Layout PlanningA Clinic By Larry Long - August 1989
Transcribed by Bob Jefferis - September 1998
The following clinic was presented by Larry Long, MMR, at a meeting of the MO-KAN Railjoiners in August, 1989. It was videotaped by Bob Jefferis and the videotape was played as a clinic at the May, 1998, meeting of Turkey Creek Division meeting. Larry is not listed as MMR in the title block because this clinic was presented two years prior to his becoming MMR #173. Comments from the audience during the presentation will be enclosed in [square brackets]. HEADINGS in bold capitals have been added by the transcriber.
LAYOUT PLANNING - Layout planning is not layout design, so we're not going to design any layouts tonight. This is about as much armchair model railroading as you are going to get and to me it is probably the most important part of the hobby in that before you actually start building anything, if you don't spend a good portion of your time doing what we are talking about tonight, you are liable to wind up frustrated to the point where this hobby is not as much fun as you thought it was.
THE REASON FOR THIS CLINIC - Just for my benefit can we take a little survey? How many people are new to the hobby? How about three to five years? Same new people, huh? How about ten years? [A voice from the audience, "Still planning."] Still planning. And how about over twenty? See there are a lot of veterans that are still new to the hobby if you noticed some of these hands come up here.
How many of you have layouts at home? About a third maybe. How many of you that have a layout at home you are happy with it? [General laughter here.] A couple of hands went up and one almost was afraid that someone might see him put his hand up. The reason I asked that is, model railroads unfortunately have a tendency to grow and evolve without a great deal of planning. You have a tendency to try to get something down and get it running. And from there you think it would be nice if we had a little branch line going here and a spur there and the next thing you know you have a model railroad that really isn't what you wanted it to be. And again it's because everybody is interested in getting some track down and getting some trains running and playing with their trains. It is not uncommon. Again, the armchair work we are going to do tonight is critical. The only reason I consider myself an expert - if there is one - is I've been in the hobby about 35 years and that isn't the reason. The real reason is when we built out in Peculiar we had a water problem in the basement. And for seven years all I did was draw track plans and read how-to books. I had built layouts before but in this house with the sump pump, any time the rains came down the power also went out with it and I could never do anything with this big basement. So I had seven years worth of that. And in that period of time I think I bought, read and looked at just about anything that could conceivably have been pointed toward layout planning. So if there is an expert based on that, I guess I could qualify for one.
SELF-EVALUATION - What we want to do tonight is make ourselves do a little self-evaluation. In my opinion nobody is able to design or tell you what the model railroad in your basement should look like other than yourself - because we're all different.
THE AVERAGE MODEL RAILROADER - I say we're all different but there is an average model railroader. The reason I say that is, there is a survey done about every two or three years by Model Railroader magazine and we can pin point you - and you're probably sitting right beside this guy. He's 44 years old, earns $35,448 per year, is a college graduate, married and has children; he spends $744 per year on the hobby; he's been in the hobby for 20 years; (he) devotes 261 hours a year to the hobby; he models in HO; he has a home layout 9 by 20; it's in the basement; he models 1936 to 1960; the track is 75% complete but scenery will never be more than 21% complete. [Laughter] That's just the rule - I don't know how but it always works out that way. He's got 178 feet of track down with 22 switches; he owns 99 freight cars, 23 passenger cars, 49 locomotives and 18 of them are brass. So look around - you're probably sitting right by this guy. [General comments and laughter] That guy is one of 247,000 - there are 247,000 model railroaders out there and nobody's alike - nobody's the same. [Are you telling me there are 247,000 people who own 18 brass locomotives?] [Laughter!] And he's the average. Somebody owns 500.
THE BASIC PROBLEM - The point to that is if we are going to talk about layout design, we can't can it - it can't come out of a bottle and have it work for everybody. It has to be based on your own personal interests in the hobby, your own criteria and standards that you find important. There are some things that we can talk about though that obviously will have a bearing on it and if you think about it some of them are just terribly obvious. If you are going to design a railroad you've got to ask yourself some pretty basic questions.
