Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Modelling the Hisatsu Line

This should have really been the first post, but, well, better late, than never.

It so happens that I have become interested in making a Japanese layout based on the JR Kyushu Hisatsu Line. This railway was built in the first decade of the 20th century, and therefore shares some unique features with other small and narrow gauge lines built at the same time in other parts of the world. Indeed, it has some old-style (or is it Meiji-era?) wooden stations, an overall remote look, unique track arrangements, a splendid mountain scenery and at the same time boasts solid infrastructure, a history of steam-era operation, and even a branded tourist train of its own! All chances to build a small station with some chic details and even get a chance to ring the bell of happiness in the N scale (that's an actual bell placed at the Masaki station, more on that later).

Okoba Station (大畑駅) with its double-switch back and a loop seems the most interesting prototype location. The track is laid in fact on three levels: below the station emerging from a tunnel, the station itself, and the loop that takes the train high above, only to get a glimpse of the  same scene below before disappearing in another tunnel. This mountain section of the Hisatsu Line had to apply the best engineering knowledge available at the time, in order to make the steam engines haul passengers and freight through (and above) these magnificent mountains, so the effort to create a convincing scene should be equally challenging. However, the station has enough potential to provide for both modest surroundings and a range of operations, including shunting, train meets, helper locomotives, and steam handling. 

Now the work has started on collecting of the prototype information, and looking for appropriate models. A nice idea to start would be to slightly backdate the scene (well, it hasn't changed much in the last 100 years), so that both steam trains with helper locos and modern DMUs can be operated. Luckily, hundreds of photos are available, some videos on YouTube can be easily found by copypasting station names in Japanese. I only wish someone would properly translate the Hisatsu Line's Wikipedia Page, according to Google Translation it contains a nice selection of facts on this railroad's history, which would be quite essential. 

In order to have a start I have bought a Microace steam engine with a highly detailed snowplow and a service passenger car, which has cute working red lights, as well as a Tomytec lumber mill just because it seemed appropriate for the rural scenery (actually it is a town factory, but well, the impression was quite different). More will come later, especially after I manage to find a couple of DMUs that actually run on the line and haven't been out of stock for too long, and decide on a track arrangement that will have both switchbacks, a loop, and still be small and portable enough to be placed out of reach of our small son when not in use.

Track Arrangement at the Okoba Station
I'll add a better version soon.

P.S. Dear Wikipedia, thank you for the images, see you soon.

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