This is inspiration

One image, can have vast and lasting influence on the viewer. For modellers, as Chris Mears points out in this post, one single image can make the difference between a model that works for you or one that falls short of your expectation. And none of us want something not quite right.
For Chris this image is iconic and is what he wants out of his model railroad experience. Enjoy reading along.

Prince Street

Steve Hunter kindly shared this photo he took it in 1981 at Mount Albion, Prince Edward Island. The subject is my favourite railroad operation and in the frame he found a way to capture why. This scene is central to my own layout’s inspiration. I’ll never have the words to properly thank Steve for sharing his passion for the railroad with me or inviting me into his archive.

There’s just so much to drink in from this photograph and it tells so many stories it’s hard to know where to concentrate one’s attention.

The train is sitting on the main line. We’re facing Hazelbrook and ultimately Charlottetown. When the Murray Harbour sub was first built this line actually continued straight into Charlottetown on a bridge across the Hillsborough River. The bridge ultimately proved too light and by the 1950’s was closed. The subdivision was trimmed back, station by station, to…

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Why I chose not to design my layout – part 2


In my last post (Why I chose not to design my layout – part 1) I discussed some of the reasons for ‘eyeballing’ my new layout and not ‘designing’ my new layout. This time around I wanted to clarify any uncertainties around the design process, and continue on with some meta-data about the design to help me clear my vision of the layout and the eventual role I’d like it to take in the future.

The Mod. 1, Mark 1 Eyeball

There is nothing better than eyeballing a space, and understanding how all the elements fit together. Obviously it makes the process easier if you understand what you aim to make, and have a sense of perspective on the amount of track you can reasonably have within the bounds of the layout space.

The layout’s story

My layout’s story revolves around switching within an industrial park. Service delivery is the primary focus of the layout and thus switching is the primary activity of the layout. With the design I wanted to be able to have a train:

  • arrive from the class 1 partner (interchange track),
  • be brought into the industrial park (switching yard),
  • switched into job lots for delivery within the park (customers), or to off-spot storage (storage yard),
  • run out to the customers needing switching that day, switch the site and then return to the yard,
  • have outbound cars switched and readied for delivery to the class 1 partner, and finally
  • have the outbound cars switched to the interchange track

Because I expect to have multiple small operating sessions each week, independent jobs that allow me to complete a little part of the operating session (between 30 – 50 minutes) each day I need a layout that supports that kind of operation.  Should I manage to get a couple of people over who want to operate a full session, we can simply pick up the next job sheet and continue on from where we started.

Why the design I’ve come up with?

A multiple industry layout was always my goal since I decided to build another layout in 2003. You can see some of these layouts in the Layout Design Gallery (Offsite Link), or directly from the ‘Resources’ section below.

I read about the Modesto & Empire Traction in Model Railroader many years ago, and have a lot of research on them. But as we don’t own our own home I am loath to build something bigger than my current proposed layout even semi-permanently at the moment. So I’ve gone down the path with my own module design, that can be added to over time. Another influence was the Progressive Rail layout that MR did several years ago. Again too big for me, but there is a core of the operation that I can mimic in the space I have.

In the next post ‘Why I chose not to “design” my new layout – part 3’ I’ll review my ideas on the operational aspect of the layout; the proposed paperwork that I want to use. It’s getting late and Sons of Liberty is on the Tele tonight. From Ballarat, on a cool and clear evening – good night.


Multi Industry Switching Layouts


Why I chose not to design my layout – part 1


I’ve designed a lot of layouts over the years, because I wanted to and because I got paid to. With my new layout though I wanted to take a more organic approach, one that relied less on the ruler and more on the eye.

Apparently I’m not the only one following this process. Over on Lance Mindheim’s blog, he recently wrote in a post  that (offsite Link Here) – “… with a smaller project a lot can be accomplished in 1:1 scale simply by mocking things up full-scale with boxes and loose pieces of track.  The elements can be re-sized and moved around until you get the look that you want…

I know exactly what I want this new layout to look like. I know the signature scenes I want to include, and I have my set of wants that have to be included to make this enjoyable for me. Sometimes you simply cannot beat the mod 1, mark 1 eyeball to tell you when you’ve hit the mark.

It’s all about the operations

Over the last couple of months I’ve played around with the physics on my DCC & Sound equipped engines. When I’ve times the sessions using an old Tablet computer set aside specifically for that task, what I’ve noticed is that when running prototypically, that is with slow switching speeds, easy moves, and time between moves to allow the offsider (a conductor, or second person) to do their work, eating up 20 minutes is very easy.

