balance is often SOOOOO elusive!

    4. I don't know Chris, Dolkos' B&M, Bernie Kempinski's Acquia Line, and Ken's and Kip Grant's examples of the D&H in miniature are more evocative than accurate.
      One of my all time favorite model railroads is Bill Henderson's HO Coal Belt. Accurate? Hardly.
      The quality of the individual models (except for Bill's scenery, which was wonderful!) wasn't all that great.
      But the Coal Belt is perhaps one of the most evocative model railroads ever built.

    5. I totally agree Marty - and KK's D&H is certainly in that same vein. I guess by "accurate" I'm talking mostly about the structures, rolling stock, and engines. The scenery is certainly the most evocative and even the trackplans don't have to be all that accurate to convey (evoke?) the railroad effectively. I guess it really just boils down to what you're trying to accomplish with your layout - and that can encompass a very wide range of thing: all the way from Jim Six's approach (which I think even he may be moderating a bit) where the layout is practically an operating museum diorama, perfectly replicating the prototype in 1:87th scale, to Bill Henderson's approach (or even, frankly dare I say, Malcolm Furlow's approach which tends toward 100% art/evocative).

      Really cool discussion and I really appreciate you and the others participating. And it's not just an academic discussion either, but goes to the very heart of how we as modelers accomplish our goals within our limits.

  2. Ken and Don did an amazing job on the layout. I can only hope someday to see it in person, as it sure looks fantastic in pictures!

    1. Thanks! Though these pics don’t really do it justice. Very impressive work for sure.