Tuesday, February 18, 2020

One step back, Three Steps Forward (?)

Somehow this was all supposed to be
the CV yard in St. Albans, the
interchange with the CPR in Richford,
and the CPR Yard, also in Richford.
I'm not going to try to explain how all
that worked since I'm not entirely sure!
It's tempting to include additional elements into a model railroad - especially in the drawing lines on paper stage. After all, lines are skinny and don't have volume meaning they're easy to cram into place. And model railroaders sometimes seem pre-wired to think if they're not filling every available square inch with something, they're somehow squandering the railroad's potential. 
Let's focus for a minute on that most model railroady of all model railroady things, staging. 
For those who might not know what staging is, the concept is quite simple. Since we don't have room to model an entire railroad, or even portion of a railroad in our basement, the Ancient Ones devised the concept of "staging" - which most often takes the form of a large number of parallel tracks representing "everywhere else." Think of it as similar to "backstage" at a play - after all when Sir Whomever announces "I'm off to see the Queen in Paris" and walks off the stage we don't believe he actually went to France. We know that he's backstage having a smoke sitting on a pile of old sets and the like - but we accept this as part of the story telling. Staging yards on model railroad aren't much different. 
At some point in the hobby's history we somehow intertwined "satisfying layout" with staging yards - and to be a "real" model railroader, or to have a satisfying layout, you had to have staging. And if some staging is good, more must be better - with two or more staging yards equating to some sort of model railroad nirvana. 
You'll frequently read an article or blog post from some model railroaders who apologize for their inadequacies in the staging realm. 
"You can never have enough staging;" 
"Take the amount of staging you have, double it and then add one!" are frequent chants of this crowd.
Perhaps for some layouts these statements are true. They aren't true for me. 
When Lance Mindheim designed my Richford Branch, he included a small three-track staging yard along one long wall. (You can see the plan HERE). Lance drew a 12" wide shelf for the staging yard, but when I measured the basement - before the interior walls or even the staircase was installed - I was off by a foot - meaning the room is a foot wider than shown in the plan. Naturally the intelligent thing to do would have been to build the benchwork according to Lance's plan and have a foot extra in the aisle, but space abhors a vaccum, and I've been accused of a lot of things, but prudence isn't one of them, so I built a 24" wide shelf. 
The Richford Branch starts in St. Albans and ends at an interchange with the Canadian Pacific in Richford. I came up with a scheme where the same staging yard (now more than twice the number of tracks that Lance designed, after all I had the space . . .) would serve as both ends of the railroad.  Yes, I built the staging yard (see above). I also addressed the temptation of this whole scenario in  a previous blog post (HERE). 
While hunting around for some photos of any of the towns along the Richford Branch, I came across this image of the creamery in East Berkshire, Vt. I like how the building is set into a hill, and I especially liked the large sign on the exterior wall. I also dug up a track map of East Berkshire (from Nimke's books). 
A remarkably simple scene - a double ended siding, and a couple of spurs. At first I tried to cram it in somewhere on the existing layout, but for once the "simpler is better" motto won out and I avoided the temptation. Then I figured I could add the creamery to another one of the modeled towns on the layout, but I'd always know it really belonged in East Berkshire. 

Then it dawned on me, other than some sort of acknowledgement of conventional wisdom, and "state of the art" layout design, why do I need a staging yard on the layout at all? This is, after all, a one-train-a-day branch. 
At some point during this process I happened to re-read Randy Anderson's article on his Huntington & Broad Top that appeared in an early issue of Model Railroad Planning.  I'd asked Lance include the small three-track staging yard in order to provide some variety in consists - I do like freight cars - but my excess cars can be stored off layout in drawers or boxes. 
Through all this I was having trouble picturing what would end up looking like a big blank "spot" along a large, highly visible portion of the layout. Even a scenicked staging yard, perpetually filled with cars, would seem contrary to the feeling of a branchline. 
The solution seemed obvious. Replace the staging yard with a new town based on East Berkshire. A single staging track was all that's needed to hold the branchline local before it starts it's run. Frankly, I don't even need that. 
You can see the vestiges of the old staging
 yard tracks on the left. The spur with
the pushpins is the team track. 
Long time readers of this blog will recall I spent years doing, then redoing things on my last layout. I'm really trying to avoid a similar waste of time and resources this time around. In this case, a step back might permit me to take one or more steps forward. 
In any event, the recently concluded long weekend was put to good use as a I removed the staging yard and started installing East Berkshire in its place.  
A from the same vantage point as
the lead photo of the old staging yard above.


Simon Dunkley said...

"And model railroaders sometimes seem pre-wired to think if they're not filling every available square inch with something, they're somehow squandering the railroad's potential."

I took ownership of Barry Norman's S scale layout "Lydham Heath" in late 2018, and have recently taken it back out on the road to exhibitions (shows). Last Saturday, a fairly young (late 20s - young for the hobby nowadays) newly-returned modeller spent a lot of time staring at the layout, before commenting how the generous provision of [empty] space created a very relaxing atmosphere.

I have chronicled some of this here:

Kind regards,


Geof Smith said...

So, I'm curious Marty: there will be no CP train on your layout? Or would it share space in East Berkshire? Just wondering who handles the interchange in Richford.

CVSNE said...


"A relaxed atmosphere" is certainly what I'm going for here.
And I'm glad to see Barry's Lyndham Heath is still alive and kicking. It certainly has stood the test of time, and the scenery looks as good as ever!

CVSNE said...

Hi Geof,
The interchange track is the one marked on the trackplan. The track marked "CP Main, Dummy" is now the point where the CV local enters the Richford Branch.
And you're correct, there won't be a "live" interchange with the CP.

Barry Karlberg said...

Good for you, Marty. Less is often more...of everything. Less money, less maintenance and less problems. It rarely if ever leads to less satisfaction.


Bernie said...

Agree with your assessment. Staging in not always necessary. I would add a corollary - Avoid hidden staging whenever possible.

My USMRR Aquia Line has no staging track. It's a simple point-to-point with no interchange other than the wharf and car float.

My POLA layout was similar in concept to your branch line layout. I included an off scene staging track that we ended up not using except as a long switch lead. Operators picked up their train on the layout. Did about 1-2 hours of switching and then got for the train ready to leave. That was an op session and everyone that tried it liked it.

Chris said...

I couldn't agree more with your assessment here. I too am beginning to realize that staging is only *really* necessary if you're running a lot of trains on a busy mainline. Even then, if you have a staging "mole" or two, you could get by with creating trains "live" - though that would admittedly require more handling of equipment, and provide a good reason for some "storage" rather than "staging".

But considering you're modeling a branch, adding East Berkshire makes a LOT more sense than a staging yard. It enhances what you're really focusing on - the operation of the branch - and adds a really cool, value-adding, scene.

Thanks for sharing your thought process. I bet I'm not the only one to have rethought a thing, or two, based on your musings here!

Best regards, as always