N Scale Layout #6 - A Season In Hope (2009-?)
The No Imagination Required RR

Our story begins in March of '09. After having recently completed my fifth in a series of "absolute and complete fantasy" model railroads, I'd suddenly found myself at something of a modeling crossroads.

"Shay Stadium"

My original plan after completing Shay was to embark upon a sixth layout with "Big Steel" as its theme (and with all those way cool Walthers Cornerstone steel mill structures as its, well, cornerstone). Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), somewhere during the course of building Shay I'd gradually come to the conclusion that simply "winging it" (vis'a'vis layout design) just wasn't really working for me anymore. Reality (as in "the modeling of") had elbowed its way into my world. And what it wanted (nay, demanded) was that it be given a major say in the design of my next layout... or else! And sorry, yes, I admit it. I've been keeping these revelations to myself lo these many months. Lordy, can you forgive me?!

Anyway, yeah, these ideas have been percolating for a while. And I think this new mindset basically boils down to a strange combination of ambition and laziness. I'm much more ambitious about my modeling than I used to be, and I've actually started to care about getting things "real". Consequently, I've lately found myself asking a lot more questions of the "what would make logical sense here" or "how would this look in the real world" ilk. And unfortunately, when you start asking questions like that, the first thing you get back in response is "well, it depends - what are you modeling"? To which I then have to stare dumbly at the ground, because I never really have an answer to smart-ass questions like that. So, I generally wind up pulling solutions out of the proverbial hat and hoping for the best. Consequently, my layouts (although improving in their workmanship), remain a jumbled up stew of divergant elements that may or may not really belong together.

As for laziness, well... Quite frankly, I'm just kind of sick of working my imagination overtime on these layouts. Forever wondering "what sort of building, piece of scenery, or bit of detailing might look good here", and then having to invent answers out of thin air? Ugh, it gets to be tiring after a while. And when it's more about style than it is about modeling something tangible, it becomes ever more difficult to come up with interesting new things to stir into the pot. Conversely, if you simply throw your hands up and start recycling the same old things you've already done a million times before, well... what's the point?

So, by modeling something that actually exists I figured I'd be able to both "get it real" (IE, feed the ambition), and at the same time, send my imagination on a much needed vacation (IE, give in to the laziness).

But then came the next series of questions - the what, the where and the when? Well, as it turns out, those were easy questions to answer. Basically it had to be someplace within a relatively short distance of my Minneapolis home - one that I could literally go visit any time I wanted to. Yeah, it's all about the laziness. I'm simply not interested in expending a lot of time in boring research. Taking a short motorcycle trip on a warm summer day in order to snap some pictures and jot down some notes? Fun! Buying a lot of books? Spending hours reading said books? Scouring the internet? Ugh, less fun. Worse still, even with the best reference material available, there are still going to be gaps in one's knowledge. No picture in the world is going to tell me everything there is to know about a particular scene. And if I need to know where I should put a particular stop sign or street light, I want to be able to know with literal certainty the exactly right answer. In other words, adios "Big Steel" ('cuz, y'know, there ain't no steel mills in Minny).

So, I spent a bit of time thinking about what I might enjoy modeling and eventually decided that "Small Town Minnesota" would fill the bill quite nicely. Clearly I get a kick out of building small towns (as evidenced by my last couple of layouts). So, with that decided I basically let fate be my guide. I picked a random rail line out of town and followed it to wherever it might lead me. And I kid you not, I stumbled across a town about 60 miles south of Minneapolis that was literally designed for enshrinement on a model railroad - namely, the town of "Hope".

Let me tell you about Hope. This place is the absolute avatar of "don't blink or you might miss it" Small Town, USA. Although with a population of only 100 (or so), it's never actually been big enough to be incorporated as a "town" (I guess the official designation is "village"). Anyway, it consists of one main drag (less than a mile from stem to stern). The buildings are all clustered along either side of the main road (no alleys, one short side street, and bloody nothing else). Said buildings range from houses to businesses to a church to, I kid you not, an actual barn - right on main street! Behind the buildings on the east side of the street? Farm fields, and nothing but. Behind the buildings on the west side of the street? The Union Pacific (nee CRI&P, nee C&NW) "spine line" running from the Twin Cities down to Des Moines and Kansas City, and... a giganto huge grain elevator operation! With two sidings! Wow!