TIME - Number one is how much time can you devote to this? You're not going to design the kind of railroad that you might dream about if you are a Little League coach, if you take your daughter to Indian Guides, if you are someone who is deeply involved in church, if you sing in the choir - all of these other things have a bearing on your time. And a good way to mess up a good marriage is to spend all of your time in the basement. I've pushed that as it is now [Laughter] so don't be so foolish as to think you can fill your basement with 850 feet of track knowing that you have all of these other family commitments. You won't be able to pull this off unless you have family support - and that's just as obvious as it can be. Depending upon what kind of a hobbyist you are; you are not going to necessarily model the same type of railroad as someone else. If you are going to hand lay your track, you are not going to design the same kind of a railroad as if you are going to be willing to accept flex-track and commercial turnouts and what have you. So you have to know where you fit in this kind of category.
THE SOCIAL SIDE - The social side of this hobby is important. The more you get into it, the more you think you are not as much a model railroader as you are just a socialite. Because with the NMRA and MO-KAN and Turkey Creek and all the other clubs and functions and social things you do over and above the hobby, yeah it just takes a lot of time. So again, know where that time factors in.
MONEY - The obvious one of course is how much money can you devote to the hobby? You are not going to design the same kind of a railroad with a budget restraint that somebody who has a checkbook with a lot of zeros in it is going to design. Again, that's something pretty self-explanatory but it's something you need to think about. If you think about just the magazines that are available - I buy about six magazines a month. When I started they were about 35 cents apiece. Now they are about three bucks apiece and if you look at it you are spending eighteen to twenty dollars a month and you haven't modeled anything. All you are doing is looking at what other people are doing. So just the expense of it can be a factor. Obviously the locomotives, the tracks, the switches, the power supplies, the decals and all that kind of stuff is just going to add to that cost. So when it comes to finances only you know the answer to that and you don't want to cut yourself to the point where you can't participate on the social side - the NMRA, the MO-KAN, the Turkey Creek, the what have you. So again you design your railroad to keep this all in balance.
SPACE - The last thing that's really obvious is the space. All of us aren't blessed with a big space. We don't all start with a big space either. Mine started with a four by six that went under a bed and then went to a four by eight which folded up against the wall and a tri-level. Then we kind of progressed to the point where mine now is about fifteen by thirty and it still isn't a particularly large one. But you just don't start out necessarily with large space. You obviously don't design a railroad if you have a space problem. When you think about it, space isn't as critical in design considerations as is track complexity. You can have a huge space with a simple track plan or you can have a small space jammed so full of track that it's just a nightmare. Track complexity really is more of a critical concern than is the space you are going to put it in.
WHO ARE YOU? - But the point is, you've got to know what type of a model railroader you are and design this model railroad based on what interests you in the hobby. You've got to decide what kind of person you are based on how you react to this railroad thing. Are you a railfan or a train watcher for example? If you are a railfan type guy you are going to design a railroad that's going to have a lot of mainline trackage, maybe dual track mainline, a lot of photo opportunities. You may not do a lot of switching - you may not care to do any switching. You may not do anything but just sit back and watch them go around. If you are going to do that you will design a different type of a railroad than the guy that likes to switch - one that considers himself the kind of guy that would get lost in a switching maze and may not even have any mainline. So his railroad is obviously going to look different than yours. So there's the railfan, the switcher, the engineer - that's the kind of guy that wants to be able to follow his train. He's going to take the train out of the yard; he's going to take off down the mainline; he has to design a railroad that will let him do that. So it's going to have to have peninsulas or at least accessible areas he can walk along - maybe the control panels are along the fascia of the railroad rather than a big central control panel. He's the kind of guy that is going to design a railroad different from the switcher, probably different from the guy that's just watching them go around in circles. And there's the dispatcher - he's the guy that likes to operate. He's the one that's going to build the railroad with lots of meets, whether they are diamonds or passing sidings or whatever. He's going to try to keep a lot of trains out on the track at the same time, working probably with a fast clock or some kind of timetable so that he can get into this thing based on running trains. And his railroad again is not going to look the same as that of someone who is not interested in that.
