Over the course of my life I’ve developed a set of assumptions I bring to most situations. These define the way I respond to the world and form, in so many ways, a bedrock of sorts that my world rests on. Switching freight cars on a model railway is just place where I nurture one of these truths. These truths aren’t always correct and as I grow older, I’ve been provided with opportunities to question them. It would only be a matter of time before I realised I was wrong about how I evaluated switching cars on a model railroad. I feel a bit proud of what I discovered and wanted to share that here as I start to develop this new thought.
What I thought before…
Switching a car started when I set up the layout for the next operating session. I’d compose a “switch list” that would list each industry and siding on the railway and for each I’d note the car that was there, the car I should place there, or whatever activity needed to occur. The switching happened when my train arrived at that siding and I did that. One small industry that receives one box car or a large warehouse that gets a dozen cars. There were cars there when the session started and cars there when I left.
Work = Done.
Chris feels pretty good having completed his work for the day.
As I matured in terms of layout design and my thoughts on this subject, I studied different industries to learn about the types of railroad cars they received and how often they’d receive those cars. Each of these actions was a move and the more of these or their complexity would make the industry more or less attractive to me for a layout.
“But what about coal mines?” I asked myself. On the one hand an industry like a coal mine created a pile of those car moves. My problem, the one that was keeping me awake at night, was that leaving the car in that place felt wrong. I mean, eventually the car was loaded and should be moved. By the time that happened my train was long since gone. How’d that car get moved? It got worse when I thought about an industry like an intermodal yard. If my definition of switching was defined by placing a car at a place on a siding and then leaving it there how’d all those flat cars get their containers or truck trailers added or removed?
Since I didn’t have an answer, I decided that my focus should ignore those types of industries where the cars never really stood still between passing trains.
Warehouse = good.
Intermodal yard = well, nope.
Then it occurred to me…
When I think about designing very small model railways my definition of a suitable industry to define the layout’s theme. To make the layout “more fun” I just add car spots until I run out of benchwork…right? What if, instead, I just had one car spot but in that one place I moved a lot of cars?
On the Claremont-Concord Railroad at their Mulberry Street yard they had a single unloading point where salt hoppers were unloaded. This spot only accomodated one hopper bay at a time. To unload a single car, the bay was lined up and opened. When that part of the car was emptied it, the car was shoved a few more feet in and the next bay was opened. One bay at a time, until the car was empty.
So, at Mulberry Street to unload just one hopper car I have to move it two, maybe three times. If I treated each hopper bay as equal to one car spot as I have been traditionally defining it, this is the same as a warehouse to receive three cars. In terms of space utilization I need one car length for the CCRR example and three times that space for the traditional approach. This felt brilliant to me. I had one of those moments where this discovery felt like I had really experienced a brief moment of growth. I felt proud of myself.
Initially, this felt like a brilliant realization simply for the space utilization aspect but as I thought about it more these thoughts came to mind:
- If my model locomotive is sound-equipped than moving my hopper cars means more enjoying the sound of spooling the engine up and down as we place the car one bay at a time. That, pun-intended, sounds like fun;
- The traditional car spot approach also defines the length of the session. Once you’ve place those three cars the session is done. If I’m just loading grain hoppers or unloading salt hoppers one car at a time the session just keeps going until I’m tired of playing.
I sketched a few examples of how I thought I could apply this discovery. I’ll share those in the next couple of posts.
Just when I thought I was out of submissions for my “givens and druthers” posts I think this one adds a bit of perspective that deserves to be catalogued with some thoughts on benchwork, etc. I’ll group this with those for future reference.