Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Layout Update # 5: The Gathering, plus Design Philosophy

Unfortunately I have nothing to report on the construction front. The last couple of weeks have been quite busy and last weekend took us to Lyons for my parents' 50th wedding anniversary, where a good time was had by all. I also took the opportunity to load nearly all of my old N scale stuff into the car and bring it to our house; the only things I left behind were some buildings that have no place on the layout, and whose box (not coincidentally) would not fit in the car. That, plus the arrival of the stimulus spending items, now means that, purely in theory, I have everything I need to make serious progress. The one item in short supply is also the most critical: time. However, I hope to return to the "one cut per day" program and resume slow progress. The fact that the new turntable appears to be constructed of pure awesome is a great incentive.

I do have a little time to discuss the design philosophy, such as it is, behind the layout plan. In determining the track plan I followed roughly the same steps as many other modelers, coming up with the ever-elusive balance between what I want and what will (hopefully) fit in the given space.

Here is what I wanted:

- Depict a smallish Northeast/New England railroad in the 1950s, the period when railroads were in transition from steam to diesel power. In fact, this period is commonly referred to as the "transition period" and it is a popular period to model, since not only can you run steam and diesel engines, but the period is before the onset of the merger era of the late 1960s so there are all sorts of railroads one can represent.

- Continuous running so if I wanted to, I could just let a train run laps while I watched (or while I worked on sorting cars and engines in the yard/engine terminal).

- Opportunities for a variety of train operations, from running mainline freight trains to shorter industrial local switching.

- An urban scene (freight yard/industries) and a rural scene (mountains/hills and, at Laura's request, deer), with at least one bridge and at least one tunnel in there somewhere.

- A relatively large engine terminal to show off my roundhouse and practice switching engines on and off trains.

I'm sure there are more items but those were the biggies. Moreover, I had to fit this into a 6-by-11-foot space. This resulted in a lot of compromises:

- Minimum radius on curves of twelve inches. Fortunately, since I am modeling the "transition" period, engines were generally smaller (although there were some monster steam engines like the Big Boy) and boxcars tended to be in the 40- and 50-foot variety, as opposed to modern cars of 85 feet and similarly-sized engines.

- Train lengths of no more than ten cars; anything else would not fit on yard tracks and would also look odd on a relatively small layout such as mine.

- Because of the space required for a turntable and roundhouse, I had to locate those elements on the layout first before proceeding with anything else. That being said, once their location was determined the rest of the plan came together relatively quickly.

Prior to drawing up the plan I did a fair amount of research on layout planning. I was overwhelmed at first (Google "N scale layout plan" to see what I mean) but eventually the wheat emerged from the tremendous quantity of chaff out there. Among the resources I used were:

- Craig Bisgeier's Ten Commandments of Yard Design which is an excellent primer on freight yards and, more importantly, ways to model them.

- Byron Henderson's Model Rail Services site has a wealth of healthily opinionated information, including a short but insightful piece on Cornerstones of Layout Design.

- Track Planning for Realistic Operation by the late John Armstrong, a pioneer in the field of model railroad layout design. I freely admit to having lifted the initial design of the yard directly from his book, and I will be neither the first nor last person to do so. Anyone considering building more than a simple loop of track should read this book multiple times; it will more than repay the less-than-$20 investment in its cost.

I seem to be out of time but I will close by answering an excellent question from JWE not JWC or JWT from a past comment: "Do you have any thoughts on putting a storage ramp access in to the layout? I see so many sets with a subterranean branch to run trains on and off the main line." JnJoJ refers to a layout element known as staging, in which (usually) hidden tracks hold trains that have either not begun or just completed a run on the layout. In some cases the staging area will be on a different (usually lower) level, accessed by either an incline or a helix of track.

I have to say that staging gets short shrift on the layout as a result of the space requirements and my desire to include other elements. A second level is not really feasible, as you need about six inches of clearance to reach the staging tracks and 1) I didn't have the room for an inclined track that would have a low enough grade for trains to run on and 2) building a helix is a complex process that I did not feel was worth the investment of time and resources. Currently, the tunnel will be used for staging, inadequate as it is; for example, if a train is being placed on or removed from the staging track, continuous running is not possible since that is also the mainline.

Random Running Glossary:

Minimum radius - This refers to the tightest curve to be found in the trackplan, which in my case is 12". Generally accepted practice suggests that for realism and operational purposes, track radius should be at least twice the length of the longest car, and prefereably at least three times that, to be run on the layout. Not counting my passenger cars, a 50-foot boxcar is about four inches long in N scale, so the turns will be tight but they should be OK.

Grade - Change in elevation of a section of track expressed as a percentage. For example, a 2% grade raises the track two inches for every 100 inches. In real life a 2% grade is relatively steep, if I understand correctly, but for modeling purposes grades can reach 4%. However, the steeper the grade, the fewer cars an engine can pull, so there are real as well as modeling constraints on grade percentages. Maximum grade on my layout is 2.5% or so, on the section through the tunnel.


J. said...

In the words of Elvis Presley, "A little less conversation, a little more action please."

As for showing off your "roundhouse," do we really need to see that, Dave? At least give us a few pints before subjecting us to that sight. ; )

Dave S. said...

Writing that post took place while on kid bedtime duty and after online gaming, and took no time away from layout construction. I hope to resume "action" as early as this evening.

No comment on the roundhouse, although it certainly gives "taking a spin on the turntable" new meaning.

J. said...

I will leave that to LHS. ; )

P.S. Verification word is "Kiner," which to us Met fans can mean only one thing, it's a sign! Mets. Could. Go. All. The. Way!

EMM said...

Mini-fridge. Beer. Snacks. Work.

Congtatualtions to your parents!

Anonymous said...

I'm really just commenting because the verification word is "ovati." Because the cosmos says that going anywhere near my wife is dangerous at the moment, I'll linger here.

I didn't know about the deer thing, so now I feel like I fell short in donating N-scale bums to your cause. At least they won't eat your N-scale hydrangeas.