The wrong way to think about “minimum”

Yeah – “wrong” is a strong word and it’s bound to cause some grief.

But I’ve been designing layouts for myself and others for about 40 years, and based on that experience I would argue that most people in the hobby think about the wrong things when they think about the term “minimum”.

I saw examples of this in several threads I followed online this week. The discussions were on various fora and newsgroups – and they dealt with various scales, gauges, eras and so on. But they all shared a common thought:

The person who started the discussion was trying to figure out how to get away with using a smaller minimum radius or a smaller minimum turnout size for their layout.

 photo Arborist-07_zpsbc614a83.jpg
(The largest turnout on my S scale layout – a Number 10 at St. Williams, Ontario – is large enough that it looks like a turnout on a real railway. If ever I build another layout, I will use more of these. My minimum turnout is a Number 7 – a size I only use for freight-only spur tracks.)

Presumably, the people who started these discussions want to maximize the fun factor of their layout by maximizing the amount of layout they can fit into their train room. The theory is that the more track one packs into the space, the more fun the layout will be.

(Track manufacturers certainly like this theory because they sell more track that way. And many of their layout-building customers demand Number 4 and Number 6 turnouts – so those are the most common sizes produced. Fewer manufacturers offer a Number 8 – and I don’t know of any that offer a Number 9 or larger as a ready-to-use product.)

But quantity isn’t the only way to measure the fun in a layout. Instead of trying to determine the minimum radius one can get away with, a better approach – I believe – is to determine the maximum radius one can accommodate. If one insists on considering a minimum, here’s a good place to start:

What’s the minimum amount of trackage I really need to create a satisfying layout?

Real railways maximize curve radius and turnout sizes. Broader curves and larger turnouts translate into higher track speed and less wheel wear. At the same time, real railways minimize the amount of track they build, paring it down to the essentials – because track costs money to build and maintain. A real railway will never use two turnouts where one will suffice.

Now that's long! photo 10Turnout-01.jpg
(The Number 10 turnout for St. Williams – under construction. Look at how long that frog is, when compared to the caboose.)

Those who are interested in building train sets will continue to focus on minimum track standards, to pack the most track into their available space. But what they’ll end up with is a train set. Even the largest layouts will look like a train set if the curves are too tight and the available real estate is packed to the edges with ties and rail.

At the other end of the spectrum, those who are interested in replicating a real railway in miniature would do well to pay more attention to maximizing their track standards – and minimizing the amount of track they plan to build in their layout space.

There are many good reasons for this approach. But here’s one to think about:

Nobody ever tore down a layout because the curve radius was too large, or the turnouts were too big.

But lots of layouts have ended up in the bin because curves and turnouts were too small.

Jim Dufour’s B&M Cheshire Branch

This is one of my all-time favourite layouts, and definitely qualifies as achievable. Jim Dufour is building a slice of the Boston & Maine Railroad’s Cheshire branch through New Hampshire in HO scale.

Jim’s layout is basement-sized, but doesn’t fill the basement. There’s plenty of space for people as the layout hugs the basement walls. Jim resisted the temptation most people would have to pack the space with large yards, roundhouses, and major towns. Instead, he is modelling – very, very well – a couple of smaller places on the line.

At the west end, there’s Joslin. A depot, a passing siding, and a spur behind the station. Heading east, there are a couple of spurs before reaching a passing siding and station at Webb.

Continuing east on reaches the main town on the layout – Troy. Here, one finds a depot, a couple of other railway structures, and a couple of spur – one of which acts as a team track. There’s also a lap siding and double-ended siding serving the freight house. All very modest.

Next up is Fitzwilliam, with a siding and two spurs, surrounded by a depot, freight house, and a section house.

The last location modelled is State Line, with a depot and freight house on a passing siding. From there, it’s back to staging.

Notice the consistency from town to town: each has a depot, some have a freight house. Some have a spur or two for switching.

As you’ll see in the videos below – shot by our mutual friend David Haney during a recent visit to Jim’s layout – the places look right. There’s space where space should be. There’s great attention to detail. And the best part is that since this is still a layout under construction, there’s much more to come.

Jim’s layout is proof that an achievable layout can also be an excellent one. I always look forward to following Jim’s progress.

Curving a straight prototype

In the comments on another posting, a reader wondered how far one could deviate from a prototype while still calling it a model of a prototype. For example, if the prototype location is straight, can one curve it (say, 90 degrees, to model the location on an L-shaped shelf)?

As with so many things in this hobby, for me the answer is, “It depends”.

