Tag Archives: small

Operations on a Maintenance Centre Layout (Part 3 – Game Theory)

This is the third post of the continuing series on Operations for Maintenance Centre Layouts. In part 1, we looked at the types of passenger facilities I’m familiar with. In part 2, we looked at how we can use the prototype’s methods to develop an operations plan that suits a small layout.

In this post I wanted to address two questions about small layout operations: firstly is model railroad operations a game, and if so, how can we keep the game interesting for the longer term?


Railroad operations is a game?

From my first introduction to model railroad/railway operations (railops), I noticed a lot in common between it and the Role-Playing Games (RPGs) and board games with which I was familiar. Bear in mind that I’m addressing railops in a general sense (both freight and passenger operation), not just as it applies to Aaron’s excellent layout and Rob Chant’s design, as there is much in common to apply to both styles of operation.

I want to give a quick side by side comparison (they’re really one below the other) of the parts of your ‘average’ board game and a small layout.

The board game has A small layout has
counters or player pieces Cars and Locos
a board on which the counters move The layout board
rules that describe how the counters can move Rules
a means to add some randomness (usually dice, or a spinner) a means to add some randomness (car cards/waybills, the timetable, the ops plan, the list goes on)
a starting point and an end goal to close out the game a starting point and an end goal (switching cars into spots according to the ops plan), which when complete, ends the game

Once you see the commonalities, I’ve found there’s no going back.

Countering boredom with randomness

On Facebook, back in November of 2020 a post from Paul Boehlert got my attention. I didn’t want to reproduce the post in its entirety, so I’ve cut it down to the following.

A couple of days ago, a member asked the group how we keep interest high on a small switching layout. The following is a short description of a scheme my son and I worked out. It makes each session a bit unpredictable and adds variety, which helps maintain interest.

My adult son is a skilled and talented games designer and has been around model railroading all his life. When I asked him what he would do to make operation more interesting and varied on a small layout, his reply was immediate: I needed to generate some randomness, and I needed an adversary.

Paul went on to describe how he used one of his son’s 12 sided gaming dice to assist with introducing random events into the operations gameplay. His initial focus was on the weather, due to the setting (location) of his layout. Multiple roles of the dice allow him to determine the time of year, and the level of ferocity of the weather.

As he points out, the weather is not the only adversary. The interactive nature of the railroad right of way with cars, trucks, other railroads, shippers and receivers, trees, power lines and the poles they use (just to name a few) means that lots of events can and do on occasion happen that interfere with the railroad doing its stated job of moving stuff. Technology can be a problem, no matter the time period you model. Steam engines sometimes wouldn’t fire correctly lowering their tractive effort and slowing them down. Diesel locomotives have mechanical, electrical and electronics issues that need to be rectified either on the road or in the shed before being able to complete their shift. Cars become bad-ordered due to mechanical faults, accident or loading/unloading damage, or vandalism which all have effects on the operation out on the line.

Paul’s solution was to make “a list of random events, and roll the 12-sided die one more time when things get a bit too predictable. If you want lots of random possibilities, gaming dice come with up to 100 sides.

No two days are the same in the railroad industry. Each day presents different challenges, and there is always something that is not working the way it should. It affects what you can achieve and how you can achieve it.

At work often nature is our adversary. For example every time it rains we have problems with random detector loops. These pick up transponder signals. They are sealed, but they misbehave whenever there’s a lot of rain. But never the same one each time. Or high winds bring down trees along the rail corridor, blocking lines until maintenance crews can get out and cut the trees and clear the line.

There are general technical issues that occur, point/turnout motor failures for example are unfortunately common at the moment. Each of these requires spare parts and in the COVID world of 2021, those parts are not always available. So it’s back to the 19th century we have to go, manually throwing over the switch blades (points) until the spare parts arrive. Electronics are slow for the same reason at the moment with computer chips being in short supply due to COVID-19s effect on the supply chain in China. From design to fabrication, land and sea transport, we have slowdowns that are affecting rail suppliers worldwide.


Takeaway

Treating railops as a game, and using randomness and an adversary can make for better gameplay and longer-term interest.

Final thoughts

On small layouts, especially those with a small visible footprint, even with all the permutations mentioned above, can it, like Monopoly, Cluedo, or Trouble get too predictable?

Can boredom set in too early in the life of the layout? Is that why so many small layouts are sold on, torn down, rebuilt and replaced with yet another?

I’m interested in your thoughts on this.