And I'll tell you what - when I came upon "Fisher Dude" house, I was "hooked"

But damn, when I got a load of the "Welcome" sign with the little steam engine on it... Well come on, total fait accompli! I mean, you cannot make this stuff up -

So, decision made - I am going to model the town of Hope, MN. And I mean literally - building for building, tree for tree, blade of grass for... well, OK, let's not get carried away here. But anyway, yeah, that's the plan. But does one small town a layout make? Probably not. So, the question then becomes, what else can I add that will turn this into a model railroad that I can actually run trains around on? Unfortunately, I'm still confined to my rectangular roundy-round world (IE, the top of my pool table), so I'm a bit limited in my options. However, after a bit of cogitation I recalled there being a small yard and fueling facility up on the northern end of that rail line (Union Pacific's "Valley Park" yard just outside of Shakopee). And I further surmised that I just might be able to do something with that - basically take my rectangular tabletop and devote half to Hope and half to that yard (and possibly with some sort of divider down the middle). Will it work? Who knows. But it's definitely plan enough to proceed with.

The first thing I'm going to have to do is drive down to Hope, take pictures of all the buildings, and then draw up some sort of diagram showing what goes where. Then I'm going to have to see what's out there in the way of kits. At this point I suspect that much of what I'll need to build is going to have to be kitbashed (if not out and out scratchbuilt). But I'm actually looking forward to that challenge. I don't know about you, but after spending the past decade looking at pictures of other people's layouts, I've started playing the "I know that building" game (y'know - "that's a Walthers", "that's a DPM", "that's an Atlas", etc). And I've really come to appreciate those layouts where the buildings are not simply "more of the same". Definitely something to shoot for.

The good news (I guess) is that building all these buildings is going to take me a good long time. And I suspect it will be many months before I'll even need to start worrying about making an actual layout out of things. I tell ya, if you thought I took my time with my last layout, you ain't seen nothing yet. No worries, though. I still have Shay to play with in the meantime

So anyway, see you back here once I have some photos to work with.

Oh, and if you want to take a peek at Hope yourself, let Google Maps be your guide. Just follow 35W south out of Minneapolis. Hope is just south of Owatonna (north of Albert Lea). Look just west of 35W on "4". That little north-south jog in "4" (running parallel to the rail line) is the main drag through Hope.

I must say, we certainly live in amazing times. Zooming in on the aerial photos of Hope made me feel like a bloody peeping Tom. What a world...

03/29/09 - A journey to Hope

As threatened, I drove down to Hope to scout things out - IE, take photos of all the buildings and draw up a simple street plan/reference guide in my notebook. Unfortunately, late March is Minnesota at its worst - mud, litter, brown grass and barren trees. So, my apologies to Hope for what will no doubt be a particularly unflattering set of pictures. Oh well, at least it was sunny out (cloudy late March days are Minnesota at its worst... squared). On the plus side, it's definitely easier to photograph stuff when there aren't a lot of leafy trees blocking one's view.

Here's a shocker - driving up and down main street (stopping every 30 feet or so to jot down some notes and take a picture) garnered me some pretty strange looks from the denizens of Hope. In fact, after snapping a picture of this one dude's house, said dude came striding out the front door and asked me just what the heck I was up to. As it turns out, said dude ("Mark") is the mayor of Hope (or whatever the tiny-town equivalent of "mayor" might be - head of the town council or something). And after making our introductions, Mark turned out to be a veritable gold mine of valuable information. He clued me in on the current state of some of the main street businesses. And more importantly, he hepped me to the fact that Hope has its own honest-to-gosh local historian who has (get this) published a book covering the 100 year history of the town. Better still, he provided me with her name and telephone number. So, against all (ahem) hope, it sounds like I'm actually going to have a solid historical reference at my disposal for this project. Who'da thunk it??

