track planning

One turnout layout variation

The May 2013 issue of Model Railroad Hobbyist magazine included an article, written by Lance Mindheim, describing a “one turnout layout”. Instead of choosing a variety of small businesses he proposed a layout consisting of the main track and one single siding for a single customer who could receive different car types in several car spots. In terms of the game of operating this layout the focus shifts from completing a Tetris-like puzzle to arranging them in the correct spot order. It is a concept that feels a lot more like real railroading and a lot less like an artificially complicated game. Here’s a link to the article in case you haven’t had a chance to read it yet:

A lot of what Lance describes in his example appeals to me but I doubted that the work would be done on that siding, right at the industry. Indeed Lance pointed out that, in real life, the train crew might opt to pull the full set of cars from that siding and take them to a smaller yard where the actual working of sorting them would be completed. Once cars have been removed or added, the full set would be put back into place.

“Why not model that yard instead?”

The yard wouldn’t need to be any more complicated that the single siding that started this conversation in the first place. In real life, I’d be looking for a siding long enough to help me sort the few cars I needed at that moment. If my whole train doesn’t fit, that’s okay, I can just work the half I need to right now. Further, this siding in its convenient location is probably one I use for sorting most of the cars we’d work in this park.

“Maybe that siding is the better option?”

I found some scrap paper and a pencil and worked up this sketch:

one turnout layout

How it works

The approach here is to really think in terms of that theatre metaphor we like to use in model railroading. The play we’re staging isn’t delivering to the customer but in how we get ready to serve them. As my sketch illustrates, the concept remains simple: our trains arrive from West Staging and all of our industries and shippers are represented in East Staging. Where the staging at the other end could be little more than a length of plain track, the East Staging yard needs to be able to move a train between the main track and the siding to complete a runaround move or switch cars from one track to the other “off-stage”.

Three decks of cards compose our script

In terms of setting up that operating session, we’d need several decks of cards:

  1. A set of cards describes the shipper: what cars they have, what they need moved, what they need delivered.
  2. A second set of cards describes the same three states from the “yard” end in terms of what cars are in the yard (at East Staging) that we need to deliver to a shipper, what cars we’re expecting back in the yard, and the trains they’ll arrive or depart on.
  3. Finally, there’s room for a third deck which is the work we use this siding for in the first place. Beyond just modelling one single siding we’re modelling a role on the railroad and in a small part the job we do as the crew for the train that works these locations.

What happens on stage

A train can just roll completely through the scene, either shoving cars or with the engine leading. Alternately, a light engine could just run through the scene to pick up some cars. When it returns through the scene, those cars are the train headed in the opposite direction.

Lance’s example industry is still in play here and our light engine could run down there to lift the full cut of cars. It arrives back at our siding and then uses the siding to break off the cars we need to remove and then shoves the remainder of the string back into place.

We could arrive with cars from East Staging and use the siding to re-order the cars before heading off into West Staging where these cars are delivered. Speaking of inbound cars from East Staging, we could also bring in some cars for shippers who aren’t ready for them yet and we can leave those cars in this siding (“off-spotting” them) for a future delivery.

Time and place are still important

In terms of modelling appeal, this layout still benefits from making some decisions with regard to locale and era. With those decisions made, we enjoy the freedom of not having to settle on that one single industry and finding the cars for it. This layout represents a focale point in a typical industrial park and any car for any industry radiating from this point could appear in this yard. When I first thought of shifting the location of Lance’s single turnout layout I kept it in the same style as he proposed: modern CSX operations in Miami, Florida. Really though, this siding is everywhere. Keeping it inside an industrial park we can move the siding further up the coast and way back in time, placing this siding inside Bush Terminal where cars are sorted for nearby industrial lofts in 1920’s Brooklyn.

Just as we can find a place like this during a favourite time that is of greater significance we can shift the time to tell a more seasonal story: One day we’re using this siding during the grain rush and we’re staging hoppers or grain boxcars for nearby elevators but as the seasons wears on and the rush slows we’re now dealing with a few cars during a slower period.

Then it occurred to me that this same scenario happened in so many examples right here in Prince Edward Island.

Most towns on the Island had a single siding. These sidings were typically long and double-ended. They were installed to provide a place where a train could leave a couple dozen cars for loading potatoes during the annual harvest. When the harvest was in full swing the Island would be stuffed to overflowing with empty cars ready to be placed for loading. What room, on these sidings, not required for a farmer loading at this town, would be quickly filled with empty cars being staged for a nearby siding to make it easier for the next train through to lift them and move them to where they were required.

