Friday, June 9, 2017

Which way do I go?

When faced with a decision I like to outline the immediately possible choices, and research each of those possibilities to hopefully arrive at the choice that leads to the desired outcome. Sometimes there simply isn't time for deliberation, but in most cases there is at least enough time to consider various options.
And you need to take people's inputs with a grain of salt, since oftentimes their well-meaning inputs is really "This is what I'd do in your shoes based on my priorities, not yours."
Let's consider one decision - what's the next layout going to be? Instead of one question, it's actually a series of questions I continue to mull over as we box things up and get the house ready to list.
I've found over the years the typical "new layout" question starts with Joe Modeler sending a note to his friends (or posts on a blog) something like this:

"Hey Guys, We're moving into a new house shortly with a dry, finished basement perfect for a model railroad. Can't wait to get building. First I have to choose between <insert: railroad x vs. railroad y; northeastern vs. western; modern era vs. transition era, etc... you get the idea>. Thoughts anyone?"

Inevitably well-meaning modelers, and non-modelers provide answers based on what they have done, or would do, presuming that if it's right for them, it's right for everyone.
I recently had this very experience on an email list I regularly participate in. I don't know everyone on the list personally, but I do know most of them and consider all of them friends. When I outlined a few possible themes for the next layout I immediately got feedback that I can sum up as "bigger is better": Gotta have room for those 2-10-4s, White River Junction, lots of trains, and a large crew. Some of these thoughts were well-meaning from fellows who aren't model railroaders (read, they have no idea how much work, time, and expense are involved in "building White River Junction," so I take some of it with a grain of salt!)
But one of them, my friend Trevor Marshall, who knows well the frustrations I've had and continue to have with my last layout, took the time to offer his thoughts based on his experience with his layout. Trevor's note, included below:


Marty,
I’ll argue in FAVOR of the Richford Branch. I model a one-train-per-day operation in my basement and I love it. Here are a few of the reasons why:

1 - 90% of the time, I run the layout by myself. Any more than one train would be too much.
2 - The smaller physical plant required for a branch like mine means more space can be devoted to each scene. The main yard of my layout - the terminal in Port Rowan - has a grand total of five turnouts, and I’ve been able to model it roughly 2/3 actual size. It looks great and is actually a lot of fun to operate.
3 - I’m 50 years old, so I’m possibly one of the younger people on this list. Yet, I find that between work and home commitments, other interests, and just getting older… I don’t want to grapple with a huge and complex layout. I was able to go from empty room to running trains with all track hand-laid and wired in about a year. Since then, I have had almost no maintenance issues with the layout. Plus, I enjoy zero derailments and no electrical “table-thumping” or “locomotive poking” issues. In short, the layout runs perfectly - with the exception of operator error - 99% of the time. When there is a problem, it’s easily spotted and fixed in next to no time.
4 - I enjoy scratch-building - everything from structures to the more than 200 trees I’ve added to the layout - and it all takes time. A simple layout, with no maintenance issues, means I have the time to do that.
5 - I have many projects in the hobby that I want to explore and my small, simple layout means I can do that. For example, I belong to a group that exhibits a free-mo style layout in S scale. I am also learning to brass-bash, with an Overland S scale 2-8-2 being converted into a CNR S-3-a. And I want to scratch build a Jordan spreader (type A) and a crane similar to the Tichy 120 ton model, both in S scale. These are all projects that will take up considerable hobby time - but thanks to having a mostly complete, easy to manage layout, I can indulge in them. - Trevor

Trevor posts regularly on his blog which I find very informative, link below...and thanks for the thoughts Trevor!

Port Rowan in 1:64

While I haven't made a decision, I know which way I'm leaning - very heavily.


