The game

In the middle of the afternoon, in the middle of December, I first shared that sketch based on how the Claremont & Concord served Coy Paper. The original sketch was drawn in a notebook, I took a photo of it with my phone, and then used the phone’s simple photo editor to colour it in. Like I try to do with almost every sketch, I uploaded it into Prince Street’s Facebook photo album for reference. But it didn’t end there. Over first coffees I can see a model railway forming that January has been helping me build. I remarked to a friend last night how frustrating and fascinating it is that something like this project explodes into a model railway that is shaping up to be my strongest project in a decade; frustrating because this connection isn’t something that can be conjured from a cauldron of flex track, foam, eye of coupler, and hair of track plan. Everything about this plan turns me on but I never talked about how it comes to life, how that operating session catalyzed my interest in the plan and convinced me to do this. The entire length of Coy, including “staging”, is about one hundred inches. Despite the rambling monologue I’m opening with, let’s enjoy another coffee and talk about how this layout operates most of the time.


The dimensions shown on the drawing aren’t accurate but good enough for the types of blog posts I write. On the left of the plan is a staging area. There’s no hole in the sky, it’s just where trains come from. Everything starts here but not all at once. Since the staging yard is only sixteen inches long, it’s only enough room for two cars so I can’t stage a complete train in I will add or remove cars as we move through the operating session – the “fiddling” in fiddle yard.

In the beginning

Between operating sessions nothing is stored on the staging tracks. Cars are stored on a shelf under the layout.

On the layout, a car or two may remain at Coy. I like the way that a boxcar placed there will be something to look at as I pass by the layout, here in our living room, throughout my day. I’m not planning on scheduling a time to run trains and look forward to doing so spontaneously. Thinking about that car at Coy, this spontaneous operating session feels “realistic” to me. Just like in real life that car has been there all week and I wonder when they’ll move it? Maybe on one trip by Coy I happen to be there at the same time the train is there so I grab a Coke from Pete’s and enjoy watching them go about their work, staying out of their way but probably following around almost too closely because that compulsion to feel close to involved is a hard one to ignore.

In real life one of the engines has lifted the car or two from the interchange and that little train has paraded through the streets of Claremont on its way to where we are. In real life the runaround track is only two cars long and the siding down to Coy is both very steep and very sharply curved. Anywhere else we’d just run around our new cars, one-two-three switch out the cars on spot with the new ones, and run eight to home. We can’t do that here. That sharp curve on a steep hill instead becomes a story of swapping cars one at a time like moving a checkers army across a board. The operating session works like that. Myopically focussed on only the one car we’re working with. One at a time.

First moves

Make tea.

Walk over to the layout.

Place my engine on the track in staging. As Calvin and I have been talking, the engine is sound equipped and I’m planning on really investing in this star of the layout. Power on and just listen to those two little motors. “Let’s go!”

We inch out of staging and onto the layout proper. I pretend that we’ve left the two inbound cars on the main, set their brakes, and we pull up to the Coy switch. Kick that blade over so we can enter the Coy siding we slip down to the mill and inch up to the first car. There’s just one boxcar down at Coy today. We’ll hook onto it and drag it up the hill. Clear the switch and we’ll shove it right to the very end of the main track. Lock it down there and let’s go back to our inbound cars so we can start to deal with them next.

Add two cars in staging

We were pretending that we’d left these two cars on the mainline, off-stage and out of sight, while we focussed on lifting the car from Coy to get it out of the way. The play moves from that act to this next one so, in that small staging yard I add in the two cars I need for this operating session, to add to the layout, and be left at Coy. Light engine we travel across the layout and reach into staging to hook onto those two new cars, we just set onto the track, and when we reappear they’re in tow. All this back and forth across the layout is exactly the type of operating I wanted here. The type of operations is less concerned with the placement of railway cars as it is creating a place where I can enjoy watching and listening to a 44 tonner moving around the layout. We’re moving “prototypically” so the serious model railroaders can find solace in our “realistic” movements but the reality of this location adds extra movements and I think this adds more than just time to an operating session – it creates a moment where I can just enjoy how it feels to be here.

