hide the train behind the sky

In a way, continuously through posts here, I’ve probably talked about this in part but, as I was thinking about it more last week and this, let’s talk specifically about small layout design where we exist in a simple proportion of: “hidden staging” behind the sky and a finished layout on show. It’s easy to see why we land on this relationship because our railway does really start somewhere that’s not here and we address this in the ambiguity of the hidden staging area. Our train arrives from the Land of Staging into our modelled scene and does its thing. This even ties in our love of that theatre comparison of the actor appearing on stage to do their thing. Our actor is a bit different from the star of stage and screen because our actor leaves part of their presence on the stage but then interacts with, well, themselves from a position that’s mostly off stage. In my quick sketch above that first turnout is, as it usually is, just at the entrance to the layout. To work any of the trackage on the layout we’re operating with our engine mostly hidden in staging. Our attention span is that of the person on the ground, working from the end of that last car, communicating with the engine at the other end that we really neither see nor pay attention to while we’re at work. I just think it’s a shame we do all this work on the layout but operate it from somewhere hidden and that engine we were so excited to collect spends its life, also hidden, instead of out where we can see it, watch it, enjoy playing with it.

So, what I wondered, was: could we reverse that so that the train is hidden in staging and our working actor, the engine, performs from centre stage? In the above sketch the staging area doesn’t need to be a full train’s length either. Staging, in this context need only be a couple cars long. In my “on layout” scene the model is the headshunt. I have one siding on scene so cars can be extracted from staging to be moved into the scene and even worked on scene (perhaps we are exchanging part of the cars on that siding but not all). Getting even further carried away this break at the hole in the sky could not only truncate the great railway beyond but even the complexity of many branches. If staging were a traverser of several tracks, each only a couple cars long, we could shunt in and out of them just as if we were working branches in a large industry or many customers in an industrial park. Our engine and that end of the train remains on stage and our operating session is no less the usual back and forth of shunting–sliding the traverser back and forth to align its tracks to the feed is really not that different from aligning a multitude of individual turnouts.

Where the orientation that places the engine in the staging while the sidings are worked provides the layout operator with the feeling of working the end of the train this reversal has us more in the cab. We break reality only long enough to couple and uncouple but our focus remains mostly in and at the engine.

Bringing this home to the original two turnouts plan but combined with the traverser staging for the train, representing the sidings, you could even almost do this to represent an infinite capacity for storing and retrieving cars not totally unlike feeding cars into the “loads in-empties out” coal mine and power plant that was once so popular in model railroading. We retain the Yard (E) in the plan as a place to work “on scene” but most of our operating session is how we pull cars into the scene through A to C, marshall them as required (E and lead to B), and then shove them into their places on D through B.

In today’s scheme the idea is to use staging as a place for a variety of car types but the basic concept is something I started thinking about for a layout in a small space based on processing the long strings of gypsum that National Gypsum process here at Wright’s Cove. In the Wright’s Cove scheme using this balance of moving cars through staging allowed me to leverage the way they only unload four cars at a time but do so to process dozens of loaded gypsum hoppers–it was a way to manage a very large train in a very small space without compromising on how the real railway worked while also retaining a feeling of model operation from the same perspective I would enjoy on a real railway. Just like that familiar place I watch CN build trains at Dartmouth yard, just by Ochterloney Street, or out in Wright’s Cove. The sketches that open this post were actually designed with a layout based on a British light railway in mind. The track coming into the scene would be not unlike the entry to the goods yard from a mainline and I had something like the Wantage Tramway’s Upper and Lower Yards in mind.

The rest of the Wright’s Cove story is here: https://princestreet.wordpress.com/2020/01/20/wrights-cove/

I can’t reproduce it here and apologize for referencing an item you can’t see but my Wantage Tramway Upper and Lower yards reference refers to the plan drawing in Nicholas de Courtais’s Wantage Tramway book.

Categories: How I think

3 replies

  1. I think this is an excellent idea. :-)

    Comstock Road goes part of the way there. It represents one end of a runaround with the other end and the presumed rest of the train represented by the traverser. I have never formally committed to what the offstage configuration is, exactly but there is notionally at least the end of the runaround and a turnout to a siding.

    • I like that too.

      I like how on Comstock Road you have that siding in front of the staging area. It incorporates staging to within the envelope of the layout proper, as opposed to having this void on one side that’s part of the layout and not.

      On Coy I was using a similar traverser for the end of the loop as a timesaver and efficiency maker. I’d certainly do that again!


  2. I’ve considered this as an option myself. Keep the focus on the loco. Maybe even crossing a street like the prototype above and the cars appear briefly only to be shoved back behind a building that is actually a hidden traversed.

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