ModelSpoorGroep Valkenswaard

... samen maken we de hobby leuker

GB - Veldhoven 1935

Hans van den Boom, Peter Dillen, and Hugo Baart, members of the ModelSpoorGroep Valkenswaard in the Netherlands, demonstrate with this highly innovative forced perspective diorama that a visually appealing result can be achieved in a very small area.  It all began with an announcement in a Belgian model railway magazine in June 2007. The publishers were organising a mini-layout competition, the judging of which would take place during the fourth International Modelspoor Expo on 25th and 26th October 2008. The requirements which were set for the mini-layout were very simple. The size for a layout in HO was not to be greater than 0.75m2, and there had to be movement.

Hans van den Boom had already once mentioned that, as well as the building of the MSG Valkenswaard club HO layout, he wanted to a small, manageable project. Three club members put their heads together and accepted the challenge, agreeing to work with each other on this project.

The idea

It was Peter who came up with the brilliant idea to build something that is never shown - a mini layout or diorama built in forced perspective, i.e. with the scale diminishing progressively from front to back to give the impression of greater depth. Hans and Hugo glanced at each other - sound good, but how? But Peter’s ‘ideas machine’ simply went on. It could be made like a painting, an optical illusion with the three-dimensional scene spilling out of the frame. Why not? So the next thing was to choose the subject.

Hans, who was born in Veldhoven, remembered that before the Second World War a steam tramway had run from Eindhoven to Turnhout in Belgium. This steam tram came through the Dorpsstraat and made an almost rightangled turn at the Caeciliakerk, as there was no room for it to pass any other way. From Rapportstraat there was a splendid view of the parsonage, the church, and part of the Dorpsstraat. In the 1930s prominent buildings stood on both corners. On the right, the dwelling of the lawyer, which still exists in its full glory and is now a national monument. On the left, a small school building. Hans, in his youth, came along the intended location every day on his way to school though the little school was then long demolished. There was undoubtedly a bit of youthful memory at work in him.

The choice of the scale was more or less dictated by the availability of figures as we did not want to scratchbuild them, but one was considerably rebuilt - more of that later. The two buildings nearest the front had to be built to 1:50 scale, then, iIn order to carry the perspective through, the parsonage had to be built to 1:80 scale, the church to 1:100, and the rearmost parts of of the Dorpsstraat, ending at the kiosk, running to 1:150 scale. In order to make it clear to the public what was going on, three figures in different scales were fixed next to each other on a sheet of styrene. At the front, the 1:50 scale figure looked normal and the others small, but if they were placed even half way back, the 1:50 scale figure suddenly appeared gigantic, let alone if they were put at the back. Even the most attentive observer could hardly believe that in a depth of around 30cm these large differences were possible. The best view of the layout was obtained at roughly eyelevel, with the foreground figures around 165cm above the floor. In order to get the same effect with the rearmost figure, the whole scene was set on a slope by raising the back by about 3cm, the difference between the heights of the largest and smallest figures.

The school building was turned through 180o by the modellers as the back was not interesting enough to build. That is one of the freedoms the builders allow themselves. The classroom has a full interior, with desks, blackboard, and a map of Holland. An attentive observer once noted that the afsluitdijk (shut-off barrage) was not on the map although it was completed in 1932. Our response was that people were poor in this area at this time and in 1935 the little school had no money for a new map. In front of the school stands the schoolmistress, who is leaving the building. This figure was purchased as a young woman with jeans and a white T-shirt - with DAS clay ‘Miss’ has been given a skirt suitable for the period. The side elevation of the school consists of brickwork but to make brickwork in perspective is a real chore. The solution was to send a plasterer along and plaster the wall, and paint it white. Again, a poetic freedom. The bicycle which stands against the school is scratchbuilt as there was no good bike available in this scale. People with good eyesight will see the trademark ‘Gazelle’ on the frame. That is an eye for detail.

The lawyer’s house has an imposing front elevation and a not so interesting rear. On the model the building was turned through 90 degrees so that it faces the Rapportstraat. The Listed Buildings Service may never forgive us! It is a national monument and nothing on it can be altered without permission. The foremost corner of the building is not 90 degrees but 110 degrees to maintain the perspective effect. The window frames are provided with splendid ornamentation. Peter made a mould of this and then formed each ornament with DAS clay. The lawyer’s office is also complete with an interior. The desk with pen box, the photograph of the queen, the carpet - nothing is missing. A light fitting on a wire is also seen, with switch. A lawyer’s office is a distinguished building and should have an appropriate aura, so the nameplate is an engraved copper plate to the correct scale.