On my Port Rowan layout, my rendition of Port Rowan, Ontario is straight (like the prototype), although compressed somewhat. But while the railway’s line through the next town up the line – St. Williams – was straight, my version of St. Williams is L-shaped. It also features a structure I scratch-built based on a prototype in Cheltenham, Ontario – 174km away.
M233 at St. Williams west photo M233-StW-West_zps28961473.jpg
(The west end of St. Williams is a product of my imagination – and I can live with that)

St. Williams plays an important role on my layout – but it’s a supporting role. My real interest was in modelling the activity in the terminal at Port Rowan.

What’s more, I only have one prototype photo of St. Williams, showing the area around the station. I would not put the station on a curve (although I did move the siding switch closer than on the prototype):
 photo StW-Trees-03_zps0fe33cdc.jpg
(Not 100% accurate – but it works for me)

That said, I also know that I have designed St. Williams to operate like the prototype. St. Williams had one double-ended siding and one stub-end spur, so that’s what I’ve modelled – even if I have monkeyed with the physical arrangement somewhat. Building St. Williams with a lap-siding, or a wye, or a yard, or a diamond crossing with the Lake Erie & Northern, or even a couple more stub-end sidings – all in the name of “enhancing” the operation – would also change the character of the place so much that it would no longer be St. Williams. At least, not to me.

So, it depends. It depends on the prototype. It depends on one’s tolerance for variation from the prototype – keeping in mind that sometimes the variations are necessary if one wants to build the prototype in the space on has. It depends on what prototype photos one has – what scenes one wants to re-create.

And it depends on what scenes one wants to enhance. I would argue that the curve through St. Williams actually makes my modelled version more interesting, visually, than the prototype. I love the look of the main and siding swinging around the cornfield in the first photo in this post – a view I could not enjoy if I had built St. Williams more faithfully.

“Explaining” Your Layout

I’m borrowing the title for this from well-known Southern Pacific modeller Tony Thompson. The latest entry on Tony’s blog is called “Explaining” Your Layout and it articulates something I’ve thought about a lot with my own layout projects – namely, that most of the people who see our layouts are probably not members of the hobby. They are our non-hobby friends, our spouse’s friends, our family, colleagues from work or school, the guy who arrives to fix the furnace, and so on.

For a layout to be successful, I think – really, really successful – it’s those people that we have to impress.

Non-hobbyists won’t know the difference between a 2-6-0 and a 4-6-0 – or a GP-7 and a GP-9. But they sure know the difference between a 1950 Chevy and a 1980 Toyota. They also know the difference between a Maple and an Oak – and that neither of these look like a clump of lichen stuck on a toothpick.

That’s why on my current layout – representing Port Rowan, Ontario in the 1950s (in S scale) – I have invested a lot of time and effort (and a fair bit of money) to try to build convincing scenery.

Trees are tall:
DW-2013-04 (02) photo DW-05_zps3f3e0b9e.jpg
(Click on the image to find out more about my trees)

Fields and orchards consume a lot of real estate on my layout and require a lot of plants to fill. But I think they’re big enough to convince a casual visitor that they’re looking at a farm, not a garden:

M233 at St. Williams west photo M233-StW-West_zps28961473.jpg
(Click on the image to find out more about the cornfield)

Entering Port Rowan photo Orchard-Planted-Detail-02.jpg
(Click on the image to find out more about the apple orchard)

And so on.

It’s also why I’ve paid attention to scene composition – especially, to leaving space between structures and scenes. I haven’t packed the space with track. Instead, I’ve set the railway into its environment:
 photo SectionHouse-04_zpsc1435a68.jpg

At least, that’s my goal. My layout is very much a work in progress and there’s a lot to do still. For example, I need to build more trees for the Lynn Valley – a lot more. But so far, I’m pleased with how it’s working out.

Great post, Tony – thanks for sharing it!

“If I had more space…”

M233-Arrival-Port Rowan photo M233-1532-Arrival_zps1d382ef9.jpg
(Mixed Train M233 arrives in Port Rowan on my S scale layout. Would more space for the layout make this event any different? No. Click on the photo to visit my layout blog.)

“More space” is a wish almost universal in the hobby. Everybody would like more room than they have for their layout.

I’m quite happy with the space that I have, but I certainly would not object if I walked into the Trainment one morning and discovered another 50, 25 or even 10 percent more room.

If I’d had more space before I started my current, S scale, layout… I would not be working in S scale. A couple of years ago when I was contemplating a clean sheet of graph paper and a change of layout, I hoped to fit a finescale O (Proto:48) layout into my space, representing portions of the steam-era Southern Pacific’s Friant Branch. But O scale was just a little too big for my long but narrow space. Curve radii was the big issue and if I’d been working in a wider space that issue would’ve been solved. So, O it would’ve been – and SP instead of CNR.

But, the space I had encouraged me to look beyond my Proto:48 goals, and I ended up doing the CNR’s Port Rowan branch in S:
Port Rowan layout photo PortRowan.jpg

Upon reflection, I’m really glad I did. It’s been a great decision – not only for my layout space, but also for the social side of the hobby. I’ve strengthened some friendships and made new friends as a result of the scale and the layout. No regrets.

