Riley Triggs’ DYNAMO

The first time I watched the above video it caught my attention but it’s taken some time to settle in before I really started to “get” just how very smart an idea it is. It’s unlikely I’m going to say much new or of value from here on out – not that it will dissuade me from writing anyway – so stop reading here and just watch the video. I’m sharing the video as I close out my thoughts on fitting big layouts into small or non-existent spaces as part of my More Than Micro series of posts.

We spend a lot of time discussing the art of “selective compression” in the hobby. We edit buildings deciding how much we can cut out to make them fit and we do the same to shorten lengths of track and even the trains themselves. The challenge is deciding how much fat we can trim before we’ve made the thing unrecognizable. Focussed on a set of standard module plans he describes how to model much more railway than could traditionally be placed in the room. Doing so allows us to stretch past the practical limits of the room’s walls.

That same dynamic nature also allows us to easily adapt the railway to various operating schemes too and the layout can always be the right size for the number of fellow operators we have at any time to help run the thing.

Armed with schedules and a plan of types of operations he’d like to model, Riley prioritizes the movements of the railway as the primary decisions guiding the design of the layout. We rely on that theatre metaphor a lot and I can’t help but wonder if what Riley describes isn’t the closest I’ve come to someone really finding a tangible interpretation.It feels like staging a ballet and I like it. Speaking of research, I find it’s been so much easier to find records of train movements and consists than it is to find a photo of the back wall of a station that burned to the ground twenty years ago. Riley’s approach really plays to the value and strength of this reality and might be a fun perspective to start from.

When we first set out to model a railway, we approach that design with a certain set of goals. As we lay track and run those first trains we are afforded a chance to test our understanding of the real thing in the miniature copy we’ve created. What happens when we learn that, in doing so, our interests mature and we’re left curious to explore something different from the same stretch of railway? Riley describes an opportunity to allow the layout to mature with our interests without having to start completely from scratch and the layout matures directly as our interests do.

Riley has clearly put a lot of thought into his idea. I’m quite grateful he produced the above video so he could share them with us. I think he’s developed something quite smart and I’m intrigued.

Thanks Riley!

Categories: How I think


4 replies

  1. I first met Riley at an Ops and Design weekend in Tulsa, Oklahoma a few years ago. DYNAMO is a very interesting idea. I won’t quite go as far with my own South East Kansas Railroad, but I do have a couple of modular units contained within the design that could be readily interchanged to convert the layout over to another local line of similar mileage.

    • Thanks for the comment.

      Certainly there’s room in the concept for variations as you describe. I like what you’re suggesting. One could create end points of the subdivision as fixed layout elements and then have the towns between as modules that could be exchanged.

      It would be interesting if the line’s traffic fluctuated with the seasons so you could pick towns based on your desired traffic levels, season for “this” operating session, or even to represent opposite moments in terms of traffic levels.

      Neat. Thanks again.


  2. I am interested to see the “Part 2” to Riley’s series. In modeling a railroad this way, one immediately concedes the ability to model a portion of the railroad scenically in an effort to achieve the larger end of modeling the entire railroad operationally. While that’s definitely a means to the end of “fitting more railroad in the space,” I’m curious how one might apply scenery to the sections in a way so as to have a recognizable era or locale while still remaining generic enough to allow the dynamos to be interchanged to replicate different track arrangements between points along the mainline.

    For me, this type of modeling may provide the ability to “play engineer” along the route of my favorite railroad, but don’t think I could never “play railfan” with this type of design…but we’ll see!

    • You raise an interesting question, regarding scenery, and I’m thinking about it too.

      If we’re to recycle sections of the layout we should avoid signature scenes but that’s where our focus on modelling a big railroad plays to our favour. Riley used the Erie Railroad in his example and I’m thinking something more Canadian. In both examples, there would be some standardization in the physical elements so we could use those standard stations – just without station names on their signboards. We could still use basic scenic elements. The key here might be found in our restraint.

      So many parts of the idea are ones I found interesting. Among them was the ability to model the railroad and how it worked in total. We simply can’t do that using most other options – what we’re modelling is a corner of it in one place. We lose the perspective. For example, on our layout we might model traffic and route our car to staging. Employing Riley’s idea, we could actually trace that car from the shipper to the recipient and back. I’m interested in this and think it would be quite enjoyable.

      It’s a rich idea. I hope he takes time to follow up further.


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