layout planning

The broken view / the overlap

I’d been playing around with some simple lines on a piece of paper. Representing lines of track, I imagined what it would be like to run trains in this place. As I pushed my pretend trains around I realised how much I lacked a sense of their movement. At first I thought I might simply build two independent layouts and alternate their use: Perhaps one day I use the scene that represents the place where the big railroad provides cars and on another day exchange that scene with the other one, the one that hosts the act in which we deliver the cars to the customer.

Then I wondered: could they live in the same place? Maybe overlap?

end view

In plan, it looks like this:

plan view

I build a lot of model railroads that exist in basic rectangular volumes. I find enticing the idea of breaking that front line to introduce a curve.

end view2

With some time this morning I made some coffee and formed these views to help explain the idea. While the above view is not the one I considered first, I now imagine standing here and like the way that way the foreground takes interacts with the distant view.

(To help explain things I propose the following set of sketches. I’ve reduced the entire installation to a monochromatic view and will colour the subject in red to focus the conversation.)

Scene A: The reason

1 load unload

Occupying perhaps two-thirds of the scene’s face this scene is highly detailed and focused on why the railroad exists. Maybe it’s where we deliver the coal to, load the potatoes from, or the terminal of our interurban empire.

4 switching load unload

Standing here to operate a train in this scene we find that it wraps around us to focus our attention on the railroad’s purpose. I’m amused with the idea that in our peripheral vision we can still relate to our origin but it’s “far away” and it’s not immediately obvious how we got to here from there. In this scene we see the train interacting with its purpose.

Scene 2: The interchange

2 interchange.png

Lesser detailed, this scene’s priority is to act as the origin for movement into the layout. Note how it wraps around behind the major scene allowing access to re-rail a derailed car and how it invites you peek in behind the curtain to interact with the model. Both sides of the backdrop are decorated with a sky and even a horizon’s scenery.

2b interchange backdrop.png

I can’t always see the engine but don’t need to since at this place we’re watching the train being exchanged – one set of cars for another. Our attention shifts from the arrival of a locomotive to the work of its train.

5 switching interchange

When we’re operating a train here, we stand centered in this space and  while we could look to the side to see where we’re going the act of doing so is not unlike looking further down the road. With no scenery or track connecting the two areas we can’t simply go there by moving a little bit. Clearly, we need to travel further.

Scene 3: The broken plain

3 broken plane

Using a cassette, sector plate, or like means of off-stage track that is only added when we need to move a train from the background scene to the foreground this is the wall we break through – that “hole in the sky”.

Variation 1: Drawing into the scene

6 possible removable staging

Scene 2, by its area, inherits a lesser visual priority. Further the view of the train is limited since much of it is behind the backdrop of Scene 1. If it’s the place where our train exchanges its cars for another set could we add a removable length of track to provide those cars into the scene?

Nothing new here as the idea of removable staging is so apparent in the hobby. It has a place here too. As with many of my recent designs I use staging here to provide only cars in contrast to the section at the opposite end of the layout that is required to move the train from one scene to the other. I suppose if I really wanted to get carried away this length could take advantage of my Matchbox idea and it could slide into the main body of the railway between use.


A little out of hand?

I’m finding that I really enjoy working with these full-size mockups. During a period where my hands are restless for a model to work on, this is something I can quickly dive into and satisfy that urge. It’s work with value that is helping me better understand my relationship with my space and will prove invaluable as I try to settle my mind on decisions that will guide changes to the composition of the layout. For a couple dollar’s worth of foamcore and hot glue, this work is proving to be money and time I consider well invested.

Shown above is the latest and, by far, the grandest. I have increased the opening in the front of the layout to eight inches. The structure below the track currently occupies a vertical space of four inches. Though not installed, I see the top frame set at two inches high. This sums to a fourteen inch high model that is about nine inches deep. I like the overall volume and I have something here that I can easily modify to tailor changes (for example: Is there enough room for the scenic elements in front of or behind the track?)

Keeping in the spirit of screwing around, I thought I’d try creating a variation on spline roadbed based on the 3/16″ thick foamcore I’ve been using throughout these projects. It’s surprisingly rigid and I’m impressed.

Foamcore, hot glue; thirty inches long, nine inches deep, fourteen inches tall; based on 1/87 scale models;

One hundred cars and fifteen hours

I’m still riding the idea of developing a layout concept based on unloading rail cars during an operating session on a model railroad. What I lack in my research is a more clear understanding of how the customer relates to this operating scenario – where is his voice? To bridge that void, I’ve been working through some of the great information provided by the various grain cooperatives across America. One terrific example is found in this video, produced by West Bend, Iowa’s MaxYield Cooperative:

In about eight minutes, our host introduces us to and walks us through the work they do to load a one hundred car train. He’s obviously proud of their ability to do this in fifteen hours. If you have a few minutes, the video is professionally produced and I found it quite enjoyable to watch.

Several modellers are incorporating into their typical operating sessions the work of setting and releasing the brakes on individual freight cars or at least, adding in time during each switching move, to provide an equivalent break to punctuate the session for these actions. Early into the MaxYield video the host adds more steps to this process:

  • Check the doors on each rail car to make sure they are in good condition – the car can’t be loaded otherwise;
  • Open the doors on the top of the car when it is time to load the car.

These are two more things that we really can’t actually do on our tiny models but in terms of setting the pace of operations I think it could be worthwhile to provide time representing when this happens.