PUT IT ALL TOGETHER - Of course what we'd like to be able to do is put it all together. Unfortunately, probably the majority of people that are model railroaders are also collector-builders and have the tendency to do more building and collecting than working on the railroad and actually running trains. That's the kind of a railroad that winds so choked full of things you couldn't operate it anyway. Even though there are 125 cars on the railroad, there is always room for one more and you have to find a place to put it. But that modeler is going to be building a railroad mainly as a display for his collection. Some of those railroads never do run. How many of you have been to see somebody who is a model railroader and you finally talked him into going downstairs but he wouldn't turn it on? [Laughter] Do you know why? It doesn't run - but there's a lot of stuff down there and it's still fun and it's still an important part of the hobby. So the point is, you have to know where you stand in all this and I suggest that you get a piece of paper and write it down. It's one thing to kind of think you know but if you are going to design a railroad you need to know and be able to refer to it so that you can say, "Well, I'm doing this because ---."
THE ARMCHAIR MODELER - And then of course there is the armchair railroader who is somewhere in the middle. The armchair guy is OK too. I don't have a problem with that at all. In fact it's a good thing there are a lot of them. Armchair people probably design a lot of railroads and may never build one. They are always waiting to move one more time or for their son to go away to college or for the wife to finally leave home or the [Lots of laughter] - there's always a reason that railroad never got started. But again, that's OK. I was a classic armchair modeler for seven years - all I did was sit there. My wife actually thought model railroading was sitting in the Lay-Z-Boy drawing circles. She thought that was model railroading. Of course I fooled her - as soon as we got the water problem fixed.
WHAT DO YOU PREFER? - So you need to know where you stand. You also need to decide what type of a railroad you prefer. Are we talking about a Class I railroad - about a heavy mainline, dual tracked maybe? A short line - you can envision these in your mind as we mention them - logging, coal, mixed, whatever. An industrial railroad may not have a main line at all; it may just be all urban and switching. With a terminal type railroad or a trunk road - you are going to have big terminals, lots of staging areas, a lot of run throughs, maybe not a great deal of anything in between but there will be a lot of train movements. So you need to decide what type of model railroad you want to build. And if you think about it too, if you know what type railroad you want that's going to have a lot to do with the equipment, the scenery and the track design. If somebody out there says, "I want to have a logging railroad," immediately you can see Shays or Climax locomotives, mountains and pine trees and point-to-point design and simple track. So if you just know what type you want to be, sometimes that's going to answer a lot of these other questions for you already.
APPROACH - Another thing you need to know is what approach you are looking for. By that I mean, are you going to model prototype, are you going to freelance it or are you going to do a combination. Prototype is probably the most difficult because whatever you do, someone knows better. [Laughter] In freelance whatever you said is right is right because you are the only guy who knew what is right. And then of course there is the combination. I do a combination thing in that the Missouri Valley, of course, is fictitious but I also like all of those flat land railroads that came into Kansas City so I have - in my mind anyway - all the excuse I need for all of that Rock Island and UP and Santa Fe and MoP power over there in the yard. But to freelance gives you the freedom to do whatever you want to do. Prototype is neat and of course you have to do a lot of compromising when you do prototype. Again, it's OK to be nit-picky. Some don't carry it too far - others might - some people it bothers. Me it doesn't because I know it's my basement and they'll go away - sooner or later - [Laughter] they'll get the message.
TYPE AND SETTING - OK - now you know the approach, you know the type and you need to decide, "What setting?" Now sometimes the setting is part of the type but the reason I mention it is I think you just literally just have to design a railroad with the scenery in mind. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, the railroad goes down, the track goes down and then you try to make the scenery work. So you wind up with retaining walls that are about 300 feet high and some things that work but just really don't add to the atmosphere that you were trying to pull off. So as you are designing this thing, know up front what this scenery is going to look like. Does anyone in here have a problem seeing 3D or three dimensional from a piece of paper laying in front of them? I know there's one or two guys that do. And I don't know what to tell you. That makes it tough. For those of us that can look at a straight line and imagine it in more than one dimension, the knack is really handy. And not to do it that way up front I think is making a tragic mistake because the trains will run but the setting that they are run through - you probably won't be happy with. (To Fred Hulen) Fred - [Fred said, "I was going to say that if somebody feels that he has that problem, maybe the thing to do when they come up with something they think is a plan worth pursuing, would be to model it in clay or something where they can get some 3D out of it and see it that way."] Yes, there are people who do it that way. Of course, it's not a new technique - it's a time consuming one. Personally I think I'd rather move on but I know that Fred did a super little Z scale module mockup of a corner and it obviously does tell you what you are looking at. For those that have a real problem obviously that is a solution. Again it's a time consuming solution but it's such an important part of this thing that not to do something is probably a mistake.