18 comments:

  1. Very poignant words from Trevor. Myself, being 10 years younger then Trevor with young kids, I find myself basically looking at the same criteria/decision points as he is. I really like the idea of being able to operate, in some realistic capacity, a layout. I enjoy seeing posts from Bernie about visitors showing up and being able to operate a train across his POLA layout. I think the beauty of the branch/single train layouts is just that, you can operate when you want to, not rely on finding and getting a large crew over, and be able to actually enjoy the layout yourself instead of acting only as supervisor/maintenance guru while others are operating. Seeing many of your posts across blogs and mailing lists, I think the one question I haven't seen in your discussions is whether you want to give up some form of mainline "over the road" type action. I don't know what your passion is on running things like express trains or passenger trains (or not knowing the CV enough if they had express freights or not). For myself, that's my biggest hangup on going all in on the branch/secondary line model or not. Just some food for thought as you think about what your next layout would be.

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  2. Hi Phil:
    You raise some interesting points about the variety of over the road versus the one-train-per-day aspect of a branch line. But there is a way to build a mainline-based layout and still make it manageable - and that's to focus on fewer places to model. For example, if Marty had a large space he could model just one place - for example, Waterbury - but give it lots of room to breathe, with less compression than we typically apply when trying to fit an entire subdivision into a basement. The rest of the space could be devoted to the single-track mainline that connects Waterbury to the rest of the world. (In this case, a double-ended staging yard would do the trick - supplying a non-stop stream of mainline trains.)
    The key is to pick only one place - or perhaps a couple - and avoid the big places like White River Junction. Jim DuFour has done this successfully with his Boston & Maine layout. (You can find videos on YouTube - look for "Cheshire Branch". Better yet, TrainMasters TV visited Jim and did a great feature on his layout.)
    I've considered other locations to model myself. Port Rowan is at the southern end of a line that has more traffic in the north end. I considered doing a town further up the line, fed by a double-ended staging yard. I also considered modeling just a section of in-the-street running in Hamilton, Ontario - at the foot of a helper grade, no less. There was a freight house on this street, and a couple of small customers for the railroad, but the real focus would've been the parade of 10 mph trains through the street. All southbound trains would have helper engines cut in behind the road power, which I would remove in staging and return north as light moves.
    Alas, my basement is not quite wide enough for a continuous run in S scale, which is really what these "one town fed by staging" concepts require. So end of the line it is. I'm perfectly happy with it, but those looking for the mainline experience should consider that they don't have to model several places on the main - just one or two will do - and they also don't have to pick the biggest places to model...
    Cheers!
    - Trevor (Port Rowan in 1:64)

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    1. Absolutely agree Trevor with the single, manageable town/area on a mainline. I will definitely check out the TMTV layout you referenced for my own decision making. Like I indicated, I know the types of questions I'm asking myself and was just trying to convey them to Marty to see if that's something he has thought about also.

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    2. Jim DuFour's Cheshire is one of my all-time favorites as well. One of the appeals of the branchline theme for a layout are the inherent "limitations" - yes, you read that correctly. I should (and likely will) explain further in its own blog post - in the meantime, I appreciate everyone's comments - they've been fascinating to read and provide much food for thought!

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  3. Marty, I've just learned the news of this layout demises. And while I'm quite sad to see it disappear, I'm also eager to see how the lessons learned will translate into your new endeavour. Many sees a new start as an occasion for bigger as you pointed out, but I feel each layout is nothing more than a prototype and that each iteration is a golden opportunity to trim down what doesn't make sense and perfect discoveries made in the previous attempts. It is a refining process which helps us to move closer to the essential. It's funny that our club had a similar discussion yesterday and the anwser about our future was quite similar to Trevor's suggestion and what I feel your guts are telling you. And finally, as pointed out, it is incredible how resources, available time and motivation are scarce. We can easily be carried away in our initial enthusiasm. If building layouts taught me anything, it's probably how much we overbuild in fear of lack of interest. I certainly look forward to see how the lessons learned will shape your new work and help focus your efforts on something meaningful to you.

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    1. Matthieu,
      A "refining process" - I like the sound of that. Perhaps our layouts should be more true embodiment of "form following function" than an exercise in maximizing the utility of the space (ie., start with the purpose, rather than the area??)

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  4. Us impel question, Marty.

    Are you building the next layout so that it only gets fully operated 3 or 4 times a year when others turn up, or are you building it primarily for yourself?