On the layout now there are three cars and the engine is in the middle. No cars ever enter into the runaround loop and the two cars fill the mainline side of the runaround. Despite the limited space in the loop it’s enough to do what we need to and there’s plenty of room on the main to shove these inbound cars to clear the Coy switch.

Back down to Coy

The new inbound cars are both boxcars. On smaller car we can place at Coy and one larger, much heavier car, we can’t because the track just won’t play that game. We’ve started leaving those big new heavier cars up on the main and simply shoving them all the way to the end of the track and Coy just sends a truck up to unload into from roadside. That feels like a favour between friends but it’s not hard to imagine how it’s probably just as easy to drive that truck across town or maybe even further. It’s not that anyone ever wanted to stop using a railway but how, an efficiency created by larger railcars also now suggests a punctuation in this timeline that’s getting harder and harder to ignore.

Sometimes there just is a puzzle

We have three cars and have to figure out how to move them around to place the one we can down at Coy and then reverse the two we have left so we can leave behind the inbound load and head home with the outbound car. It’s starting to feel like we shouldn’t have lifted that outbound car so soon into the day. There’s enough room at the headshunt to leave a car there and still get and engine through the switch so maybe we should have placed the big car first?


Eventually we figured out what to do with the three cars and, step by step, we placed the small car down at Coy, shoved the big car into place on the main and set its brakes and shoved a block under it’s wheels to make damn sure it does not get away on us. There’s no derail and there should be so we’ve been getting into the habit of leaving that runaround switch open for the loop. The track in the loop isn’t good enough to move a car over but we like to think that the turnout left open would divert a loose car into the loop and hopefully into the ditch.

Our train is heading back across the layout. One car and one engine. Empty Coke bottles are back in the empties rack outside the store. Everything disappears back into staging.

“Acheivable” in the context of this layout was not just a derivation of turnouts or shelf layout thinking but in balancing what the layout needs against my life at this time. Over the last few years I’ve parted ways with most of my train stuff so I need to buy stuff for this layout. Coy only needs one engine and maybe six freight cars. Any more rolling stock and I’d start to feel like my minimalist nature would be challenged by that excess. I have bought two 44 tonners – one is here now and the other is slowly making its way to me. I’ve never done anything with DCC or sound on my own layouts so this is a chance for a very deep dive and I have been studying how to cram the decoder, “keep alive” capacitor, and damn good speakers into the hoods of these gems. They are the star of the layout and if they don’t work this layout starts to wither in value quickly. I really only need three freight cars for the layout so can justify spending a little too much to buy the right ones if that needs to be the case – that’s an equation I can’t sustain on anything larger.

I haven’t had any sort of model railway that would support operations since I ripped out the N scale shelf layout I had in 2014 or the Bush Terminal inspired micro layout before that. Already Coy has exceeded their progress and I look forward to seeing how the Coy story unfolds here. I feel engaged and at peace with this progress and that feels good.

Categories: Coy Paper (HO) model railway

6 replies

  1. Being a one-locomotive, single-location layout; have you considered Lance Mindheim’s idea of using high-quality headphones for the sound?

    Sugar cube speakers are amazing, but no match for Bose or Sennheiser, and especially for the immersive experience you’re seeking.

    • I remembered Lance’s idea and you’re right. As far as the small speakers have come speakers are still a place where size matters. I’m not sure headphones are right for me but I’m also not averse to a speaker either driven in much the same way. Onboard, those speakers that Scale Sound Systems are designing are so exciting and I’m hoping to fit them into my 44 tonner. I’m so excited for this next phase to be here.

      Sorry for the late reply

  2. I really like the minimalism here, allowing you time and space to explore the small bits of railroading that is done day by day in real life but largely ignored in 1:87 scale. Setting handbrakes. Chocking wheels. Connecting air hoses. Walking – so much walking.


  1. Speechless – Prince Street
  2. Coy: the late night LaValley “what if” edit – Prince Street

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