THEME - You need to develop a theme for your railroad. Now you can do this whether you ever build a railroad or not. Developing a theme for the railroad to me is as much fun as building the railroad itself. A railroad that is even a one by six foot shelf railroad can well have a theme attached to it. Be it a branch line, or a division point, steam or early diesel or modern or whatever - it's fun to actually write the history of your railroad down. Give it a past. We went through this exercise with Pat Harriman a year or so ago. One of the old RMC's had a directory of important dates in railroading and Pat went through there and picked dates that were important for his era. In fact I've got something here I'm going to read of Pat's in a minute. But develop a concept for your railroad, look at some maps, pick some towns, decide where this thing is going and what it is supposed to be doing. And it's going to help you in many cases to develop the overall design so that again you don't put the track down and then try to decide why this train is going from here to there. Whether you actually build this railroad or not it's the imagineering side of the hobby and as I say it is a lot of fun. Get a railroad atlas out and do some work.
IMAGINEERING - A lot of guys don't get as much out of this hobby as they could because they back off from this modular or four by eight or whatever and they think, "Is this all there is to it?" In some cases that is all there is to it. But to me building it is just a third of it, imagineering is a third of it and then the operating of it is another third. So you are missing two-thirds of the hobby if all you are doing is watching it run around in circles. In fact, John Allen, the "Wizard of Monterey", made it real plain. He says, "You can't know where your railroad is going till you know where it's been and if you don't do something in the way of stimulating this imagination of yours you are never going to lift it out of the hobbyist's restrictions of size, time and place."
CREATE THE ILLUSION - So anyway, create this illusion. This railroad you are going to design has a past, a reason for being, a place where it is going and take it from there. Develop a personality for this railroad if you will: the significant dates, the year founded, mergers, opening or closing of key industries, the first diesel, name trains. My Missouri Valley passenger train is the Blue Bird. You may know that the Wabash had a Blue Bird but in my history we are 49% owned by the Wabash and the Blue Bird was discontinued in 1969 and that's the year I model - 1969, so I just picked it up. The Blue Bird is the state bird of Missouri so - I mean there are a lot of reasons for the Blue Bird to be the crack passenger train on the Missouri Valley. And you know, once again it is just one more little thing that you can do and never turn a screwdriver and never open a bottle of paint. It's just some of this hobby that you might as well be taking advantage of. But it does add some spice to it.
AN EXAMPLE - Pat Harriman (MMR, whose railroad is the Shelter Bay) went through this exercise. I'm not going to read it all but he wrote a history of his railroad as part of the Pass Exchange which several people do. In the process you exchange a little history about you and the railroad, the pass and a little personal thing once in awhile. Pat tells us about the Shelter Bay that much of the rolling stock and some of the motive power now used was acquired from the Colorado Midland in 1916 when the line was abandoned and ceased operations. He found that in this directory. The Shelter Bay is also proud of the Mikado it purchased from the Bismark, Washington and Great Falls RR which it believes may be the first domestic 2-8-2 built by Baldwin. We know it was the first Baldwin built 2-8-2 because it said so in that directory. So, again - just going through and picking up just enough truisms to make this thing believable. I think if you do that it adds a little bit more spice to it.
WRITE IT DOWN - Now we're just getting to what this clinic is all about because I'm starting to put some of you to sleep. [Laughter] You need to start establishing yourself a set of personalized standards. And again I suggest that you write them down. Get your self a piece of paper and write them down and then don't compromise - because if your standards don't mean anything you are wasting your time anyway.
BENCHWORK HEIGHT - One of the first things you have to decide as you are
building this railroad is the benchwork height. At what height do you want to
operate this railroad? The Missouri Valley is 42 to 46 inches. You need to
decide what your reach is and what you are interested in from a viewing level
because it is going to make some determinations that are critical on the design
of the railroad. Write it down - benchwork height. And if you don't know, take a card table and start progressively putting books on it or something, reaching in
and trying to either re-rail or maybe do maintenance on a turnout or something
like that until you know what is usable - what is a real workable height for
you. Write it down. If you don't know your usable reach there is no point in
designing something that you can't access from a maintenance or scenery or re-railing point of view.