Resources

The series so far:

Staying in Contact

Interested in keeping in touch or discussing posts, pages and ideas?  You can do that in several ways by:

  • Commenting on this post (I read and answer each one)
  • Sending me a note using our About page (email)
  • Connecting with us on Facebook at the Andrew’s Trains page

Every day’s the same, just different

A recent Facebook post in the Micro/Small Model RR Layouts group regarding problems with a member’s switching layout prompted me to write this post.

Here in essence is what was said:

I built a switching layout based on Lance Mindheim’s “One Switch Layout” plan. The first time I ran a switch job it was very absorbing. The second time (different switch list), I realized that I had figured out the “trick”, and it was more tedious than interesting.

Working in the rail industry this is the standard operating procedure. The first time you do a thing is often stressful if not outright terrifying, and then the tedium sets in as you make this just another part of your day. And perhaps, that is the difference between knowledge and understanding.

Most days are going to be the same. You drive a train. You deliver and pick-up. You go back to your starting point and berth the train or hand it over to another crew. And this is a good thing. When things get very different there is a problem and that can ruin your day. Each industry may be simple to switch or there may be gyrations required to get cars fettled into the right spots. You don’t know until you get on-site and check the tasking from the receiver or shipper. Same but different. That’s the nature of the business.

In the same vein, the model should be much the same. Every time you operate the layout, the track and switches won’t change (unless they break). However, with an interesting industry, with more than one spot, nothing will ever be the same twice. This is where the interest comes in for me. It is the troubleshooting required to get a car out of spot 2 of the 3 on the spur, get another car into that spot and work with the industry to get it out that makes it interesting.

So what do we take away from all of this? Tedium is a daily part of any ‘work’ task. Adding interest is the job of the layout designer and builder. Ensuring that you have industries with more than one spot and that at least one of those spots requires a certain car on occasion will ensure that you have operational interest in all of your operating sessions.

Your takeaway

Working with the industry is how you make sure that your layout does not go stale. There are resources available for understanding this concept. I’ve linked to Tony Thompson’s outstanding website (see resources below) for more on ‘Sure Spots’.


Resources

  • Visit Tony Thompson’s excellent website “Modelling the SP” using the link to get to part 1 of 4 on Sure Spots. I’ll quote Tony here on what a Sure Spot is: “The concept of a “sure spot” means a particular point at which a car must be spotted, such as one particular spur, or a particular loading or unloading facility along a spur, or even a particular door at an industry.”

Staying in Contact

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Insight – Why am I modelling the way I do?

A recent conversation with a fellow modeller has bought me back to thinking about why I’m modelling, and what my modelling should represent. Let me explain.


I have a lot less modelling time now than I ever did before, due to my work commitment, which is driving the nature of my modelling in different (if interesting new) directions.

Among the changes I’ve had to make is in the scope of the work. Because it takes longer to complete larger and more complex projects I’m focusing on smaller easier to complete in a day projects as my primary goal. I have some large projects that remain on the table. These will be for items I cannot buy, kitbash or otherwise make out of something else.

Will this change the nature of posts that appear here on the Andrew’s Trains blog? No, I don’t believe so. This blog has always been about small layouts with lots of operational potential, and that is in line with what I am moving to in my modelling.

Weathering will continue to play a large part in my modelling, upgrading blue-box style kits to better reflect the prototype is where I found real joy in modelling as a young man. And I’m going back to that in a big way this year. There’ll be more posts along these lines to come over the next few months as I get my modelling life back in order.

With a demanding and hectic work life simplicity is my goal. Modelling simplicity likewise has to be the case. Simple projects that can be done with:

  1. tools I already have,
  2. resources I already have, and
  3. that can be completed in the time I have to give them.

This is the focus of my modelling going forward. Likewise to layout building. I have a couple of projects that I want to complete, one of which is a Supernook, a new design I’m working on now that will begin with the baseboards build before we left the USA 13 years ago. I’ll be continuing on with the US-based shunting layouts, but I’m interested in building a Australian/UK-based Minories layout soon as well.


Takeaway

I’ve made modelling a complex and often difficult endeavour. I’ve lost my love of producing models that I enjoyed building and that I am proud of. Life is short, and more so as I near my mid 50s. Time with my family and enjoying what I do is not limitless. So the time is now to make the changes that keep me happy, healed and enjoying what I do. I hope that you will stay along for the ride. With almost 100,000 unique views over the last 3 years I’m hopeful that you will stick around and see what is coming.

Site Seeing – the Switching small customers edition

There was an interesting video posted by Danny Harmon (who goes by the handle of Distant Signal on YouTube).

He focuses on the increasingly rare small switching customer. Once upon a time it was the core of railroading. And while it is harder to find, in some places it can still be found as Danny presents in this video.

Enjoy the video! And if you like Danny’s videos as much as I love his voice then like the video and subscribe to his channel. I have no affiliation with Danny other than as a happy viewer of his content.

