Thursday, December 21, 2017

Richford Branch Maps 4 - Enosburg Falls

Another Richford Branch town map, this time for Enosburg Falls. The CV List of Industries page for Enosburg Falls is shown in the second image. 

Sunday, December 17, 2017

7th Anniversary!!

December 17th marks the seventh anniversary of this blog. In keeping with what has become a blog anniversary tradition, here are a few numbers, going back to December 2012 (first month I actually took notice of these statistics!):
I started this blog to create a diary of sorts that would document the building, rebuilding and operating my home layout.That layout was torn down last summer since we're in the process of building a new house. Preliminary planning for the new layout is underway, and I expect that will be a frequent subject on this blog in the coming months. 
I'm surprised, thrilled, and more than a little humbled at how many people read (and I hope enjoy!) following my little corner of the model railroad internet. 
As of today, there's a total of 526,175 unique page views!. The top all time posts** are shown below:

* There are no stats available for the first year since I didn't include them in the first anniversary post!

** Of course, by including the list of Top Ten posts and associated links here all I've done is guaranteed people will click on them, increasing their total views more!!

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Think Layout’s Lifetime, not Lifetime Layout?

Imagine the outcry if the U. S. Navy announced it was going to start building a ship that it had no intention of finishing. Or if you hired a contractor to build a house only to be told “I’m not planning to complete this house - ever.” 
But a project without a defined end point and clearly stated goals is often the most lauded of model railroad brass rings – the “lifetime layout.” 
As best as I can tell, the concept of a “lifetime layout” is unique to North American model railroading. Normally perceived as a huge “basement filler” such projects are at once the envy and source of ridicule by our British cousins. 
Here’s the rub. While they certainly can take decades to “complete” I make no direct correlation between lifetime layout and “basement filler.” If you’re determined, work at a reasonable pace, know precisely what you want, have the desire and perhaps an army of friends at the ready, then yes, a massive “basement filler” can be constructed. I’ve seen it done many, many times so to discount it as “impossible” is simply not realistic. 
The flaw with the concept of the lifetime layout is the way it’s often espoused as the never ending project. There’s no destination for this journey, no definition of “finis.” 
Maybe instead of striving to start construction of a lifetime layout we should instead define the layout’s lifetime?
If you plan to live in your current residence for five years, does it make any sense to start a project that realistically will take 15 years to finish? I’d argue if you’re going to be in that house for five years plan a project you can finish in two. That way there’s a finished model railroad that the whole family can be proud of in the house for a couple of years – rather than a perpetual construction site. 
For my new layout I'm assuming a lifespan of 8-10 years. That number isn’t something I pulled out of thin air. Based on a variety of factors, I hope to retire in 8-10 years. Here’s the caveat – at that point we will either opt to stay in this new house (that would be our preference) or we will sell the house and move … to ??? Either way, it would seem to be a logical time to start a new layout. 
What about getting the railroad finished? I want to have the basic layout infrastructure (not all the buildings and scenery mind you but things like the benchwork, track, wiring) complete in 2-3 years. 
What I have done is bounded the project with some parameters. I have a pretty good sense of how much layout I can build in a year – keeping my 2-3 year timeline in mind defines the scope of the project. 
Disclaimer – the new basement is certainly large enough that I could embark on construction of a “basement filler” – but other factors besides available square footage should also considered as part of the planning process. 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Avoid getting caught in the detail trap

Recently I attended a corporate retreat day where one of presentations that stuck in my head was titled “How to Measure Progress: Moving Forward Toward the Big Picture vs. Getting Caught up in the Details.” Quite a mouthful, but I immediately thought of model railroading. The instructor opened with a quote – not from a business tycoon or marketing giant, but an artist:

 “Nothing is less real than realism. Details are confusing. It is only by selection, by elimination, by emphasis, that we get at the real meaning of things.” ― Georgia O’Keeffe