BENCHWORK ACCESS - Access aisles - what is an acceptable access aisle width for you? You need to ask yourself, "Do I have a lot of company?" Is your company composed of railroad types or are they a bunch of non-railroaders of the flying elbow variety? You are going be willing to accept something in the neighborhood of 18 inches maybe for a regular operating crew if it's a one man, no-pass. But if you have a lot of friends come in that are not model railroaders you are going to have to give them some more space. As a rule of thumb, a normal aisle is 24 inches. A minimum is 18 inches but keep it just at a neck - don't try to go down a wall or something like that because you are going to have some rolling stock on the floor or some telephone poles or trees or something that will cause you to be disappointed because they are going to get broken. If you have visitors in an area they need three feet - 36 inches. And if you've got a master control panel somewhere, that's where people are going to congregate so obviously you are going to want to give them as much room as you can. Any time two people are going to have to pass you need 30 inches which is a standard doorway width. So, access aisle width is important. And if you remember too, benchwork width affects aisle width. And if you think about that, bend over and see if you want to look at something here - if it's low when you bend over to look, your bottom sticks out. So height and width even has some bearing in this category.
BENCHWORK PLAN - The type of benchwork - we're not going to spend a lot of time there. There is the shelf which is basically more edge and less middle - the kind you don't walk around - a bigger walk up viewing perimeter if you will. There is the island which is basically a table in the middle of a room that you walk all the way around the outside. There are combinations of walk ins and double stacks or what have you but if you don't know what you want going in as you start to design this, there's no need in even putting anything down on paper. What do you want it to be? You have to decide too if you want to accept a duck under or a lift out section. My advice is just say no up front. In the 50s and 60s layout design duck unders and lift out sections were kind of a norm. There were the experts then that frankly designed some clever ways to crawl under there on your hands and knees and lift out sections of town or farm or whatever. By this point in time the way people have gotten into the operations side of the hobby - none of that is really very practical. If all you want to do is watch them go around you can get by with that. But if you are going to do any kind of train operation or engineer type or whatever, you don't want a duck under. I don't care how young and angle you are, it's going to become a nuisance. If you do accept one, again consider benchwork height because there are 50 inch duck unders and they are a whole lot easier to get along with than the 40 inch variety or whatever. And if you are going to do a two level layout, the bottom level is going to be obviously low so duck unders are going to be a real pain in the neck. Again for me I would just say no but that's a decision that you make.
STANDARDS - MINIMUM RADIUS - Probably the most important thing you will decide on is minimum radius. What is acceptable as a minimum radius? No standard that you set will be more determining than minimum radius as to the type of layout that you are going to be able to design. A conventional radius curve is 24 inches. (Editor's note: He's addressing an HO modular club and is referring to HO here.) That will accommodate almost everything out there. Now the eight driver wheeled locomotives such as a Mikado might have a problem - I know that Jim Flynn has some that get a little tight on some 24s, but most of the time a 24 will get you by. There is going to be some overhang on 85 foot passenger cars that won't look terribly realistic but the compromise isn't that bad. 24. Broad is considered 30 inches but if that's what you say you want, you are talking about a space 5 foot 4 inches wide just to turn that baby around in. So, if we're designing a railroad with all these other things in mind - space one of them - remember, 5 foot 4 inches to turn a train around. Larry (Alfred) is sitting back there and he's wishing he could turn his O gauge stuff in 5 foot 4 inches. But again, sharp is 18 inches and 18 will get you by for trolley and logging and this kind of thing but it isn't going to do justice in the long haul. You might build one railroad with 18 but I'll guarantee you your next one won't be. It's going to be at least 22, maybe 24, bare minimum. I've seen it happen so many times. You know you want some nice wide radius curves because you want to run all this stuff and then you reach the point where it is almost ready to join these two tracks and you have to cheat a little bit so this becomes a 20. So all of that minimum radius out there that is 30 inches doesn't mean a thing because your minimum radius now is 20 inches. After you put standards down on paper, don't compromise them. Again the lowest and the smallest is going to be your standard.