Between the building and the school is a scene with a milk cart. This cart was originally pulled by a dog. The dog, however appeared to be far too large, so it was pulled out from the shafts of the cart and placed some way into the foreground, where it looked just the right size. So you see that every disadvantage has its advantage.

The parsonage still stands in its full glory. However, an attentive observer may notice that something is wrong. In the middle of the main building is a door flanked by two windows. That is not true today - the door is not there. From archive pictures, it appears that the door was clearly once present and was replaced during a rebuilding by a window. The parsonage was also built in perspective and the depth is no more than about 2cm.

At a mere 2cm behind the parsonage is the Caeciliakerk. This imposing church is the layout’s eye-catcher. The church stands, large and impressive as a church does. Also constructed in perspective, the model is no deeper than about 2cm. The church tower, flanked by two smaller towers, appears to be enormous, but nothing could be further from the truth. Really what we show is simply a sham. Optically, the observer is deceived, for which we apologise.

On the right-hand side of the scene there are some shops and catering estblishments. These are modelled near enough in the flat, considering the perspective. The row is today still recognisable, allowing for modernisation and a number of rebuildings. The frontages have authentic period advertising. There were not many more pictures of the kiosk to hand. It was constructed in perspective in a flat plane, as it might have appeared in 1935.

All buildings on the layout are constructed from styrene sheet and Evergreen strip. For all brickwork, Slater’s 1:160 scale embossed sheets were used. Rolling stock The rolling stock was all scratchbuilt by Hans. However, at the time, there was very little photographic material available showing the little tram. It therefore came down to our own interpretation. The tram at the front had to be built to 1:70 scale in order to keep it in proportion to the whole scene. For the loco, a Fleischmann HO four-wheel steam loco was used. All parts which were not neccessary were discarded and a new body was built, with the appearance of a Bakkertje (a small Bakker & Rueb steam tram loco). During the Nederlandse Modelspoordagen, a visitor remarked that the model was not quite correct to prototype and that he had some good photographs in his possession and was willing to make these available. Hans may therefore return to the task and have another go. The passenger coach and goods wagon are authentic, and naturally also scratchbuilt.

The point of the whole thing is that the steam tram emerges from behind the school and the disappears behind the lawyer’s house. When it is out of sight, another train - in a smaller scale - continues on its way along the Dorpsstraat. The impression must be given that it is one train running through the town. The next problem is that the second train, built to 1:150 scale, and naturally of the same make-up as the first, runs in front of the houses in the Dorpsstraat and these are built in perspective. Hans solved this by also building the tram in perspective. The drive for this train is in the passenger coach, where there was most room available; we installed a partly modified Fleischmann N industrial 0-6-0 as we did not have a four-coupled mechanism immediately available from the scrapbox, but nobody notices that it is a six-coupled chassis under the passenger coach. The loco itself is a dummy and simply rolls on two axles, neatly fitted behind the skirts. The coach bogies are fakes and have no function, but no-one sees that. If you are building an unusual project, you must make some concessions to practicality here and there!

Operation is kept very simple. The speed of both trams is independently controlled. The big tram starts the small one on its way by means of a reed switch. After being stopped for some time, the small tram runs back again and, through another reed contact, sends the big tram back again. After that, the big tram is set in motion again manually. This is not ideal as of course the trains run backward for the return, but turning them is simply not feasible. After two days at the first exhibition, the motors of both trams did not seem to be very reliable but Piet Peetoom of Godfather Models has supplied suitable small motors which will undoubtedly be installed by Hans.

The paving also had to be authentic. In the past, when road building was still a craft, splendid patterns were laid in basalt blocks. Such patterns are also to be found on the layout, naturally in perspective in order to keep in the style of the model. The curve which the tram has to negotiate in reality is also laid, naturally in perspective. The paving consists of DAS clay with the pattern scribed into it while still damp - a tedious job, but it strengthens the effect of the whole. If you are building a project like this, you cannot permit yourself to deviate from the perspective. A good example of that is the handcart in front of the shops. This is a purchase example, and therefore square. As you can see, it has no depth. The trees, hedges, and bushes, present in modest sizes, are built from the usual materials. The trees behind the school and parsonage stand at the rear of the building at gutter height.