So, here's the lay of the land -

UP MainMain Street#18 - Mayor Mark's House
||##19 - Jim Krause House
||##20 - Herzog House
||##21 - Fisher Dude House
||##22 - Fischer House
||##23 - Richard Krause House
||##24 - Meschke House
||##25 - Kilcoyne House
||##26 - Heise House
||##27 - Srsen House
#54 - Grain Bunkers/ || ##28 - First Lutheran Church
Equipment Storage || ##29 - Miller Farm
|| #17 - Steele Co Trail Assn
(nee Hope Co-op Oil)
# #30 - Hope Creamery
|| #16 - Steele Co Trail Assn
(nee Hope Co-op Oil)
# #31 - Hope General Store
(nee Hope Hardware)
#53 - Fertilizer
#55 - NH3 Station || #15 - Post Office
(nee Slezak's Store)
# #32 - Hopefull Treasures
(nee Wesley's Grocery Store)
#51 - Agronomy
#52 - North
|| #14 - The Shop In Hope
(nee Stafford's / Slezak's Shed / Hope Depot)
# #33 - First National Bank
|| #13 - Klecker Garage (former) # #34 - Spurgeon House
#50 - Shop #49 - Feed Mill || #12 - Schuler House # #35 - Spurgy's Bar & Grill
(nee Straight River Inn)
|| #11 - Karston House # #36 - Finch's Pub
(nee Hope Tavern)
#48 - Premium #47 - South || #10 - Hruby House # #37 - CS Customs
(nee Mogenson Garage)
Conditioning Elevator & || #9 - "Buttermaker" House # #38 - Hope School
Plant Bulk Conditioning || #8 - Wilker House # #39 - Pirkl House
Plant || #7 - Powell House # #40 - Kuchenbecker House
#|| #6 - Bosshart House # #41 - Sackett House
#|| #5 - Cassen House # #42 - More Krauses
#|| #4 - Kaplan House # #43 - Meixner House
#|| #3 - Viegut House # #44 - Boysen House
#|| #2 - Bass House # #45 - Evans House
#46 - SunRich Admin || #1 - Krause Feeds & Supplies #

I didn't want to trespass inside the SunRich/SunOpta complex, so no pictures there (yet). However, Mayor Mark provided me with the name and number of the head guy over there. And hopefully said guy will be open to the idea of letting me wander around at some point and take some pictures (not to mention giving me an overview of how the place operates vis'a'vis the railroad).

(Note from the distant future - I eventually garnered said permission, which is why there are now pictures and descriptions of the SunRich buildings in the above-linked pages).

It sounds like a pretty interesting operation. Apparently they specialize in "organic" (non genetically modified) grains (this being Minnesota, I assume that means corn and soy beans). The stuff gets trucked in from everywhere and shipped out by rail to destinations all over the world. I guess it's some pretty spendy stuff, so there's a lot of money moving through this tiny little town (who knew?)

So, all fascinating stuff - and definitely grist for the model railroading mill. I think I made a good choice here. My only niggling concern at this point is that a lot of the "downtown" businesses look sort of abandoned. And depending on what the aforementioned history book yields, I may ultimately decide to turn the clock back a few years and re-open some (or all) of them. We shall see... But first, I need to get a copy of that book.

04/17/09 - Wow, I think I stuck with my original plan for a whole ten seconds

Who was that practical fellow who (just a few paragraphs back) said he wasn't interested in getting bogged down in a lot of research? I guess it wasn't me, because all I've been doing for the past three weeks is get bogged down in a lot of research. In other words, yeah, I got the history book. Although calling it a "history book" is a bit of a misnomer, as it's really more of a scrapbook. Lori Thiele (the author, and current Hope Postmaster) basically solicited everyone in town for pictures, newspaper clippings, handwritten recollections, etc. She then photocopied it all and put it together in one thick tome. Each business, farm and home is covered (and oddly enough, in the same order that I laid out my reference grid above - IE, starting with "building #1" and proceeding on to "building #46").