Site Seeing – March 18 – The ‘other’ Glendale freight layout edition

It’s been a while since my last post and that is thankfully due to being fully employed for the first time in two and a half years. A full-time job is a very satisfying thing. But I digress.

As I wrote in my March 6th post I’ve worked up another idea for the Glendale Freight layout. Let me say from the outset, that this is not one of my better ideas; especially after seeing Bruce Petty’s original layout. There’s merit in the ideas expressed in the design certainly – it just doesn’t have that vibe going on as Bruce’s layout does in spades. Before I go on to tear my work apart let’s take a look at a 1/12th scale model and why I find them so useful for designing a layout.

So what’s wrong with this layout idea?

  • Firstly the central theme of the design is not the freight station, it is the entrance from staging onto the layout.
  • I wanted to have the train enter through a portal of buildings, cross the street and then go about its business. It’s a pretty skimpy idea right? There’s no meat on the bones though.
  • Why this means to enter onto the layout instead of some other way? Is there some missing story about this means of entrance; did the city grow up around the freight station for example? But isn’t this supposed to be Glendale CA, right? Well, is it?

The layout is overall 8 feet long (2400mm) and each square is 12 x 12 inches (300 x 300 mm). It is 2 feet (600mm) wide. And it’s very linear.

So what would I do different now that I’ve built this mini layout?

  1. Angle the entrance onto the layout,
  2. Angle the buildings and the street to the long axis of the layout,
  3. Cluster the switches near the end of the run around, and finally
  4. I’d make a transition between the industrial area on ‘main street’ at the entrance end and the other end of the layout – making it more suburban

And having had a while to think on how I’d make those changes here’s a rough drawing of the layout that ‘could’ spring from this thought experiment.

This design has gravitas. It is the last bastion of railroading in the inner city, and the edge of the suburbs. Sure there are some strange curves, and I’d rework the industry lead and the industry back wall too. But it is much more interesting and tells much more of a story than the first layout.

This layout could be setup as is with the industries, it could be modified for a single industry layout (say an industrial workplace such as a foundry), or it could be something that I’ve not considered and that you already have swimming around in that pool of ideas in your head. As an aside, I videoed the first layout build process. If interested in seeing that video let me know in the comments and I’ll post it here over the next week or so.

Site update – 14 November 2016 – A new Kendallville Indiana image gallery

A big thank you goes out to Charles Malinowski who recently offered me photos of the Kendallville Terminal Railway Co to post here on Andrew’s Trains. I’ve added a new gallery page in the USA Gallery section for his photos of the line. I’m hoping that there are more to come for this great and very modellable shorty shortline railroad.

Update 1: New Gallery Page

charles-malinowski-image-4

The new gallery page link above takes you to Charle’ image set, at what appears to me to be West Rush Street. The image above is full of Autumn (Fall) detail and I just love the time worn look of the railroad. There does not appear to be a single straight piece of rail in the photo, great stuff. Enjoy the link and let me know if you like Charles Malinowski’s images.

Site seeing – November 4 – The ‘I got track plans coming out my ears’ edition

Small layouts are my thing. Like most modellers in Australia space here is at a premium. So a small space layout, offering lots of operating potential, is the way to go.

Recently a long time model railroad friend Shortliner Jack shot me several links over to look at. We’ll be coming back to look closely at those this month. For right now though let’s take a look at a downloadable and one of Shortliner’s links.

Site 1: Designing small shelf Layouts for operating fun

Presented back in 2015 at the NMRA’s Thoroughbred Limited 2015 MCR Convention in Kentucky I felt that this download (in PDF format) provides a great overview of small layouts and a bit of learning about the why and how along the way.

small-layout-handout

The details shown on the Inglenook drawing on page 4 are wrong (you can find out more about Inglenooks in this post); besides that however there are some exceptional small layout designs that should inspire the modeller in you to get out there and make something.

Site 2: Railroad Line Forum – Layout Design Ideas

This is the site that Shortliner Jack pointed me to as a source for his next layout inspiration. Being in the far north of Scotland, buried in snow for 9/10ths of the year, and surrounded by only boxes of Whisky for company he has a lot of time to work on layouts. One layout in Proto48 caught his eye specifically:

There are so many more designs in this thread large and small that you’ll spend several hours looking through and pondering them all. Great ideas and thanks to Robert Chant for sharing his design on the forum.

 

Site Seeing – August 23 – Wetterau Food Services

August is the month where year 12 high school focuses on getting elder children ready to complete their schooling and head off to life or to University. This month we’ve toured possible University campuses to see what is on offer and where she can look on planning to attend next year.