This is often described as a golden age for model railroading. Never have we had it so good. We get detailed models, fresh out of the factory that reflect even the most minor differences between prototypes. 
I’ll never forget when I was at Intermountain and we released the D&RGW version of the N scale SD40T-2. (Yes, some N scalers will recall the first run of the model had some teething pains, but that’s not the point of the story). 
I’ll never forget the phone call I received a couple of weeks later from an irate (I mean really ticked off) modeler who sounded like he was about to have a coronary on the phone as he described the source of his angst: 
“The jacking pads are the wrong shape on the SP tunnel motors. I’ve bought six of them, now I have to return them. And you <expletive deleted> SOB… now that you’ve ruined them no one will ever make them.”
“Excuse me,” I said, “the jacking pads?” 
“Yes, the <f@#$ing> jacking pads. On the SP the tops are rounded – you <f@#%ers> did the Rio Grande ones and they’re squared off but you’re selling them as prototypical for the SP!!!”
This went on for what seemed like an eternity – I knew nothing was going to make this guy happy. At first I decided maybe he just needed to vent. After a while I almost started hoping for the aforementioned coronary to put him out of my, and what was clearly his, misery. For the record what he was referring to was the representation the metal stamping on the ends of the jacking pads located above the trucks of the sides of the jacking pads – the shape was less than 1/64” of inch. No one, and I mean not one person, ever commented on the shape of the jacking pads after that. But clearly it was important to him. 
If that guy – who never mentioned his name – is reading this I’m sorry I ruined your enjoyment of the hobby. (And I almost mean that seriously.)
I bring this up to illustrate how we need to pick and choose which details we emphasize.  
Models are, at their very essence, representations of a real object. Locomotives are big, heavy objects. Shape or form, color, and perhaps some use of light and shadow (“weathering”) to impact a sense of mass can be far more important to create the impression of a hard working piece of machinery than fretting over any individual minor detail.   
In the context of a model railroad layout that entire locomotive is just another element. Just as a painting is made up of numerous brush strokes, the layout is comprised of numerous "micro details." That locomotive, the track, and each car, structure and trees, are each “micro” details – that combine to create the “macro” item – a model railroad layout. 
True artists have the ability to capture the essence of a subject in their chosen medium. And in some cases, less is more. 

Thursday, December 7, 2017

On second thought . . .

Sunday afternoon I had the chance to actually measure the new basement. I wasn't surprised that the actual dimensions with the walls framed out had changed somewhat from the estimates the builder had given us a few weeks ago. The revised floorplan can be found in the link just below the header. 
This task meant I spent about 45 minutes in the basement, and during that time I couldn't help but feeling that the "branchline" scheme I've discussed - a layout inspired by the CV's Richford Branch - would be a much better fit for the space than going through the process of attempting to fit, and refit, several of the mainline towns into the space. I think the resulting layout would always seem just a little too cramped. 
But just because its a branch doesn't mean the curves won't be fairly broad. 
And note I said "inspired by" - the goal here is not a tie for tie duplicate - a good thing since I simply have no idea what some of the buildings actually looked like. If I can determine what they looked like I'll model them accurately. Otherwise, I'm going to draw inspiration from other places along the CV to fill in some of the gaps in my knowledge. 
Things are starting to come into focus. 

Monday, December 4, 2017

CV List of Industries and Facilities Located at Stations

Ten or 15 years ago Jim McFarlane and I were going back and forth by email - I was asking Jim if the railroad maintained a central list of customers. My purpose was to determine what industries were in specific towns along the line. Jim was thinking I wanted a list of all the customers who shipped via the railroad - which would have numbered in the thousands (he was thinking of each less than carload or LCL shipment as a "customer"). No matter, there was no "master list of customers." 
A few weeks later an envelope appeared in my mailbox with three documents and a short note from Jim reading "Marty, is this something that answers your question?" 
What Jim had sent me was three copies of a document called "List of Industries (Served by Private Sidings) and Facilities Located at Stations on the Central Vermont Railway and Montpelier and Barre Railroad." Quite a mouthful! (the exact title apparently changed over the years!)

One was from 1945, one from 1959, and the third from 1965. 

A page from the 1945 book is shown below: 
The 1959 book is a little different. Each page contains a list of individual railroad customers who were responsible for maintaining a siding or some portion thereof. Included was the name of the customer, a brief description of the type of business ("Feed mill", "Manufacturer of xxx" etc ...), and the length of track (right column in view below) that customer was responsible for maintaining. 

