Sunday, October 11, 2009

How tall should a layout be ?

In preparation for a trip to Uckfield model railway exhibition next weekend, the layout has been dragged out of storage and we've been looking at a few repairs and improvements.

As part of this, serious consideration has been given to making a new set of lags for the layout. The current ones are spindly and a bit fragile but they seem to work when not being patched up. Future layouts though will be getting something a bit more sturdy.

Which raises a question - how tall should a model railway layout be ?

The Hospital is about 95cm (37 inches) off the floor. I think the others we've built are similar. Reading the latest issue of Narrow Gauge and Short Line Gazette, one of the contributors home based layout is a whopping 132cm (52 inches) high - that's taller than the worktop I have for layout building 111cm (44 inches). The later is tall enough to cover a hot water tank and also put the model at a pleasant height for me to work at.

Now at 6ft 3 (190cm) I'm taller than average (5ft 9ins or 175cm) but not by much. Standing in the pub there aren't many people shorter than me. To view a model I prefer it to be at a height that doesn't require me to bend down too much. Aside from being uncomfortable, if I bend I stick out into the aisle of the show and take up more than my fair share of floor space !

Of course I could just built layouts for me but since they are intended to be for exhibition use, consideration has to be given to the best height for display for as many people as possible. Working on the average height then I'm not too far off - short enough for most but tall enough that most people don't see a helicopter view. And I operate standing up so as to be level with visitors for answering questions and chatting.

However there are two groups of people who are special cases:

Those in wheelchairs. My eye line sitting down is 129cm (51 inches) but then as I said, I'm tall. Even allowing for this I think the wheelchair view is slightly above eye level and ought to be very acceptable.

The other group are children. These come in all shapes and sizes. Some would argue that we should make every effort to cater for them with all models at table top height or below. I differ - my models are built for grown-ups. Most kids are bored stiff watching small locomotives shunt back and forth slowly. I also don't see that the world should be entirely organised around the ankle-biters. Finescale model railways are something you aspire too, not toys. By the time children are tall enough to appreciate them, they are tall enough (naturally or with the aid of the ever popular step stool) to see them.

Of course, whatever I do, I can still be thwarted by the barriers put around the models. If the crosspiece falls at eye level for your layout, it poses a dilemma - block the view or risk operating without crowd protection.

These are my thoughts but I know this is a contentious issue and would love to gain some more opinions, please stick something in the comments box.


Chris Nevard Model Railways said...

I've had just this dilemma too... I've found that with a diorama type of approach people tend to prefer the higher option - that way the ligting pelmet doesn't get in the way for people that don't want to stoop. After much messing about and listening to the punters 4ft3 inches would tend to be a popular height. I'm 6ft, but I need a small platform when leaning over the backscene from the rear (a couple of bricks works for me)

Michael Campbell said...

Always a contentious issue! I made the supports for my layout 43" high, the track will be about 3" higher than that. That's comfortable viewing for a small layout for most, though I am thinking of making a step for kids. Much lower and the lighting bar blocks the view!

Chris Ford said...

We mounted Wood End at 44 inches from floor to track level and carried out a few loose studies to look at whether this was OK. We found that most chair users could see from a few feet back and made no complaint and the average 12 year old (we asked) was quite happy. We concluded that anyone a lot below 12 was looking at Thomas and everyone else found the height comfortable. So now we aim for 40-44 inches up as a rule of thumb.