Last weekend was an out-of-town visit (120km away) next weekend there’s another University visit on (only 3km away this time). All too soon she’ll be moving out and living on Campus (but don’t tell her that). Finally I’ll get my half of the train room! Anyhow – on to today’s sites of interest.

Site 1:  Wetterau Food Services

Tom Conboy’s layout’s shown in all it’s glory on the Model Railroad Hobbyist site. Tom writes on the first page: “The Wetterau Food Services Micro Layout was completed in February of 2016.  Layout planning and construction began in 2014.  I am enjoying operations on the layout, and wanted to share the steps I followed in building this micro layout here on MRH.   I  have learned quite a bit in building it, and hope you will find it informative.”

Head over and take a look through his shared build log. It is very interesting and a great looking layout. What’s not to like – a 70 tonner runs through it.

Site 2: Tom’s Model Railroad Scrapbook

This is the second of Tom’s sites where he’s shared the building of the layout.

Site 3: The Micro Model Railroad Cartel

The third site providing more information on the build of the layout in nine parts.

All great sites full of information for those interested in building a small layout and for those interested building a layout using Fome-Cor.

Site Seeing – April 11 – Small O scale layouts 6

Whether you model the US, UK, Australian, Canadian, South American or European scene one thing that O scale requires is imagination. As much as I would like to have a very large garden and shed layout, the reality is that is not going to happen due to constraints with money and time. I have not enough of either and so the scope of what I model has to be within my reach, simple to achieve and quick to build and ready to a credible level of detail and where possible use what I have to hand. On to today’s site of interest.

Site 1: Pick Purse Halt O scale in 9′ by 2′  by Richard and Sue Andrews

When space is tight using imagination allows you to find and define the layout’s place within the wider railway network; Pick Purse Halt does this admirably. Let’s take a look at the track plan first and see why.

Pick Purse Halt’s track plan

On first look, there’s not much to the track plan. One turnout and a couple of sidings. The layout portrays a small passenger halt along a GWR Country branch. So we’re set in time during the 1930s with steam railmotors and Auto Coaches on passenger work and pannier tanks working the freight trains. Let’s assume though that the line did not close during the 1960s and the Beeching cuts; where would that take us?

Single car DMUs such as RDCs, Gloucester RC&W Class 122 Bubble Cars, Tokyo abounds with types, as does Europe and I think you may now get the idea. All we’ve talked about though is the passenger service on the through line. There is also the short freight passing by and reversing into the sidings. Or coming in direct from stage left; this is where the operational potential of the layout really comes into its own.

The freight area can be worked differently in many ways both visually and conceptually:

  • As described in the plan for UK mid-1930s
  • As a factory dock during the 1950s through the 1970s and 1980s
  • As a simple team track arrangement for literally any time you like
  • As a small transload point with a Y and a platform for unloading two rail cars by pallet truck and forklift

As a small layout Pick Purse Halt punches way above its weight. So much to be done with the design and the scenic treatment depending on the era and location you model. Your choice could come down to using what you have on hand to set the location.

With controlled lines of sight, and the feeling of the rest of the railway just beyond the board, this could well prove to be the best idea of the month.

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Site Seeing – April 9 – Small O scale layouts 5

While tooling around the Broadford MRC’s site looking for information on Glen Bogle mentioned earlier this month I found our next contestant for a small O scale layout well within the reach of anyone interested in the larger scale.

Site 1: Chard Creamery O gauge  8′ by 2′ (Richard and Sue Andrews)

Chard Creamery layout (8′ x 2′) – Richard and Sue Andrews

When it came time to build a new layout Richard Andrew’s thoughts turned to his boyhood memories of the S&D Railway to Basinbridge Milk Factory. Andrew says that “as I love small shunting layouts I decided to see if I could build a O Gauge layout representing a milk factory with either a river or as it turns out a canal running beside it in a 4′ x 22″ wide baseboard”.

With mock ups made Andrew decided he could put three tracks on the board without turnouts to give a loading/unloading bay for the milk, a centre road for coal and other goods, and a front siding which went to another loading/unloading bay for dry goods, butter, cheese, etc. He stresses that the layout is not a copy of Basinbridge, and chose to make the buildings of similar but freelance design.

Chard Creamery – O Gauge in a small space

The name Chard came about because of the canal that used to run from Taunton to Chard. While that canal is now long gone and Andrew had a Skytrex Barge built and painted in need of a home this seemed the ideal situation.

Skytrex Building Flats fill in the background while all main buildings are scratchbuilt out of card with a Slater’s brick overlay. The pub scene replaced a former building now relegated to the background and helps to block the view of the fiddle yard.