Christopher Brimley updated May 16, 2012


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  • Franklin & South Manchester Revisited... A Conversation With George

    by Art Fahie

    Photos by the author

    Model Railroading - September 2001 - Page 44 Model Railroading - September 2001 - Page 45

    In this final look at the newer areas of the F&SM I thought it would be different for George Sellios to tell his story in his own words. Although George is well known for his modeling, articles about his work are almost always done by authors, not be George himself. For those of you who aren't totally familiar with the F&SM these questions should be interesting; for diehard F&SM devotees, there are some little-known tidbits of information that George has seen fit to share with the readers of Model Railroading.

    Looking back, are there any obvious things you would have done differently in your approach to building the F&SM, such as radical changes in techniques or concepts?

    Probably not; I've somehow managed to keep some kind of continuity and although my style has varied from area to area I still feel comfortable with the overall feel of the layout. The exception would be the mountain range in the middle of the layout. I didn't see it earlier on, but it just has too much of a Colorado feel to it. I've grown away from the John Allen look that was so prevalent in the area while it was still being developed. I would have liked to have had additional staging areas...make that visible staging areas...Im not fond of the maintenance and operating problems that can surface with under-the-benchwork staging areas.

    What, if any, of your original building and scenic techniques have you improved on?

    Techniques havent changed much, although the newer areas such as Franklin have a different look because of the sizes of the structures as well as the fact that, unlike Manchester, they aren't comprised of stacked wall masonry wall sections. Ive taken a more focused approach to the smaller structures; not nearly as many vines and visual aids were needed to disguise adjoining wall panels. Ive even gone with a different look on my signs, although some might feel differently, I actually prefer them to many of the originals in the larger city areas. Ive managed to get more of a northeastern look to the trees as well, not so many "John Allen-type" pine tree and conifers. I never liked the cotton-ball trees used to cover many layouts, and generally blend scenic foam from various manufacturers to create my own blend of foliage cover. One thing I make sure of is NOT to get a salt-and-pepper effect on my treetops.

    How has the room size and aisle space affected your overall feel of the layout. Are there any changes you would have made to alter the layout dimensions if you had a second chance?

    Model Railroading - September 2001 - Page 46 Model Railroading - September 2001 - Page 47

    The only problem is that the F&SM attracts so many visitors, certainly more than I would have ever expected! Like most of us, the main line radius was my main consideration in designing the benchwork (George keeps it at a minimum 30"). As for changes? No, I wouldn't have really made any, although sometimes I have to wonder to myself, "Why did I make this layout so big!"

    There are numerous changes between the original area of the F&SM and the newest portion. You really started to cut back on your over-abundant detailing by quite a bit. But isn't it the detailing that made your layout unique?

    Yes, but I overdid it. Ive heard a lot of gripes about the abundance of detail on the layout, but it seems that most of them came from the operational side of the hobby...guys that leaned more to minimal detailing and whose focus was more on the actual operation as opposed to the running of trains. Unfortunately, there are some guys who think of the F&SM as more of museumtype layout building, which really isn't much of an insult considering there was, at one time, talk of moving the F&SM to the Smithsonian when the time came!

    What really irks me is the simple point that the layout is designed for some really serious operation as well. How often have you seen a trackplan that consists of little more than a simple oval and a couple of spurs, and yet the article stresses all the operating fun that can be gotten from even a modest layout? Well, it may be true that the F&SM staging could handle some intensification, but the layout itself is a quagmire of switches and sidings, controlled by DCC, and just waiting for the right time to come along to enjoy that facet of the hobby. I make no secret of it; my favorite part of the hobby lies in the creativity of the layout itself, operation still takes a backseat, but in future years that will be changing as well.

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    Many noted modelers have done professional building for movies and commercial exhibits. Have you ever had any offers to do other types of model building work...professional or otherwise?