It's all fascinating stuff, and it's definitely going to help me out when I finally do get around to actually modeling things. As you can see, I added photos and notes to the above-linked pages as I made my way through the book.

In addition to changing my mind about research, I think I've also changed my mind about trying to literally duplicate every single building in town. As I started really looking at some of these houses, I came to the conclusion that most of them don't really have viable N scale kit counterparts. And given the complex nature of a lot of them, the thought of trying to scratchbuild all thirty of them started to sound more like "tedious work" than it did "relaxing hobby". The other problem with scratchbuilding houses is that you need a lot of photographs covering every possible viewing angle. And frankly, I'm just not really comfortable with the idea of traipsing around people's property in order to to take said photos. So, I think what I'm going to do for the bulk of them is pick kits that more or less capture the basic flavor of the house and leave it at that. Ultimately I'm sure there'll be some tweaking and minor kitbashing along the way. And I may get ambitious enough to scratchbuild a handful of the simpler ones. But, I think that's about as far as I'm willing to go. Frankly, I'm not really interested in spending years just building houses.

Having decided to allow myself some leeway vis'a'vis modeling houses, I also decided to grant myself the same flexibility vis'a'vis any closed businesses. Frankly, the thought of modeling them in a state of abandoned decay depresses me. So, if need be, I'm going to model them as they were 10-20 years ago instead (IE, still in business). It's a sad state of affairs, but it's also fairly typical of the problems faced by most small Minnesota farming communities. In the first half the of the 20th century, kids stuck around and took over the family farms and businesses. But starting with the baby boom generation, kids grew up and simply moved away (looking for better jobs and better opportunities elsewhere). So, the parents retire and inevitably pass away. And with no one to replace them, the population shrinks and businesses go away. And cripes, who wants to model that? I'd prefer that my layout represent a happier and more vibrant era.

On a completely unrelated note, I managed to scare up an email address for somebody over at SunOpta (Raquel Hansen), who has been very accommodating vis'a'vis answering my questions about their operation. Better still, she told me that I could feel free to come down any old time and wander around their property in order to take pictures (provided I stay out of everybody's way and don't try to actually enter any of the buildings). Can't ask for better than that!

So, that's about it for now - research continues.

04/18/09 - A Brief History of "Early" Hope

First of all, my apologies to the model railroading fans out there, Sadly, I must confess to having come down with a serious case of "history-itis". Consequently, you're just going to have to bear with me for a while longer as I get all this out of my system. I promise you, we'll get to the modeling eventually.

Anyway, I now have serious empathy for the historians of the world. Trying to piece together an accurate timeline of events in any one place (especially a tiny flyspeck like this one) seems to be a nigh impossible task. Everybody in "Memories of Hope" seems to have different recollections (or different "passed down" recollections) of who did what when. So, ultimately it's all a bit nebulous. But nevertheless, here's my best shot at putting together the different pieces of the puzzle (some dates approximated) -