Knowing what I know now, if I were to acquire larger space (and it’s not in the cards) then I would continue with my present theme. In fact, I’d build pretty much the same layout. I’m really happy with the arrangement of “Staging – Intermediate Town – Terminal” and feel no desire to add to it with, say, the yard at Simcoe – or even another online town such as Vittoria.

In the case of Simcoe, the extra operational benefits would be offset by the need to build and maintain a fairly extensive yard and set of industrial spurs, plus another turntable. It would require a lot more structures. It might even require more people to operate prototypically. No thanks. I’ve come to realize I don’t need more trackage to have fun with the layout: I’m having buckets of fun as it is. And a place like Vittoria, while another dot on the map, would not add anything operationally to the layout. It would just eat up space I could put to better use.

How? If I had more space, the first thing I would do is increase the minimum radius. Currently, it’s 42 inches and that works, but could be better. Freight cars and small steam are really happy on 42 inch curves. Passenger cars manage it, thanks in part to the 15 mph speed restriction in the CNR time table (and enforced on the layout through custom speed curves for the locomotives). But the varnish does look a bit toylike on those curves. They’d be happier – and I would too – if I’d had the space for curves of 60 inch radius, or even 72 inch radius. So, that would be the first priority.

In line with that, I’d also increase the turnout sizes. I’m already using longer turnouts than typically employed on a model railway. My spurs have #7s, while the runaround track in Port Rowan and the west siding switch in St. Williams are #9. The turnout by the St. Williams depot is #10 – and I love the look. So, if I had more space, I’d bump up the turnout sizes – I’d use #9 on all spurs, and #10 (or even #12) for the double-ended sidings.

Next, I would add more open running space. The layout works fine as is, and the feeling of Going Somewhere is quite strong, I think, on the mainline between St. Williams and Port Rowan. But that feeling could be enhanced:

I would start by adding mainline running between the staging area and St. Williams:
Test-fit field photo Tobacco-BackField-02_zps828739c8.jpg

I would add more houses to the area around the St. Williams station – for example, on the east side of the road crossing, which is currently occupied by the tobacco farm. This would push the tobacco field and its related kilns further east, towards Simcoe. I’d do my best to make the transition from town to farmland less abrupt. From an operations perspective, this would give the engineer opportunity to get out of the staging area and up to speed for a bit of open country running before having to worry about slowing for the road crossing and station stop at St. Williams.

The second place to add running room would be between the Lynn Valley water tank and the apple orchards that mark the entrance to Port Rowan:
Weeds and bushes photo M233-1532-Meadow-03_zps764aaa8a.jpg

As with the issue in St. Williams, a crew barely gets up to speed after stopping for water before it’s time to slow down again to enter the yard. In addition, while I’m happy with the transition from forested river area, through meadow, to orchards, I think this area would’ve benefitted from more breathing room. I think it would also be a great spot to add a level crossing. I only have one on the layout – at St. Williams. (The orchard crossing in Port Rowan doesn’t count – it’s a farm track, not a public road.) It would be nice to give crews another place to practice their level crossing whistles – preferably on a section of straight track. As it is, a crossing in the meadow to the east of the orchards would look contrived, especially since the main line is on a tight curve through the scene. I want to de-emphasize the curves – not draw the eye to them.

Finally, I would revisit St. Williams to see if I could model it more faithfully to the prototype:
M233 at St. Williams west photo M233-StW-West_zps28961473.jpg

The real St. Williams had a short double-ended siding and was straight – not curved as it is on my layout. The single spur is correct, but it did not branch off from the siding. Rather, it was down the main from it – towards Port Rowan, and a facing-point move for westbound (Port Rowan-bound) trains. Operationally, I can replicate work at St. Williams, and the area around the depot will look reasonably accurate when compared to the single photo I have of the railway through this town. But it could be better.

To reiterate: I would build essentially the same layout again if I had more space. I would focus on making the layout even more relaxed, with broader curves, larger track switches, and more open country running. What I would not do is add towns, yards or complexity – not even additional spurs along the way.

I’m really, really happy with my layout as it is. It’s the right mix of challenges and fun, I can enjoy frequent operating sessions on it – by myself or with friends – and building and maintaining it does not suck up all of my spare time.

Valid Choices

This morning, after reading a blog posting called Stick To Your Guns by Mike Cougill, I got in touch with Mike and asked, “Is this me?”

Turns out it was not – he was commenting about something that happened to another modeller he knows – but it sure sounded familiar. It hasn’t happened to me a lot – perhaps because I blather on at length about why I’m doing things the way I am – but like the subject of Mike’s post, I have had a couple of readers get in touch to warn me that my layout is going to end in nothing but heartbreak, because I haven’t included enough spurs and industries to provide entertaining operation.