    No, I havent gone in that direction, although a lot of folks want to hire me to build both Fine Scale Miniature models for them, as well as an occasional diorama. I keep my model building private and don't look to go into business with it. There was an instance about nine years ago when, after visiting Universal Studios, I sent them a copy of the F&SM book. I actually got a letter from them suggesting possible employment! I dont know if they were serious, but I sometimes wonder about where the F&SM would be today if I followed through on it.

    You have recently decided to remove the hills behind Bedford Falls to add another small town; do you have any demolition/addition plans beyond that?

    No, thats it. To be honest, at this point Im kind of stuck on what to do with that area. Ive pretty much ruled out a scenic divider; it'll have to be one of those projects that takes care of itself as it happens. Here again, Bedford Falls simply didn't have the New England feel that the rest of the layout did. One problem I can foresee is the potential for exposing the backs of the structures that lie in the area. When the mountain range that lies behind them gets removed, you'll be able to see the backs of all of those well detailed but unfinished structures. The backs of them are only structural; I only detailed the viewing sides of them.

    Now that the railroad is almost done, what operation lies ahead? Do you think your yard space is adequate, and would you have allotted different physical sizes for your yards upon re-examination of them?

    Like so many of us, Ive got an abundance of rolling stock. The F&SM is, more or less, a shortline, and I'm going to have to keep that attitude with the train lengths I use. That should save me some yard and staging space. I've never mentioned it before, but Im thinking of moving the layout era into the 40s. Most everything would still work, but Id be able to introduce diesels to the layout. Allan Keller just videotaped the third F&SM tape, and although I have high-quality steam running, the model railroad gremlins still managed to get into the act! Im thinking strongly of getting into first-generation diesels and boxcabs. The reason? I used flextrack on the layout; it seems that it varies in gauge around the curves and restricts larger steamers from operating as smoothly as I'd like. It would be a lot easier to change the motive power than to change the track! The new diesels...even the plastic ones! great no hesitation at all on the layout. Thats an important issue when you entertain as many visitors as the F&SM gets!

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    Now that some of the older structures in Manchester and Dovertown are beginning to show their age, are you planning on replacing any of the structures with newer ones?

    Not likely, although it does happen on rare occasions. Ive been focusing more on mini-projects in the older areas...especially re-detailing the roofs. I've replaced a lot of my original signage with the new laser-cut variety of billboards that seem to add detail in itself. Any structures removed will be replaced by scratchbuilt efforts only.

    When you are designing a new building for the layout, do you design the structure to fit the location or simply find a location to place the structure?

    I never make a mockup of a structure to be built. The exception would be my Fine Scale Miniature kits; they always have a mockup produced before making final decisions. A cardstock footprint dictates the size and shape of the structures I add on the layout. I wing the designs, determining the amount of floors and rooflines I need to make a scene work.

    When all is said and done, was the F&SM all that you hoped it would be? And what would you like to be remembered for?

    I had no idea how the F&SM would eventually turn out. I think most modelers have the same experience in that regard. I've always built to the best of my potential, and I really can't believe how things have progressed. The F&SM is more than I could have ever hoped for. As for how the layout...and myself...are remembered? I dont know. I would guess that my line of kits is probably the single most important contribution I could have made to the hobby. As for the layout?...of course, to me, I feel gratified with all the nice comments I get about it, but each modeler seems to see something different in it. Id like to feel that I've helped share a lot of creativity with other modelers. I was inspired by Frank Ellison and Earl Smallshaw; I hope Ive been able to inspire the next generation of modelers in similar ways. My advice to a new modeler would be simple: Have fun according to your ability...if you're not of professional quality, so what? Big deal! I remember reading a magazine called Scale Model Railroading with Frank Ellison and at the time I was building structures out of cigar boxes and painting on the windows! Dont let the work of the more serious guys discourage your modeling efforts, and enjoy the hobby!

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  • Tom Hooten and Jack Chase like this
  • Larry Doub
    Larry Doub I wish I had that guys time money and business, that is a very impressive layout, and newly changed or changing for operation if i recall, I bought the book they have out of it like 111 years ago.
    May 16, 2012