1898 - The Burlington, Cedar Rapids & Northern Railroad submits a proposal for a right-of-way through what what would eventually become Hope
1900 - Henry Oldefendt and Edward Srsen sell land to the BCR&N for $360 and $60 (respectively)
1903 - The BCR&N is sold to the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific
1906 - Local farmers appear before the railroad and warehouse commission to request a train station. Said request is granted and Henry Oldefendt sells more land to the railroad for a siding and a depot (which ultimately wound up consisting of a couple of converted box cars). Henry asks his wife Lena what she thinks about having the depot (and hence, the town) named after her. Her very Minnesota/German reply? "Acht-a-my-a!" (one pictures her throwing her hands to her cheeks and opening her eyes wide in shock). As legend would have it, a railroad official then chimed in with "Let's call it Hope, and hope it makes a good town"
1909 - Joe and John Slezak build their general store
1910 - The Lemond creamery is moved to Hope (managed by Louis Schuster). The Speltz Co. of Albert Lea establishes a grain elevator in town (along with coal sheds, and eventually a lumber yard). A.C. Anderson relocates to Hope to manage the elevator
1914 - Louis and Anton Schuster open a general store (across from Slezak's)
1915 - Two new businesses are established - Farmers State Bank and Nelson's Hardware/Implement/Blacksmith Shop
1916 - US Post Office established at the Schuster general store
1917 - Fire destroys the Schuster and Nelson buildings. Post office relocates across the street to Slezak's store
1919 - First Lutheran Church built, new two-story creamery is built to replace the old one, Hope Hardware is rebuilt
1920 - Straight River Inn is built, electricity comes to Hope
1921 - New depot built
1925 - Klecker Garage built
1928 - Hope Co-Op built (later Oldefendt Livestock)
1935 - Hope Tavern built
1936 - Wesley's Grocery built
1947 - Hope school relocated into town
1950 - Elmer Steele Oil Company established (later Hope Co-Op Oil)
1951 - Mogenson Garage & Dairy Supplies established
1957 - Rock Island passenger service to Hope ends
1974 - Slezak's ceases operation as a general store, continuing on as a post office only
1980 - Rock Island goes belly up and the much coveted Twin Cities to Kansas City spine line is leased (and later purchased) by the C&NW
1983 - Hope Elevator sold to MWCG and renamed SunRich
1995 - Yet another change in spine line ownership as the C&NW is purchased by the UP, Wesley's Grocery is converted to an antique shop (Hopefull Treasures)
1998 - Stafford's Toy box built, Slezak's shed demolished
1999 - Hope Hardware converted to an antique shop (Hope General Store)
2001 - Hope Co-Op Oil buildings sold to Steele County Trail Association, fuel tanks removed
2005 - Klecker garage converted to storage building

Circa 1938

Circa 1972

04/22/09 - Finished with the book work

I finally finished going through the Hope history book and updating all of the above-linked building pages with various tidbits of interesting (to me, anyway) trivia that may (or may not) actually help me model this place. And truth be told, it was actually kind of a fun exercise. I guess I'm a closet history buff. Who knew?

Wending my way through the book, I eventually came to the conclusion that conditions in Hope aren't nearly as dire as I'd originally surmised. I think the really lean times were probably the 80's and 90's. But since then, things have really started percolating around town. The elevator business (and farming in general) is booming, the creamery is off life support, and there's nary an empty house in town. And all of those businesses that I (at first) thought might be closed? Well, they're not. In fact, I don't think there's a single unoccupied building in town. So, very cool indeed (although that's still not going to stop me from maybe turning the clock back on a few of these places, just 'cuz I think they were more interesting in their earlier incarnations).

One aspect of this project that I've started giving some serious thought to is just how in the heck I'm going to manage to fit this entire town onto a tabletop (8-ish X 4-ish) layout. Hope is only about 3/4 of a mile long, which makes it just one tremendously small town. However, that's still close to 25 N scale feet. And, no, that ain't gonna happen.

The way I figure it, I have two basic options here - compress the town or expand the size of the layout (or both). On the compression side of things, I can start by simply moving everything a bit closer together. As is, the town is a bit of sprawl, what with all of the houses (generally) occupying huge lots. Next, do I really need thirty houses? Probably not. So, I can save quite a bit of space by simply pruning things back to, oh, fifteen or twenty houses? Frankly, I wasn't all that enthused about having to come up with thirty different houses anyway...

On the expansion side of things, I'm thinking I can get a bigger layout (and still retain portability) by going modular. Y'know, take a 7' X 4' section and cap it with a couple of 4' X 2' sections (or something like that). That should (along with the aforementioned selective compression) allow me to model most (if not all) of Hope. I sure "hope" so, anyway (and no, I don't think I'm ever going to get tired of that pun).

