I’ve read several examples of where other model railroaders and layout designers have used a decision matrix or similar tools from the business intelligence trade to attempt to reconcile a scope for a future layout or help them to understand their own interests and, basically, test an idea that looks attractive in this month’s magazine or catalogue. Given my day job and just the way I’m wired to think, I’m attracted this approach but have never really tried it. Walking home from the office today I started to think about how I could use a similar matrix to map out my interests.
There’s always that perpetual model railroading question of “which scale is best” and it doesn’t take long to read the way we react to it in any forum or magazine. We talk about whether or not there’s enough rolling stock available or how hard it is to get something in one scale or the other. We parrot tired idioms like how great N scale is for running long trains or how O scale is really the best for scratchbuilding. I don’t disagree with those thoughts or anyone’s right to think them but I’ve been in the hobby, in varying degrees of productivity, long enough to want to think a little deeper. It doesn’t matter to me how easy it is to get an SD90MAC in any scale, I don’t like them and don’t plan on ever buying one. Despite the fact that one of my favourite layouts is Jim Kelly’s Tehachappi (any version) it features a style of railroading that my heart just isn’t into following – I’m not as intersted in the long trains or the American southwest. Likewise, I’m not interested in mine cars or Big Boy steam engines. Paraphrasing one a favourite cliché from work: “I’d like to see myself in those opinions” instead.
Like any good nerd, I revved up some spreadsheet software and cooked up this simple table:
|Subject||Notes or Questions||N scale||HO scale||S scale||Notes|
|Scale height/size rail||Prototype rail height is approximately 5″||3||2||1||Is this height readily available?|
|Hand-spiked track||3||2||1||If using typical wheel flange depths is it practical to spike track without interfering with train operation?|
|Ballast||scale size crushed stone or cinder||3||2||1||How readily available is this in a size that I consider reasonable for the scale and cost?|
|Throwbar design I like||Can it be hinged easily or is there enough rail base to make a soldered one strong?||3||2||1|
|#8 turnout||Would like to use a minimum #8 turnout||1||3||3||Or equivalent if wye or curved|
|Operate turnout||Motor or mechanical means of moving point blades||3||1||1||Ease of attaching mechanism to throw bar and how smoothly the blades move|
|Uncoupling||How easy or how much do I enjoy uncoupling cars?||3||2||1||Based on typical Kadee or Microtrains style coupler|
|Slow speed operation||Switching cars and replicating typical 10-20MPH speed limits||3||2||1||Based on DC control not DCC|
|Coupling cars||Car mass is sufficient for slow speed coupling||3||2||1|
|Overgrown track||Grass between the rails to at least rail height||3||2||1|
|Window mullions and sash||scale size||3||2||1||How hard to scratchbuild windows. Mullions to scale size and double-hung style where required.|
|Brick||red clay brick||3||2||1||Ease of making brick siding. Method may be different from scale to scale but weighted against how much I enjoy that technique.|
|Asphalt brick siding||1||1||1||I assume I’ll wind up with a printed product here so all scales are equal|
|Clapboard siding||Drop, lap, and like siding products||3||2||1||Can I make this myself and how much do I like the finished model?|
|Shingles||Roof or wall||3||2||1||Can I make this myself and how much do I like the finished model?|
|70 tonners||Require 3 for finished layout (minimum)||2||1||3||Should be readily available as opposed to combing for rare models|
|CN 8 hatch reefers||Require approximately 10 for finished layout||3||1||3|
|Other end bunker ice reefers||Require at least as many as CN 8 hatch cars||2||1||3||I have approximately 2 dozen already in N scale|
|40 foot insulated box car (CN)||Would like 3 or more||1||1||2||I have more than 3 in N scale already|
|Slab side covered hopper (CN)||Would like 5 or more||2||1||3|
|Context||The ability to show the trains against the landscape as a part of their environment||1||1||3|
|Minimum radius curve||5x 40′ car length is minimum||1||2||3||Compared to available space (real)|
|Train length||Would like six cars plus two engines plus one caboose or combine||1||3||3||In current space it might be difficult to accomodate this so rank reflects my comfort with compromise|
|12″ desired layout width||1||2||3||I like this width but how well does the scale work in this space without it just being filled with track?|
|48″ layout length||1||3||3||My general attitude to space utilization|
It’s not a shopping list of everything I’d need to know about myself to build a layout. I thought about the layout’s I’ve been involved with over the past few years and what I liked or didn’t like about each one. While I’ve grouped off each of these lines into general terms you’ll notice some areas are a little more popular than others. While I’m ranking each scale analytically it’s not a case of order by price or some more tangible term but more trying to rank my emotional reaction to each subject. In the rankings “1” is my preference. In a few cases I really couldn’t decide so the items are paired in ranking. If something initially appeared in the list but I couldn’t decide if it was important enough to rank I just removed it entirely.
I didn’t intend to favour any one scale. I just listed the three that I’m the most likely to actually build a layout in and then ranked them using my subjective scale. What I found interesting was that in each of these areas what I felt intuitively matched the sum of each group’s score. Things like space utilization and layout design favoured N scale but the models as individual works were favoured by the largers scale (“Yay S!”) Frankly if we were talking about this stuff over coffee right now I’d probably describe my thoughts on these scales and wind up at much the same result. Despite being the kind of guy who still thinks in N after spending so much of my life collecting and working in the scale or scales darn close to it I don’t enjoy the work itself the same way these days. In a reaction to that frustration I’ve been testing the waters of larger scale modelling and reminding myself of how S might be some place I would want to go. I kept saying that I wasn’t as interested in HO since it was too small to scratchbuild in and yet still too large to balance the size of elements I like in the small space I have – all the while ignoring the fact that most of my friends in the hobby work in this scale and all the while discounting the effect of the common language of scale can have on my own attitudes toward my choices.
I wanted to share this as much to place it somewhere for feedback and also to further introduce the things that are important to me, in terms of layout design and construction. I’ve certainly shared enough plans and ideas but they’re just sketches and sometimes I think a little more background that sheds some light on how I think about a layout might be of interest. I enjoy reading other’s thoughts on why they made the decisions they did. Above are some more of my thoughts.
I’d like to keep adding to this list as other subjects occur to me and then to monitor each section’s subtotals and then the overall too. If you’ve read this far, I wanted to ask a question:
What am I missing from this list? What haven’t I thought about?