Thursday, December 22, 2022

Era and locale

 I have always felt that every layout benefits from a clear indication of its era and, if possible, its locale. I realize that some free-lanced layouts are vague as to location, exact era, or both, but I think the overall credibility of the modeling is helped if it frames or locates the layout in time and space. And viewers respond to that, if only viscerally.

I realized, in thinking about a recent email sent to me privately, that though I have written a number of times about these issues for my own layout, it was mostly piecemeal, not everything together. So this post tries to tie all the aspects about era together, with links to posts about the details.

When visitors arrive in the layout room, I often point out something hanging on the wall: an original 1951 California vehicle license plate. As was common in that day, the plates remained on vehicles for several following years, with only a small corner tag covering up the last two digits of the year 1951, and showing the current year of registration.

 As I have shown before, this kind of plate is on all the model vehicles on my layout, most with the white corner tag issued in 1953. New cars got the same design of plate, but with “53” in the lower right corner instead of the 51 you see above. See this post: .

The vehicle theme is supported by making sure I have no post-1954 vehicles on the layout. Of course I do have a few 1953 models, such as the Chevrolet shown below. It’s a Magnuson Models resin kit (for more, you could read this post: ). The color scheme is the same as a car my Dad owned, I believe the first car he had bought new. The car has paused at the boulevard stop before entering Chamisal Road, in my layout town of Shumala.

Automobiles, of course, are something for which many people have specific memories of makes and models through the years. For that reason, I often include in my “interchangeable” billboard (see, for example, this post: ), ads like the following, alongside Nipomo Street in my town of Ballard. You can click on the image to enlarge it if you wish.

Continuing with what I suppose is a kind of automotive theme, in the one gas station I have on the layout, a City Classics kit cut down to fit my space, I was careful to use the era-appropriate sign advertising the price of regular gas. Yep, the sign really does say that it was 23.9 cents a gallon. I wrote a series of posts about building this model; here is a link to the concluding post: .

For a more literal date identity, I have used a Southern Pacific Coast Division timetable for 1953 as my foundation for operating session timetables (though shown as a “Supplement,” since the contents differ from the actual Timetable No. 164). Crews use this document in every session. 

Here’s a post on the topic ( ), and I also did an article for Model Railroad Hobbyist back in October 2014 on the topic (you can download or read on-line this or many other issues of MRH, for free, at their website, ). The blog post I wrote about that article is here: .

These are, perhaps, kind of subtle signals, individually, yet together I think they help solidify the impression in viewer’s minds that it really is 1953 that is being modeled. More on the locale aspect of this topic in a future post.

Tony Thompson

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