Anyway, that's all stuff I'm still researching. In the mean time, I think I can (finally) get started actually building something. And I think what I'm going to do is start with some of the interesting "downtown" buildings and then just kind of expand outwards from there and see where it takes me. Oh yeah, and I also still need to get down to Hope and photograph all the SunRich buildings.

Part 1 - Creamery, Post Office, Hardware Store, Depot, Tools, Hopper Scouting

Part 2 - Feed Mill, Klecker Garage, Slezak's Shed, Trackmobile, Atlas True Track

Part 3 - Hopefull Treasures, North Elevator, DME Caboose and Diesels, Elevator Switcher, CRIP Passenger Train Research, C&NW FA's, CRIP E8's

Part 4 - More North Elevator, Depot Shed, Twin Star Rocket, CRIP PA's and Steamers, Scouting Trip, Downsizing Klecker's, Track Plans

Part 5 - Benchwork, Lighting, Mock-Up, Agronomy Warehouse, Hope Bank, M&StL Doodlebug, RDC and 44-tonner, CRIP Baggage-Express, E7's and BL2, UP Patches

Part 6 - Miller Farm, Yard Wiring, M&Stl Mikado, FT's and Caboose, Golden State Ltd

Part 7 - Hope Lutheran Church, Mayor Mark's House, Krause House, Machine Shop, CRIP Doodlebug and Mid-Continent Special, M&Stl North Star Ltd and SD7, UP Patches

Part 8 - Spurgeon House, SunRich Fertilizer Building, CRIP AB6, DME Excursion Train, CRIP Freight Diesels, M&StL NW2

Part 9 - Fisher Dude House, CRIP RS-2M, CRIP E3's, South Elevator, UP Excursion Train, M&StL and C&NW Old-Timers, Dakota 400

Part 10 - More South Elevator, CRIP F7B, Low-Voltage Lighting Circuit, Depot Semaphore, CRIP Plainsman, Assorted Houses

Part 11 - More South Elevator, Assorted Houses, C&NW Minnesota 400, NH3 Station, Fertilizer Storage Tanks, Grain Bunker

Part 12 - Grain Bunker #2, Misc Ag Equipment, Co-Op Oil, Krause House, Spurgy's Bar & Grill, Finch's Pub, New Track Plan, Ballast

Part 13 - Main Street, Elevator Dirt, Front Loader, Lighting, Yard Cork, NH3 Sprayers, Sidewalks, Driveways, Turf, CRIP GP18's, Photo Backdrop, Speeder

Part 14 - Abandoned Farm, More Turf/Driveways/Lighting, Another Garage, Misc Detailing, Trees, Grade Crossings, Body/Paint Shop, Corn, NH3 Pumps

Part 15 - Schoolhouse, More Corn, Grain Trucks, More Ag Equipment, Fertilizer Building Detailing, Streetlights, Container Loader, Static Grass, Farm Detailing, Warehouse Detailing

Part 16 - SunOpta Propane Tank, Machine Shop Addition, Misc Detailing, More Grass, More Lit Cars, Track Do-Overs, Various Sheds, Trackmobile II

Part 17 - More Ballast and Corn, Soybeans, Fertilizer Tank Trailers, Feed Mill Detailing, Krause's Feeds, Waseca Backdrop, Crossing Details, Cargill

Part 18 - Irrigation, Big Boy, Soybeans Done, Cargill Done, More Roads, More Corn, House Detailing, Car Show, Creamery Sheds, PO Detailing

Part 19 - SunRich Admin, More Corn, Water, Trainworx Trailers, Corn Do-Over, Grain Trucks, Yard Fueling Facility, Yard Track Do Over, Yard Lighting, Scrap Metal Building

Part 20 - Yard Storage/Shop, Substation Fence, Table Skirting, MOW vehicles, New Backdrop, Yard Office, RIP Track, DME Plows, Yard Detailing, Public Works, Moving

Part 21 - Public Works Details, Farm Details, Lake, Article, Lightning, Substation, More Lit Vehicles

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