    Consider the benefits of being selfish - and even a simple layout like Port Rowan can handle a small crew as well as solo operation.

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    1. Hi Simon,
      The vast majority of time the layout was operated solo - not by me but by one of the boys.
      This may sound daft to some, but one of the main things I've learned about my hobby interests in the last few years is that hosting large operating sessions simply isn't for me. After a four or five hour session with up to a dozen people I'd be completely exhausted - only to realize I hadn't really had a chance to truly catch up with anyone. It was like I'd hosted a dinner party and then not spoken to anyone.
      Visits I enjoy immensely are when one or two friends stop by, we run trains for a bit, and then adjourn for a beverage either to the "crew lounge" or out on the deck and chat about modeling techniques, projects, dogs, the New England Patriots, you know, the important things in life -

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  5. I really believe in the " less is more " concept of modelling. Its something I learned from building the standard " basement empire" and realizing early on in the scenery building timeframe that huge wasn't what I really wanted. From that realisation I went on to research what some might call small but detailed layouts for operations and realized that smaller simpler layouts really could be built that were fun to operate. I think Trevor put it very succinctly in the above comments.

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  6. Well, if we're playing the age game, i think I win, as I'm still in high school, but I've found that it's easier to model branchlines, and even going with a really simple approach, I still find it hard to find time and funds. I belong to the model railroad club known as the Northwestern Vermont Model Railroaders Assc. or NWV, and I frequently find myself operating my equipment over there, even though my largest unit is an E7 that's not in operation. I personally wish I could model the Richford branch, as I live not too far away and have biked most of it. However, i find myself proto-freelance modeling the 1950's, taking most of my inspiration from the St. J&LC. In the end, it's up to you, but branchline modeling seems to be an affordable and efficient way to do it, and those 2-10-4s can romp around on a club layout.

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    1. Welcome, it's always nice to have the perspective of a younger modeler. Is the NWV still in Essex Junction?
      By the way, would appreciate it if you could provide your real name in the comments section - we like to know who we're hearing from! thanks,
      Marty

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  7. Hey Marty - This recent change has certainly resonated with a lot of folks, me included. I think we all - at one point or another - wonder whether we should do (or should have done) something different. And I agree that we often tend to overbuild out of fear that anything less than what fills our space will be somehow inadequate.

    In my case, I think I fell into the same trap from wanting to include *more and more* of New Haven RR operations and now have a basement-sized layout. I certainly don't regret having a layout that gives me the opportunity to have a bunch of friends over to operate (which the one-train-per-day branchline can't do, at least not well), but the downside -and it's a BIG downside - is that most of my hobby time is spent being the "supervisor/maintenance guru" that Phil mentioned, rather than focusing on the fun of freight car building and loco detailing (not to mention structure building, and... well, you get the idea). Thankfully, I have some friends that have been very generous with their time in helping out. And if it wasn't for Bill Schneider, I wouldn't have ANY prototype buildings or scenery done at all. God help me if he starts focusing more on his *own* layout... :^)

    I know you appreciate what a blessing-in-disguise this move is and I can certainly appreciate the direction you're heading. I would likely do the same thing. Life is too short to be spending hobby time feeding a beast of a layout. Trevor has it right. And I suspect my *next* layout will be much smaller (I'm constantly doing casual research on the New Haven's Cape Cod branch, for example :^)

    For those of you - like me - that have a large layout and are feeling strangely jealous of Marty's opportunity here, I hope we can learn to focus on just one area of the layout at a time. "Pretending" that one town/area is all we have to do and work on. Then, perhaps, it won't be so overwhelming and the Beast gets tamed - at least a little.