STANDARDS - VERTICAL CLEARANCE - You need to establish yourself a minimum vertical clearance. The vertical clearance by NMRA standards is 3 inches. We're talking obviously about tunnel portal height or under trestles or whatever. 3-1/2 inches is better if you are going to be running any cranes or high cube cars or gondolas with open loads or whatever. Remember that whatever you set as the minimum is the standard. You can have 19 trestles that are 3-1/2 inches and one that is 3 inches and your minimum vertical clearance is 3 inches - unless you have a point-to-point railroad between that trestle and back again. As with curves radius, the smallest clearance anywhere on the railroad is the minimum vertical clearance. You didn't think this was going to be school tonight, did you?
STANDARDS - MAXIMUM GRADE - You need to establish for yourself a maximum grade. That's obviously based on rise and height - however many inches your track goes up in 100 inches is the ruling grade in percent. So if it goes up 2 inches in 100 inches it's a 2 percent grade. If it goes up 4 inches in 100 inches which may not sound like a lot, it's a 4 percent grade and you will regret building it. As a norm, try to build 2 percent or less. And we're talking about 100 inches - that's 8 foot 4 inches. People have a tendency to think that doesn't look or seem like a lot until you get it down and get it covered with some scenery and then it takes three locomotives to get three cars up. So it's just something to avoid now and you won't be one of those guys whose guest wants to come down and see your trains run and you don't turn it on because you know it won't go up the hill. Just watch your grade. And remember too that curving grades must be gentler than straight grades. Minimum radius and vertical clearance can also help determine grade. The way that works is if you have an 18 inch radius loop and all we're doing is coming back to that point, an 18 inch radius is going to give you - with a 3 inch clearance between tracks - about a 2-1/2 percent grade. If you used a 24 inch radius - with a 3 inch clearance, same loop - you are going to wind up with a 1.9 percent grade. And if you use a 30 inch with the same 3 inch clearance you are going to wind up with a 1.7 percent grade. So as you can see, things start interacting here. If you say, "I want a 24 inch minimum radius and a 3 percent grade" you are working with no problem there at all. You are working with a 1.9 percent grade if it did a straight loop over. (Editor's note: A table of grades and radii for given clearances will be found in the November issue of Lightning Slinger.)
STANDARDS - TRACK CENTERS - You need to establish some minimum track centers. On sharp curves it should be 3 inches because if you do less on a dual track situation you are going to wind up side swiping some passenger cars. 2-1/2 inches are OK on the main and 2 inches are OK in the yard. Sometimes the ladder turnout itself is going to dictate what track centers wind up to be so you don't have a lot of choice unless you wind up putting a little track segment off of that turnout in the yard - which you probably won't do. But at any rate, 3 inches on a curve if you are going to double track.
SINGLE- OR BI-DIRECTIONAL? - Another really important decision - are you willing to accept single direction running or are you going to run bi-direction? Obviously, if we have a facing point or a trailing point that we want to switch, the direction the train is coming from and going to tend to be critical. If we want only single direction running and don't have any run around tracks, we are going to have to think before hand which direction those points are going to face. Bi-direction operation adds some little wrinkles to it because now we are talking about some ways to turn a train, be it a wye or a cross over or a reverse loop of some nature on the railroad to get the train going the other direction. So it does become critical whether you want all trains running in the same direction or not.
STANDARDS - TRAIN LENGTH - You have to decide right now the average length of your longest train. You think, "Geeze, why do I have to know that?" You need to know it and you need to lay it out on a table and measure it. If you are saying to yourself that 10 cars, a caboose and a couple of locomotives will be my longest train, that will tell us how long we need to make passing sidings, what staging track would work as storage capacity goes, maybe even the grade. If we are working with something in the neighborhood of 3 or 4 percent, and we think we are going to run 10 or 12 car trains, we are fooling ourselves. So whatever you think you want that longest train to be, you need to know what it is to the inch. And fudge a little bit because you are going to count 10 cars and they are going to be 40 footers and then you're going to sprinkle in a couple of 50 footers and the caboose is going to be hanging out over on the main. So give yourself a little bit of latitude there because I can promise you too that what you think is an acceptable length now will grow. What you used to think - 6 or 8 cars - now you are going to wish you could do 15. So at least in your mind, know where you stand.
