Curt LeVan's Home Layout - (Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3)
by Curt LeVan

It has arrived! My layout, which I refer to as the Kamiyacho Line, it now securely installed in my basement. It is a DCC layout, using a Lenz control system. I’ve broken away from Japanese layout conventions somewhat in that rather than Kato or Tomix track we’ve used Peco code 55, along with ElectroFrog turnouts and Tortoise switch motors. My first layout years ago used Tomix track, while my second layout used Atlas track.

The layout is installed!

My fundamental desire was for a layout which reflected my memories of living in Japan during the late 1980’s. It was not my intention to be a slave to prototypical design, but I did want to include some specific elements such as replicas of certain buildings at Ginza 4-Chome and others near Yurakucho. For the countryside I was thinking of mid-summer scenes from the animated film “Tonari no Totoro,” as well as the relatively flat farms in Chiba Prefecture near Narita rather than steeply terraced rice fields. The seaside village and rural areas come from recollections of the Izu peninsula. None of this may be how it actually looks, but rather how it looks in my mind some 20 years on.

I’ve seen photos of a number of very nice Japanese-themed layouts but one thing I hoped to avoid was that my layout could be mistaken for a display in a Kato or Tomytec catalog. Ideally there would be a mix of scratch-built, kit-bashed and other buildings such that viewers would think “wow, look at that!” more often than “oh, I have that building.”

The purpose of the layout is mainly rail-fanning; letting trains run while I work on scenery details or relax with a cold beverage. I wanted some freight switching, like a container yard, but switching is not the main purpose. And I know this may be a point of contention but I intend to apply selective compression to the trains themselves. No doubt there is a certain pleasure in watching a 16-car shinkansen run past, but for me such long trains also remind the eye of the limited scope of the layout. Six to eight car trains seem to be in much better proportion to a room-size layout (and are less expensive to boot).

I plan as much as possible to limit myself to running trains which could have been seen in Tokyo during the late Showa to early Heisei era, but as construction progressed I got a bit more flexible on signage as there is just no source of 1980’s Japanese signs. Yes, I know there are also some signs on my buildings which may, for example, refer to a business on the 5th floor of a 4 story building but I think that the visual impact of a profusion of signs is well worth that inaccuracy and most visitors will not be able to read Japanese anyway. Some signs even came from photos I took in Tokyo in 2010 - this will give nit-pickers something to pick at.

In my mind the layout is only about 80% complete and there is a lot left to do. For one thing, I estimate that at least 5,000 figures and hundreds of vehicles will be needed in the city while the suburban station needs bike racks and many bicycles. I’d like to add some engine maintenance facilities and perhaps an oil terminal. Tomytec offers a number of nice little scenes which can be used here and there, and I will likely add more trees.

Thanks to Jeff Springer and his team at Custom Model Railroads who took the ideas which had been rattling around in my head for 20 years and made them come to life, plus more that I hadn’t even thought of. And also to Alex Kolesnikov at DCC Trains LLC who installed the decoders. The fun starts now.
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Larger resolution version of these photos are available in Curt's Layout Photo Gallery


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