To enjoy an operating session I have to be actively involved in the doing of the work. To do this I have made changes to freight cars that I’ve found have a profound effect on how I work. For example; I’ve brought average car weight up, close to the Cubed-Root (CR) of the real car. You might not want to do this if you are running plastic trucks and wheel-sets or have cars traversing long distances as wear and tear will show.

Coupler Bounce what the … ?

With Kadee equalised metal trucks and metal wheel sets I’ve noticed a complete change in the physics involved, and that is what I had hoped for. So when I couple up to a single freight car with a CR close to the real weight you do not get what I call coupler bounce.

Coupler bounce is where the car takes off in the opposite direction (thanks Sir Isaac) when a locomotive pushes up against the car’s coupler face. My lighter freight cars continued to do this no matter how lightly I pushed up to couple on. The added weight causes friction in the Kadee truck journals, and physics come into play such that the extra CR weight requires more energy to get moving.

As I convert cars over to Kadee trucks I’m making sure that I CR the weight to make sure I get better handling characteristics. I know that this flies in the face of the accepted practice, but once you see this in action, especially in a longer string of cars when the slack runs out, you can never go back.

It’s all in the switch action

I love working yards, and switching industries. I was born to play at doing this. It keeps me happy, and engaged, and with many locations to switch, that are independent of each other I will never get bored with the challenge of switching a layout with multiple customer spurs and car spots.

I love the down and dirty, first mile, last mile railroad action that you find in customer switching. With a marshalling area that allows me to make up trains for delivery to interchange, and break down trains for delivery to customers and I’m about as happy as anyone can be.

In part two of this particular rant, I’ll talk more about the operations and paperwork that I’m going to use on the layout. For now, the sun is out, the wind is very cool and all is well in Ballarat. So I’ll leave you to it…

Allowing time

In early February Chris Mears (on the Prince Street blog) posted a great article on the difference between real railroaders, and most model railroaders.

I won’t say much more about this – first read the post, and then come on back to this blog and read about some of my wants in the design of the new layout.

Prince Street

I recently wrote about building more time into a typical operating session and filling that newly-minted time with time to enjoy watching the trains I was running and also time to incorporate more aspects of a typical day of work on my little stretch of railway so that what I was watching looked like real railroading. After posting that, a reader sent me an email offline relating his experiences at the throttle on an actual shortline. He introduced things I never knew or thought about and his contribution was just so wonderful I couldn’t imagine not sharing it. Given his relationship with the railroad I wanted to find a way to share his message while not compromising his position. I have edited his message with that in mind.

I like your comments about allowing sufficient time for each function. Watching other modellers running trains can be pretty comical at times…

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Site seeing – March 5

It’s O scale day! And today there are resources everywhere.

One of the best modellers out there today, in O scale, is Mike Cougill. Mike’s been a railroad modeller for over 40 years and been actively involved in the hobby press for a long time. Mike’s written magazine articles, a regular column and been the editor of O Scale Trains Magazine before starting a new company, OST Publications. Mike’s partner in the new business  passed away in 2013 and he’s run the company since.

Site 1: OST Publications

The aspect of OST Publications (link here) approach that I like most is a focus on doing great work, and thinking things through to yourself as a modeller. I have no interest in any of the sites that I bring up while ‘Site seeing’ except as a participant, or satisfied customer.

Among the best areas of the site are the free downloads. I’ve since bought a couple of his ‘Missing conversation’ series e-books and I just saw another one on scratchbuilding that I’m going to buy tonight once I’ve finished writing this post.

Site 2: Proto48 Modeller

More of a resource centre for those modelling in Proto48 (finescale 1/48th O Scale) I like the site’s approach to sharing information on manufacturers and, suppliers and publishers that are specific to Proto48. I am simply too lazy to model to this level, however, I do like to see the skills of others and to gain ideas from them about how to make my modelling more acceptable to me.

There are a lot of resources here, along with articles and lots of links. Enjoy


OST Publications

  • Detailing Track – Techniques For Modeling Prototypical Looking Track (Link)
  • The free guides – special editions of ‘The Missing Conversation’ eBooks (Link)

Proto48 Modeler

  • Articles and Tips (Link)
  • A condensed eBook by Mike Cougill (PDF for download) (link)