    In the meantime, Marty, I look forward to getting a lot of vicarious enjoyment out of your journey. I can't wait to see the fruits of whatever path you choose (though, selfishly - and like Trevor - I'm rooting for the Richford Branch :^)

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    1. Hi Chris:
      You're "mostly right". I'm not actually rooting for the Richford Branch. It is what I would do, in Marty's circumstances. But I'm not Marty. I offered an alternative viewpoint because he was getting lots of arguments from others in favour of building another complex layout requiring a large operating crew. I wanted to offer a different perspective.
      In the end, I'm rooting for whatever Marty decides to build. :-)
      Cheers!
      - Trevor (Port Rowan in 1:64)

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    2. Thanks Chris,
      Now that the initial "shock" and work of getting the layout out of the basement is finished I'm looking forward to the next adventure. I do look upon this as a blessing, and not a curse - frankly I'm not sure I wouldn't have done the same if we'd opted to stay in this house.

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  8. One thought: we often talk about layouts in terms of size, as opposed to in terms of complexity. We think that a smaller layout will be easier and/or quicker to build than a larger one. But really, size has very little to do with it.
    A small, urban layout like the Bronx Terminal that Tim Warris is building (you can Google it if you're not familiar with it) - is a huge undertaking due to the complex track work. On the other hand, a "basement filling empire" that has, say, 12 turnouts on it and runs through mostly open countryside would be a much more achievable endeavour.
    I think the number of turnouts and structures is a better measure than square footage. The fewer turnouts and more rural (and therefore less built up) the setting, the easier the layout will be to build and maintain. Static grass goes in way faster than a downtown street.
    I've often thought that if I had 50% more space to build my layout, I'd do the same one - just make the curves bigger and add more open running room between the towns. In fact, I even wrote about it, here:
    http://themodelrailwayshow.com/LayoutDesign/?p=3259
    Enjoy if you visit!
    - Trevor

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    1. Trevor, Good points.
      A number of years ago someone (John Armstrong?) pointed out that the number of turnouts is a good measure of relative complexity. I brought that up either in an article I wrote or on the old LDSIG Yahoo group and was promptly corrected by the layout design intelligentsia as being an "outmoded" concept - and how one of the pundits had designed his massive basement filling multi-deck layout and "never even thought about the number of turnouts."

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  9. Hi Marty, Trevor, Chris and others.

    I have followed all of your layouts over the years and appreciate your work. I have enjoyed your efforts, Marty especially your fine scenery. That farm scene next to the track was a real winner. I like Trevor's CN branch for its simplicity and realism in a manageable layout. I appreciate Chri's layout for his choice of modeling a branch line but also the fun and excitement of Saybrook Jct. with its passing parade of main line trains and interesting interchange which is definitely, a "keeper".

    My choice of railroads has always been a mainline jct. for a short line or branch line connection and particularly a full wye so I can turn engines and cars plus interchange with a Class 1. The line then meanders away,around the walls on a narrow shelf serves a couple of industries, maybe includes a passing siding, enroute to a simple terminal with a run around track, a turntable, enginehouse, passenger stub next to the depot for steam excursion service, one fairly large industry and a couple smaller ones. The line then continues into a staging, balloon track for a longer run to a hidden destination. The main line Jct. disappears behind the walls of the sceniced layout into a work shop to provide accessible staging of a few tracks and continuois operation. Era is late 80s-2000s with emphasis on a modern short steam excursion/freight short line down in illinois. This is what I have built in the finished basement of a condo in a little over a year since retiring from a long career as a railroader. I am enjoying this railroad as it was easy to build, is easy to maintain and fun for solo or a couple of friends operation.

    Just one way to enjoy a railroad.

    Barry

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  10. Marty, consider this another vote for the Richford branch. I've recently moved, and am now in midtown Manhattan, where there won't be any model railroading for a while. The only remnants of my former layout are six 4 x 1.5 frames that will become the benchwork of the next layout. I'm actually taking inspiration from your Androscoggin Central layout, but will be featuring on one side the CP line through Richford in N scale, with the CV branch only as far as the plywood factory location and a cassette for staging. The other side, which will serve primarily as staging when operating Richford, I intend scenic as faithfully as space allows as St. Johnsbury - I have the station modeled and can't not feature it somewhere! Can I operate proto-typically on both sides at the same time? No, but as Trevor says, most of the time its just me and I will be able to model the actual traffic patterns of one side or the other at a time for what would likely be my typical one-person operating session length. We'll see.

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