The backscene had to have no distracting joins. Now, with our club layout we have had experience with a curved backscene but we initially wanted to make this backscene as a quarter of a sphere in one piece. The space was, however, too restricted, and the shape would have had to be moulded in fibreglass. We chose instead to bend a long piece of hardboard in the horizontal plane so there are no vertical seams to be seen. The rear wall was made high enough so that if you stand in front of the layout in the normal way you cannot see the top. Of course the backscene was painted by Peter who, through his profession, has created a tremendous atmosphere. The lighting had a lot of attention. By moving a light bulb around at the front, a position was eventually found which ensured that there were no disturbing shadows. The whole thing is illuminated with one bulb, which has a warm colour that usefully lights the layout in an atmospheric way.

Much attention was also given to the form of the picture frame. We wanted to ensure that it was not too emphasised: the viewer’s attention must be drawn to where it really belongs, the model. However, the frame alone seemed incomplete. In order to strengthen the idea of a painting, we also wanted to give the painting a background, a piece of wall on which it hangs, but the whole thing had to remain transportable. The ‘wall’ is in four parts and fits precisely in the lid of the transport case. The dimensions of the case had to be arranged for transport in the boot of a car - with much fitting and measuring, that has been achieved. The lid of the case serves as a table on which the layout is placed. The legs of this table fit precisely behind the curve of the backscene. This extra table was necessary to raise the lay- out to eye height. The whole thing can be placed on an ordinary kitchen table. The joins between the four sections of ‘wall’, made from 3mm plywood, do not fit very well together. Some covering strips are placed on the outside and the seams kept closed with adhesive tape on the back.

At the International Modelspoor Expo, we attracted a lot of interest and positive reactions to the layout, and were awarded the first prize, of which we, as builders, were extremely proud. The result was decided by both a specialist jury and mem- bers of the public. The professionals judged our layout as the best, and the public as second. It is worth noting that this little layout was the only one placed in the first five by both juries. From this it seems that the public and professionals see things differently.

An appropriate question from onlookers has been: how many hours work has the layout involved? We have not recorded this but estimate between 250 and 300 hours.

Introducing the three builders

Hans van den Boom joined the club in 1996. Professionally Hans is a service engineer with a firm in earth-moving equipment. During a club open day, Hans had his interest in railway modelling awakened. His talents as a scratchbuilder very quickly came to the surface. He has become a phenomonen 90 in the construction of structures in styrene. Bundles of Evergreen and Slater’s materials together with a jar of MEK invariably belong in his luggage during holidays at home and abroad when many prototype railways and preserved lines are visited.

Peter Dillen was by profession an artist and has for years run an art school with his wife, with great success. On account of the approach of pensionable age, he has disposed of his art school and now enjoys life in retirement. With the time that has become free, he has kept himself busy with building scale models. It does not matter what he wants to build, if it can be built, he builds it. Hans’ wife was one of Peter’s art students and introduced him to Hans, who invited Peter to come along to a club evening to see if he could make a contribution to the club layout. Peter would not be Peter if he had not got a model with him. Everyone’s mouth fell open when a Brabant longfronted farmhouse was taken from a shoebox. The club’s modular layout was therefore extended by one module on which this farmhouse with its complete surroundings was installed, and with that, Peter a became a member. The module with the Brabant farm is popular with the public at exhibitions at home and abroad.

Hugo Baart likewise has been a club member since the occasion of an open day in 1991. During his working life, Hugo was a technical real estate manager and administrator, but now enjoys early retirement. Originally Hugo ran N gauge. The more tracks that were laid, the more he wanted, but when that gave no more satisfaction he changed to HOe two years ago, and since then he has worked at home on a 360cm x 70cm layout with a simple track plan that could be built in a reasonable time. It appeared that he found more enjoyment in construction than in operation. Therefore, given his technical background and the club’s extensive workshop, Hugo became a valued carpenter. In the club he is kept busy making trees and bushes, adding scenery to the modular layout, building and rebuilding kits, and scratchbuilding in styrene everything for the new modular layout which the club was building.

English translation courtesy of Continental Modeller - Andrew Burnham.

Tick for the pictures on 'Diorama Veldhoven 1935'.