When I first read the video’s title, I pictured one hundred cars being threaded through the elevator as one complete train. Instead, this particular elevator can only handle cars one at a time. This plays directly into my initial idea. Moving cars one at a time, at the elevator, is performed using a pair of Trackmobile car movers. Despite what could seem like a potentially simplistic operating sequence, I think there could be potential for something really engaging:

  • The operating session starts with a clear goal: “We have to load this many cars tonight”. We don’t actually have to load a hundred cars in one operating session. No matter how many we actually complete, we get a sense of accomplishment as each respective set changes in number – we can see the work getting done.;
  • “We can only move them one at a time. You grab the first and head to the mill. While you’re preparing and loading that car, I’ll go grab the next. By the time you’re done, I’ll be ready and we can swap positions”;
  • While the switching moves are simple, in this simplicity we find time to enjoy watching their execution; time to listen to the sound of those Trackmobiles at work; and time to appreciate each model grain hopper.

I enjoyed watching MaxYield’s video. I doubt I’m the intended audience but in their work I learned quite a lot that I couldn’t otherwise since I don’t work in the grain or railroad industry. I learned “why” things happen. That sense of why is important to me and I’m grateful that I stumbled across MaxYield’s video and sat there and watched it.

Another powerplant. Another light bulb.

I recently shared an idea I’ve been developing for an operations-based model railroad where the focus is unloading rail cars, somewhat “live”. The basic premise being to move from placing a car on a siding and leaving it to actually waiting for it to be unloaded. The idea was in response to my trying to rationalize an opinion regarding switching cars on a model railroad with what was happening on the Kennebec Central Railroad, in real life, a hundred years ago. Building on the KC’s operating plan I’ve been looking for other examples such as delivering coal to the T.B. Simon power plant at Michigan State University. Click here to watch a video of their charming engine at work.

The above video is of a similar theme. Another small, coal-fired power plant, and another small locomotive moving coal cars to be unloaded. If nothing else, it’s more to feed my definition of this aesthetic. As I watched the video, some further thoughts occurred to me and it’s those I wanted to share.

In both the Michigan State video and the one above the engines are very similar. The former is a General Electric made 45 tonner and in this, what looks like one of GE’s 44 tonners. I quite like these particular small engines so there’s a natural attraction. Setting emotion aside, what we also have is a small engine that can really only handle three or four fully loaded hoppers of coal at one time. This means, no matter how many hoppers the railroad delivers we can only handle them four at a time.

Four at a time helps us determine how much space we need on the layout since the length of four hoppers at a time, plus an engine, is the length of our train. Some basic layout dimensions fall naturally out of this factor as they become multiples of it. Four at a time also breaks the work. Modern power plants and larger scale operations can handle long trains direct from the main line. Unloading is little more than slowly dragging the train, without stopping, through the unload point. In terms of operating steps, we have little more to do than set the throttle to a slow speed and then watch. If we can only handle four at a time, we have some more traditional switching as we work through the deck of cars, waiting to be unloaded, four at a time.

Throughout this idea, the goal isn’t simply to completely obviate traditional switching but to create an experience that brings me closer to actual work of the railroad – in this case, unloading coal – and also to ask if I could make better use of a limited space by breaking the linear relationship between the number of cars I desire to move in an operating session, the number of car spots on the layout required to support that, and then size of the model railroad required to support factors one and two.

Lake Verde October 1981

Lake Verde, PEI - October 1981

Lake Verde, PEI – October 1981

The above photo is another from a chase Steve Hunter was so lucky to be a part of following a very rare train on the western end of the Murray Harbour subdivision. Earlier, I posted a photo Steve took at Mount Albion and the above is of the train on it’s return to Lake Verde. The engines are sitting on the mainline. To their left is a short, stub-ended, public siding. The track curving away on the right of the picture is the mainline leading to Mount Stewart and ultimately, to Charlottetown. As with the Mount Albion shot, this photo illustrates so well the inspiration I’m fueling the current layout with.

Lake Verde 1974 - red square outlines Steve Hunter's photo and blue line highlights location of storage track. Note that the track is filled with cars waiting to be ordered for local destinations, like Mount Albion.

Lake Verde 1974 – red square outlines Steve Hunter’s photo and blue line highlights location of storage track. Note that the track is filled with cars waiting to be ordered for local destinations, like Mount Albion.

The above aerial photo should be helpful to orient Steve’s photo. I’ve outlined where his photo was taken in a red box. While I had the aerial open anyway, I added in a blue line to draw attention to a string of refrigerator cars that had been placed here at Lake Verde. They aren’t placed to load but are staged for nearby stations so once they are ordered, they can be moved into position more efficiently.DSC01434I’ve wanted a layout focused on Lake Verde for some time. I really want to develop the siding in the foreground of this photo, relying very heavily on what Steve recorded in his picture (for reference, the RS1 and RS11 in the above photo are on the main, the brown boxcar is on the Lake Verde public siding. The engines have just placed cars on the storage track for later distribution). I spent a lot of time frustrated by not having the room to really model, directly, something like the western end of the Murray Harbour subdivision or any of the other myriad of inspiring prototypes that have caught my attention. It’s not hard to see the many ways that what I’m doing is not at all like the way the prototype was laid out, but, many of those car movements that so fascinate me I can replicate very accurately here. The entire scene doesn’t feel busy in any way and I’ve spent enough time squinting down paper templates to know that in a pile of ways, these scenes remind me of the ones that inspired me in the first place. I didn’t start out intending to model this scene but it’s becoming harder and harder to ignore just how well it works if I did.