Keep in mind when the list reads "Siding length 50-feet" that does not mean there's a dedicated 50-foot long spur off the main - it merely means that particular customer was responsible for paying for the upkeep of that length of track - quite often there would be several customers located along a single siding, with each customer responsible for the maintenance of a certain portion. 
The listing also indicates the customer's name - I believe it's whomever the railroad would bill for the service. In the Enosburg Falls listing above, "Issac Brown" is shown as a Retail Petroleum Dealer with a siding length of 40 feet. 
Look on a map of Enosburg Falls and you'll note there's an oil dealer - Standard Oil Co. of New York - located on the double ended siding across from the depot. The engineering department plats make no reference to "Issac Brown." I'm fairly certain he was the owner, or at least the manager, of the Socony dealership in Enosburg Falls, Vt. 

Friday, December 1, 2017

The Design Questions We Should Be Asking

The weekend before Thanksgiving I was able to join in two model railroad social events. Saturday evening we had a nice dinner at Grafton Street Pub in Gainesville. Friday night Mat Thompson hosted what seemed to be just over 50,000 model railroaders* at a BBQ buffet at his house – Mat just became Master Model Railroader #595 – so an appropriate cake was on hand to mark the occasion. 
Along with this second cake featuring some of Mat’s scratchbuilt models… (okay, not really!) 
Some folks – the vast majority of the out of town folks who were at these events – hadn’t heard my layout had been torn down. Once they got over the initial shock the inevitable questions about the “next” layout started. 
At dinner I shared a table with a number of well known – some very well known – model railroad authors, operators, and layout owners. The conversation went something like this:

“So Marty, how big is the new basement?” 
Well, the basement is pretty big, but we want to use the space for purposes other than model railroading – but there’s still a decent size layout area. 

“Oh, so how big is this “land grant” that your wife is giving up (wink, wink!)? 
I wouldn’t say “giving up." Chris is perfectly fine with the hobby. But the layout area I’m looking at is about a third of the basement - 16 x 44 feet – completely open on one long side. Seems to be a logical place for the layout that won’t interfere with the other uses for the room.

Oh… Okay, 1/3rd of the basement … so 16 x 44 – guess that’s not too bad.”
While I’m going to come up with a design for the “complete” layout in the entire space I’m seriously considering starting with one “interest area” and completely finishing it before starting the next town. So next time you guys are down here the layout might be no larger than, say, an 8 x 12 foot L-shape in one corner of the room.

Mind you, this was accompanied by a look that made me check the large wall of mirrors on the other side of the room to verify that yes, indeed, a third arm had appeared out the side of my head. 

Yeah, but it will be finished, operational, and completely scenicked. And, if that proves sufficient to meet my needs I may not ever fill the rest of the space with model railroad.

“Oh. I see. Pass the salt.” 

I relay this tale not to single anyone out. In fairness, with one exception, everyone at that table has built one or more large basement filling layouts – and their main interest in the hobby is operating said layouts (after all, they'd braved D. C. traffic to go operating the weekend before Thanksgiving). 

I mention this discussion to illustrate how we, as model railroaders, very often ask the wrong questions – especially in the early stages of designing a new layout. Consider the very first questions most of us often ask: 
  • How big is the space?
  • What are you modeling? (this can be broken down into subcomponents such as era, prototype, etc)
  • How many levels?
  • What locomotives do you need? Who makes them?
  • How many staging tracks will you have?
  • How many operators? 
Some of these are perfectly fine, but it's far too deep of a dive into specifics far too early in the design process. 
Let me suggest the following questions the next time one of your model railroad buddies announces he’s planning a new layout: 
  • How much time, energy, and money do you want to devote to this project?
  • How long will you be living in this house? Really, another way of asking “How long will this layout be around?” 
  • Are you going to have formal op sessions?**

See the difference? 

I plan to offer my answers to the second set of questions on this blog. Frankly, if the other dinner guests had asked those type of questions my planned approach would have made a lot more sense to them. Instead, it came across as I was squandering a wonderful opportunity to fill yet another basement with lumber. 

* The attendance numbers may be off, but there were a lot of people there. Great fun though!
* *I know it's heresy to say so, but there are some model railroaders who simply have no interest in hosting formal, multi-person op sessions. And if that's the case, it can significantly impact the layout design.