In public?

For folk like me, steeped in what we often now refer to as a British style of model railway construction, I started to see some opportunities for this layout in the public space. Standing alone, the scenic section would be a great diorama. It is set in a real location in a specific time, making it a great static model. With the help of several operators the diorama comes alive to tell the story of why this place on the railroad was important. This makes operating the layout important not just to entertain those playing trains but also in the way it relates the special knowledge that it conveys to the audience watching it. If you lived there or went by this place on the way to work every day you may have seen the train; this is what it was doing.

“You use what you got”

I remember hearing James Barber using that “you use what you got” line at so many points on TV. When we describe these simple layouts we use them as examples where we can have something than can be up and running quickly, yet host successive refinement as skills and experience grow: we can replace the turnout with one built to finescale standards; we can upgrade scenery; since we’re not spending as much time building a zillion cars for our model of the entire Clinchfield Railroad we can build, rebuild, and upgrade our fleet too.

The other joy in this plan is the opportunity to “use what you’ve got” when it comes to the size of the fleet. This layout works just as well with two or three freight cars as it does with twenty. In terms of footprint I could see it built in a very small space but then using the proportions described within the design, expanded as large as the space permits.

Storage and construction options

It would be great to have this layout permanently built and installed but it need not be. Both staging yards could fold out of the way or otherwise be removed between operating sessions. Having them as removable options not only makes it easier to find room in the house to store the layout between work or operating sessions but also encourages the builder to created different staging options. Your options here are not just along the lines of “do I use both yards or just one today?” to “Hey, what if I made an alternate East Yard that is longer than the first one I built and I could move longer trains through the scene”.

Back to (little) big pink

The layout is now on it’s wheels and the glue has long since set on the plywood and foam sandwich that comprises the top. Tonight I uprighted the layout and I’m getting back to enjoying pushing little paper templates of track around the layout’s surface. I feel like I have a plan in place that I really quite like and it would be in N scale.

As sure as I am that it will be N, that need to try something in a larger scale is almost impossible to quell and the closer I get to settling, the more anxious I get as I ponder if I’ve made the right choice or not. Many great thinkers from Ian Rice to Sherlock Holmes have opined on how you distill your options down to the few that are practical and that becomes your result. The urge to upset that obvious course is too indulgent to ignore.

Inglenook track plan – layout size calculations

I thought I’d share a little table I put together to show the different layout sizes for a HO scale Inglenook layout. For more background on the Inglenook track plan and the traditional layout composition, check out the Model Railway Shunting Puzzles website:

I had been sketching out the different combinations, based on different car lengths and thought it might be easier to keep track of in table format and I thought I’d post my table here as much for my own benefit than as a proper blog post. This first table starts with car lengths based on typical prototypical cars and converts them into their length, in inches, for HO scale:

Length Actual 1 car 2 car 3 car 4 car 5 car 6 car
3.03” 22′-0” 3.03” 6.07” 9.10” 12.14” 15.17” 18.21”
4.14” 30′-0” 4.14” 8.28” 12.41” 16.55” 20.69” 24.83”
4.97” 36′-0” 4.97” 9.93” 14.90” 19.86” 24.83” 29.79”
5.52” 40′-0” 5.52” 11.03” 16.55” 22.07” 27.59” 33.10”

This second table then calculates out the full length of the layout based on either the 2-2-3 orientation or the original 3-3-5 orientation with different options for the length of the headshunt. Note that in the original form, the layout was based on a maximum siding length of five cars and the headshunt was three cars long plus one additional bit for the engine. For the purposes of this plan, I’m assuming an engine of a length equal to the car being proposed.

Car length 22′-0” 30′-0” 36′-0” 40′-0”
2-2-3 with 3 car headshunt 24.21” 30.83” 35.79” 39.10”
2-2-3 with 4 car headshunt 27.24” 34.97” 40.76” 44.62”
3-3-5 with 4 car headshunt 33.31” 43.24” 50.69” 55.66”
3-3-5 with 5 car headshunt 36.34” 47.38” 55.66” 61.17”
3-3-5 with 6 car headshunt 40.38” 52.52” 61.62” 67.69”

To calculate the layout lengths, I assumed the maximum siding length plus the length of headshunt indicated, plus an addition seven inches for the a single turnout. That seven inch long turnout is based on a number four turnout and my estimate on how close you can come within that turnout’s footprint without fouling each road.