CONTROLS - Control preference - if you are working with command control, of course you don't have anything to worry about at all. Tethered walk a-rounds, a central panel - if you are really into sound for example, and the PFM system might be the one you are talking about, you really don't have quite as much latitude because it is a fixed console - at least at this point that's really all that is available. So your control preference is going to have a lot to do with what you design for a railroad. The control panels themselves - are you going to have five of them or one of them? Is it going to be a control fascia that goes all the way around the front of the railroad so you follow the train, or whatever.
BASIC TRACK PLAN - You need to select a basic concept of design - the old oval, point-to-point, point-to-loop, loop-to-loop and all that jazz, the dog-bone, folded dog-bone and then a hundred combinations off of those. But kind of know what you want up front. Obviously the oval isn't the ideal. However I'd say 3/4 of the railroads that are built have some type of continuous operation to them. If it's not an oval it's a folded dog-bone of some sort.
INDUSTRIES - You want to try to determine what your industries are going to be before you ever start or as you are doing it. You want to balance these as places to spot cars. What I'm saying is, you want to have some reasons for the rolling stock on the railroad to be there. Everybody wants to have a pickle car but I mean - what do you do with this pickle car? [Laughter] Now boxcars are great - they can go anywhere and do anything but as you are designing the railroad the reasons for the railroad to be there kind of predicates the rolling stock on the railroad. If you are going to have a logging camp, don't put the furniture factory right beside it. Put it on the other side of the layout - by the mine and the coal yard or whatever. Balance your car spots so you have some reasons to be moving some rolling stock. Open identifiable loads make it kind of tough. They look neat but if you have a gondola full of re-rod, you know there are not a lot of places to park it. It doesn't have any business over at the bulk oil plant. Well maybe - you could make up something, perhaps. But again, the point is to detail your switching logic as you are designing the railroad. I'd recommend that you put in a team track. A team track of course was a railroad owned piece of track so that less-than-carload things could be sent to the town. Do you know why it was called a team track? [Unidentified voice, "That's where they backed teams up to pick up freight."] That's right. Now surely somebody out there didn't know that. It's called a team track because that's where the wagons hauled by the teams went to town to pick up their goods. A freight depot, again railroad owned, is a place to put anything and everything - whatever might be coming in there you can justify or whatever. And of course the interchange track - if you can find a place to put an interchange track on your railroad there's always a reason to leave a car there. Even a pickle car can go on that interchange track. Anything goes. So detail your switching logic. Think about it. Decide again facing point, trailing point, bi-directional and if you wind up with a run around track of course then you've got everything. You can go both directions, run around and you have no problem deciding what direction you should be running and you can work it from both ends.
DETAILED TRACK PLAN - How many of you get a magazine and when there is a
track plan go to the engine house, pick a locomotive in your mind, run down to
the yard, make up a train, tack on a caboose and take off down the main line and
switch every siding on that plan? That is the way you make or break a plan. And
there are some that are gorgeous as far as the way they are illustrated.
Sometimes I don't even get out of the yard - they are just not well done. Others
are great. They are logically thought up, there is a reason for being and it's
good practice for you to do this. Whether you are designing now or designing for
the future, you get the ideas of the concept at any rate of what these guys were
trying to pull off. So any time you see a track plan laying around, the proof of
the pudding is to operate it in your mind. When you operate it in your mind,
operate it with scenery. Don't just run it down track. Run it across trestles,
through tunnels, around curves, the whole nine yards and see this thing actually
operate in - I don't even care if it is in color- it just has to be in three
dimensions. As you well know there are books and
TURNOUT LOCATION - Another rule: don't make any switches (turnouts) inaccessible. It's a temptation to say that if I could just put that turnout right there, things would work, I could do this or I could do that. But then if scenery goes down and covers it up, guess which switch will be the one that will give you all the grief. It'll be the one you covered up. And it happens that way every time. Just know that is the way it is and just don't cover any of them up, period.
GRADES AND TURNOUTS DON'T MIX - Don't place turnouts right at the top or right at the bottom of a grade. Give yourself at least 6 inches of flat track before you start up or down grade from a turnout point. Again it's a temptation because it is one more way to squeeze a little bit more track into this thing but just don't do it. It will haunt you. If it's not a derailment it's going to be coupler separation - it's just not going to be something you are going to be proud of and it may just be that one thing that makes you never turn the railroad on because it's the frustration that you don't need that night.
