Monday, June 22, 2015

Seek Assistance

I was going to wait until everything is finalized, but I'm too excited to wait. When I was going to do the Harrisburg Line, I reached out to Bob Sprague right after he had his Hershey Plan published in Model Railroader. We didn't get very far before I kinda moved off in a different direction. Well, as I worked on some other things, I reached back out to Bob regarding whether he had any time to possibly come up with another plan for the Ft. Wayne Line between the Mansfield and Alliance areas. I sent him the stretch I was looking at and filled out some of the information on the questionnaire from his website. We're still going through the finishing touches but I can honestly say we've gotten further in this process then any of the many meanderings I've ever accomplished on my own. It is definitely going to fit the things I want in a layout in my last post as well as hold to the simplicity aspect/build-ability aspect that I definitely need. Can't wait to show the finished product in the next few weeks.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Reflection on Layout Wants - Design and Operations

So I've been reading the books by Lance Mindheim as well as a few chats at recent operating sessions and have begun reflecting on things I would want in a model railroad layout as well as what I actually have time to build and maintain. I've come to the conclusion that, for me, a layout I would maintain interest in both in building and operating, would include the following:

  • Off Layout staging - trains have to come somewhere
  • Continuous Run - both for me, my kids, and I'd like to show off the layout without having to think about operating it
  • Area to drop off and pick up blocks of cars as well as originate a local or two
  • At least one concentrated switching area
  • One major industry
In addition to understanding scope of the layout, one thing I'm becoming more aware of seeing others building layouts is to keep operations in mind from the beginning. This is being affirmed with a little more digging into layout design, especially those who focus on the more modern layouts of which mine would technically be considered (i.e., those after cabooses were no longer required/first round of mega mergers). With that in mind I listed out my few operational wants:
  • Want to be able to operate on my own or with kids - impromptu sessions
  • Host regular operating sessions lasting no more then 3 hours
  • Max of 5 people, most likely only 3 or 4
  • Prototypical operations
Now, I know that first bullet is going to raise some eyebrows. I don't know who penned it, but the whole "don't operate your layout between sessions" never made any sense to me. I mean, you put all this time into building a layout, improving rolling stock, install and figure out DCC decoders, etc., to just let the layout sit for a month or two at a time between sessions? I do believe some of it has to do with the operations setup of the 4-cycle waybill. Now, I'll be honest, I do prefer that over switchlists, at least the kind I have been exposed to. Lance's books give another kind of way using what I'll call a work order. It's combination switchlist and train info worksheet. Basically, it lists the cars to pick-up, set-off, respot and anything else that may be of note to the train operator. I've also seen other layouts use what's called spot cards so each industry on the layout gets a certain number. These are then placed in car cards for delivery and each car card has a "return to" on it for when it goes off layout.

That brings me to my next desire, to have more prototypical operations. As I read more and more, I think some of the setups I see across the hobby are a little off. The number of cars that can be delivered should equate to the number of delivery spots available at that location and not from any other kind of measurement. For example, a warehouse with 3 doors but a spur length that could hold 5 cars, should only receive 3 cars. It's why thinking about operations, and as a result, industries and the to-be structures, is an important part of planning. Another example used is some type of food processor. They can receive reefers, corn syrup tanks, covered hoppers, etc. Just putting those cars onto the spur isn't prototypical. The reefers should go in front of loading doors or docks, the tank cars as the spots next to their pneumatic hose connections and the same for the covered hoppers or over an unloading pit.

The other thing is, not every car gets moved every day. In fact, when I look at old freight schedules for Conrail, manifests run almost every day (or at least every weekday), but locals may only run every other day, or if they did run each day, sometimes it is one direction one day, and another direction the next. Lance and others confirm this in their writings that reflect observations of the modern prototype. Combine a car that's still be "unloaded" with a car that has to be spotted at a specific spot, and you now have to make an extra move or two to get that car to the right spot.

All of the above helps lengthen a work task and, as a result, the session overall. Also, there are a whole slew of other things like not blocking a crossing, perhaps stopping at a crossing if visibility is low or it's unguarded, always coming to a stop to throw switches, etc. I've started to do this a little bit when I go to other layouts to operate. The two ones I definitely attempt are the cars to the loading door/dock and stopping to throw switches.

In the next post I'll talk about the design I've been working on and how I plan to use some of the stuff in my IT background to help tackle the building of the layout.


Welcome to the my Conrail Model Railroad site. I will document the research, design, construction and operations of my N-scale model railroad based on Conrail's Ft. Wayne Line in Ohio.

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