Monday, April 20, 2015

Could vs. Should

Today's Lesson: Don't Let the Supporting Actors Steal the Show

- or else you may end up like Bette Davis in All About Eve. More likely though, if you're a model railroader, you may find yourself losing sight of your main focus as you try to accommodate Just One More Train/Industry/Track, etc. In my case, the possibility of including some prototypically-run mainline trains in addition to my 4 local freights just about derailed everything.

My original plan was just to include the town of Old Saybrook insofar as it would anchor the south end of the Valley Line. Most of the mainline tracks would be for show only, with the only active track being the one the Shoreline local would use to branch off the mainline onto the wye to head north on the Valley line. But then I figured, "why not use some space on either side of the Saybrook Scene for some loops to provide some 'generic' mainline running?

That quickly (de?)evolved to a desire to run the mainline trains prototypically. Click here for the start of that journey and click here for where it all ended up. Long story short: I could run the mainline trains prototypically by having eastbound trains going behind the Saybrook backdrop and behind a wall (which would become totally inaccessible), but should I do that - especially when doing so could not only produce a maintenance/access nightmare but actually pinch my Saybrook scene? The main reason I put such a big hole in the wall opened up the proscenium was to highlight Old Saybrook, and now the supporting actors (i.e. the mainline trains) were starting to take over and compromise that goal.

So, after asking folks to weigh in on my problem (and many thanks to those of you that did), I've decided to go back to the drawing board - literally - and refocus my priorities on what's most important in this area (in order of priority):
  • Ability of the westbound Shoreline local to come from "New London" (offscene staging) and take the east leg of the Saybrook wye to head up the Valley Line;
  • Old Saybrook station scene as accurate as possible - including the "balloon track" behind the station, freight house, team track, and coal dealer;
  • Ability of eastbound Shoreline local to come from "New Haven" and take the west leg of the wye to head up the Valley Line;
  • Hidden staging for the Air Line Local;
  • Mainline trains heading in the prototypically correct direction.
It was those last three bullets that became such a problem, requiring all that hidden & inaccessible track. After further reflection - caused in no small part by those weighing in with their concerns - I remembered that:
  • the eastbound Shoreline local doesn't go up the Valley Line in 1947, only the westbound one does;
  • hidden staging for the Air Line Local - while nice - would cost more in effort/problems than it's worth. I can live with the train being staged "online" at the start of the session;
  • And most importantly, and in keeping with our Lesson above, mainline trains could should remain supporting actors only - just "generic Shoreline trains" there only to provide "busy background" for the locals switching Old Saybrook.
The new trackplan no longer involves over 10 feet of double-decked, hidden, and mostly inaccessible track (yay!) - it's now essentially back to what I'd originally envisioned: a dogbone with reversing loops at each end and a large staging yard at the New London/Boston end. The main compromise, other than losing hidden Air Line staging, is that eastbound trains will have to go through the Saybrook scene westbound first. I can live with that - especially now that I've fully vetted the alternative.

But wait! There's More! If (and that's a big IF) I decide I really-must-absolutely-have west-end staging sometime in the future, I discovered that I can add a 3-4 track shelf in front of the "Somerset" Air Line module. It's not ideal, it wouldn't be super easy to do, and would make the Somerset module a bit more cumbersome to operate (which are all reasons I'm not just installing it now), but it is a possibility should I find it Absolutely Necessary sometime in the future.

So, I have a good plan for going forward, and a contingency plan should I need it someday. And the proof is in the doing: I started cutting the first plywood last night and tracklaying will should be starting by next week!

All in all, I'm very happy with such a well-thought-out approach. And that is due primarily to those folks that allowed me to bounce my ideas around and mull them over with me. Despite the minor (now, to my mind) compromises, I think this end of the railroad will be a lot of fun to operate and - even better - it'll provide the only place on my layout for continuous running when I just want to see trains rolling (or during layout tours). Best of all, if god forbid something goes wrong with the tracks or trains, I'll be able to get to them easily and fix the problems. And that should insure that the layout continues to be fun to operate for years to come.


  1. Hi Chris:
    A very good, and very honest, assessment of things you could do - and whether you should. Thanks for sharing this. I've had my own "could/should" moments and this is a good reminder that going back to the original purpose of the layout - the main story that I'm trying to tell - is a great way to resolve such dilemmas.
    - Trevor (Port Rowan in 1:64)

    1. Hey Trevor and thanks for stopping by! Yes, I find one of the most important - and often most elusive - things to keep in mind as you do a layout is your focus on your original goals/plan. And to have the discipline to maintain that focus despite the temptations. Prototype modeling and era choice are common ways to do this - but I've found that keeping a list of priorities (like I (re)created for this post) helps recenter when it's tooooooo tempting to wander.

  2. Chris,

    I think you've really hit on the two big questions of staging - how much, and why. I think the "why" really determines how much staging is needed, maybe even more than the available space. If we really need to see that many trains during a given session, then we'll find a way to stage them whether visible, hidden, etc.

    On the Ocali Creek I planned enough hidden track for two trains, but due to the open nature of the staging I should be able to make two serve as four by actively shuffling the consists during the session. The morning milk & mail becomes the afternoon passenger, and I could restage the freight, though I don't plan to currently.

    But on the other end of the railroad, at the interchange with the logging line, I decided to add a train beginning on the layout, since the interchange track isn't big enough to hold a complete train and there's no room for hidden or off-layout staging. This morphed into a whole new job with the logging engine doing the local switching, and it has carried over into changing the way another section of the layout will be switched, when that section is built. I needed another train for that end of the line, and found a way to make it work.

    Then again, I'm freelancing, so I get a lot more leeway in these matters...

    I enjoy your blog, especially thoughtful posts such as this. Thanks for sharing.


    1. Hey Galen! Thanks for your thoughtful comment and compliment. Yes, I agree that freelancing gives you some additional leeway, but I've found - for me at least - that freelancing would make it far too easy for me to try and do too much or, worse, not end up doing much of anything as I get paralyzed analyzing what I *should* do. Everyone's on some point of that freelance-to-prototype spectrum - the challenge is finding what point works best for you. Thanks again for stopping by - always great to hear from you!