PLAN AHEAD FOR SCENERY - Leave room for scenery. Don't put so much track on there that you don't have a setting for this railroad to go through. Again, it's something that I probably harp on but I can't say it enough. It's easy to put track with a pencil on a piece of paper. It's tougher to come back and make the scenery and the buildings and the structures and the roads and everything else work. Don't over do it. You can always add more. Just don't over design.
ASK A FRIEND - As you are designing this thing, have a friend operate it because he will see things that you don't. You may operate this thing to the point where you think it is just tuned up perfect. Give it to a guy and let him take it home with him for a few days. You really need to operate this thing in your mind over a period of time. You can't do it in thirty minutes and say, "Great - it's perfect". Let some other people operate it in their minds for you too.
DON'T OVERDO IT! - A little quotation here - in 1967 Linn Wescott of Model Railroader asked the late John Allen what he would do different on his famous railroad, Gorre & Dephetid. (Editor note: That is pronounced "Gory and Defeated". It took me years to learn that!) Does everybody know John Allen - an old friend of Pat's - the "Wizard of Monterey"? He probably did more for this hobby than anybody, ever. This quote - well for one thing it took him 38 months to design his railroad and he was basically unemployed by his choice. So he had a lot of time to devote to designing his railroad. The Gorre & Dephetid didn't just fall out of the sky. 38 months of design effort on that thing and when it came down to it when he was asked what he would do differently his quotation - and I won't dig it out - but basically he said he wouldn't build so much railroad. He literally overdid it. And the railroad was not done. He had reached the point his last two or three years before he had his last heart attack and died, he just wasn't getting it done. Whether it was burnout or it was such an immense project that he had just flat used himself up. And you can do that. Again you've got other commitments at home, you've got commitments at work and what have you so the layout you design has to be part of your overall scheme of things. Don't over design it - don't over build it. Realistic operation and a nice setting for the railroad is going to be a whole lot more important in the long run than how much track you've got down on the table.
THE MISSOURI VALLEY RAILROAD - Now I'm just going to read you the standards for the Missouri Valley which I wrote down and I don't think I compromised them. The Missouri Valley is a combination railroad, free lance and prototype, single track, Class I division point. It is a bridge route. Setting is in the Midwest in 1969. Will act as a bridge route and interchange with most railroads serving Kansas City. Benchwork is L-girder around the wall with peninsula. Height is 42 through 46 inches with scenery up to 62 inches. Maximum width is 30 inches - because I know what I can reach - minimum radius is 24, maximum grade is 2 percent, vertical clearance is 3-1/2 inches. We're bi-directional, a folded dog-bone, dual mainline cabs and yard cabs, 15 control blocks, 4 control panels with tethered walk-around throttles, minimum aisle width is 28 inches, normal train length is 10 cars, two locomotives and a caboose - and that's about 7 feet. We've got 2-1/2 inch minimum track centers, 2 inch yard track centers, number 6s on the main, number 4s in the yard. I consider myself basically to be a railfan because I like to watch them run but I'm also absolutely convinced of the importance of it being a railroad that will operate to maintain this long term interest. So I engineered or designed into it the engineer concept so I can follow my train. The inaccessible turnouts are powered - the close ones that I can reach as I follow along are ground throw. I tried to maximize the main line run but still offer lots of switching possibilities. There are 61 turnouts and 17 non-yard switching locations on there - so if I do just want to switch that's more than enough for me to do. And even sometimes I think I might have overdone it a bit because I'm a traveling salesman covering four states with four kids and I coach Little League baseball and play with horses and mow 3-1/2 acres of yard. Sometimes even the Missouri Valley is too much. I started mine in September of '82 and it's probably 3/4 of the way done. And believe me, construction lags after you have been into this project for awhile. You wind up going back and detailing other areas when you really ought to be putting plaster and some wire and things and doing some things to finish the railroad. So again, don't over do it. Know what you want before you begin putting anything on paper and know that only you can design the railroad you want because nobody else is thinking the same thing that you are anyway.
GOODNIGHT! - And, with that it's 8 o'clock and most of you are asleep but some aren't and for those of you that didn't go to sleep that's mighty nice of you. I think we're through. [Applause]
December 31, 2006
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