Mike makes a very good point – one completely missed by some people in the hobby:

Advice can be very valuable, when the giver takes the time to understand and respect the choices being made by the receiver.

(At times, I can be as guilty of this as anyone, and will try to do better.)

I do find it curious that so many people in the hobby – at least in North America – continue to promote the idea of a large, multi-deck, basement-filling empire not only as the best choice, but sometimes even as the only real goal anybody should strive to attain. To those with the time, money, lifestyle and enthusiasm to tackle a club layout, I say, “Good luck – fill yer boots!” At the same time, I hope hobbyists in the mega-layout camp recognize this is not the route for everyone. For me, for now, I’m happy trying to do something modest – a very small section of the sleepy branch line to Port Rowan, Ontario – but do it to the best of my abilities.
M238-PenningtonBridge photo M238-LynnValley-03_zpsa71f935f.jpg
(Click on the photo to visit my layout blog)

I will never convince those who worry that my Port Rowan layout will end up in the dumpster due to lack of interest that I’m happy with my layout design. And frankly, if it ends up in the dumpster, So What? It’s happened to layouts I’ve built in the past – and it may happen again. I can’t say. Right now I love what I’m doing but I can’t predict the future as it pertains to my interests in the hobby. Few people can. And nobody – myself included – can predict the things that happen in life that are beyond one’s control, that may influence or even dictate one’s hobby choices.

But I’m not worried about any of that. It’s a hobby – one I care about a lot, but that doesn’t change the fact that I’m not building fire-fighting equipment or a space shuttle: If I get it “wrong”, nobody dies. And for me, the journey is as important as the result.

Mike – a really thoughtful post. Thanks for writing it. And to my readers, give Mike’s post a read – and then remember to do what you find most satisfying in the hobby, regardless of what the rest of us advise!

Achievable Layouts and the ongoing problem of the Time Saver

15 tile game photo 15-Tile-Puzzle_zps4ffc480b.jpg

I’ve written about this before. The Time Saver is a venerable and well-loved railway switching puzzle invented by one of the pioneers of the hobby, John Allen.

As hobbyists, we owe a lot to John, who published many articles and in the process opened people’s eyes to the possibility that a model railroad could actually have things like, oh, extensive scenery and something approaching realistic operations. These are things we take for granted today – but they were radical ideas in an era when a model railroad was essentially a bigger version of a train set.

However, the Time Saver is one of John’s ideas that has about as much to do with modelling railroading as the game of Clue has to do with solving murders. It is first and foremost a puzzle with a railway theme – in the same manner as this:
Puzzle-Scotsman photo Jigsaw-Scotsman_zps1f812d12.jpg

(Interestingly – but perhaps not surprisingly – I’ve just found a blog devoted to railway jigsaw puzzles. Click the jigsaw to visit it.)

So I was pleased to see another blogger I follow – Hunter Hughson – has tackled the Time Saver as well. On his Ontario in HO Scale blog, Hunter notes that he struggles to see the direct connection between the Time Saver and real railways, and reminds readers (including me) of Craig Bisgeier‘s excellent critique of the Time Saver. Click on the Rubik’s Cube to read more:
The Cube photo Rubik_zpsf6096575.jpg

I think any discussion of the shortcomings of the Time Saver should also offer alternatives. There are many excellent resources online, but here are three worth looking at:

First, of course, are the realistic switching layout designs that Lance Mindheim describes on his website. I recommend reading through his blog, and acquiring his trio of books:
– How to Design a Small Switching Layout
– How to Build a Switching Layout
– How to Operate a Modern Era Switching Layout

Second, Greg Amer has a blog called The Industrial Lead on which he is describing his plans for a switching layout based on the industries he works as a professional railroader.

Third, another professional railroader – Jack Hill – was writing a great blog about his New Castle Industrial Railroad. Here, he documented his O scale switching layout. Unfortunately, Jack stopped blogging in January 2011. I have never figured out why. Fortunately, his blog is still active.

These modellers – and others, including (but not limited to) Byron Henderson, Bernie Kempinski, Mike Cougill and Jim Lincoln – have influenced my thinking about layout design. In particular, my thinking has evolved to embrace two principles:

First, I appreciate the beauty of simple designs. Most layouts I see in magazines, online or in person are over-designed for the needs of the builder. On most of these, about half of the track could be removed without affecting the entertainment value of the layout.

Second, I appreciate the elegance of prototype track arrangements. A layout designed from a prototype track map rarely looks like – or operates like – a typical model railroad.

On this blog, I am offering up layout designs or prototype ideas that – I hope – embody these two principles. I call them Achievable Layouts. These layout ideas are, admittedly, all bigger than a Time Saver – but not necessarily more complex to build. And I know they will be much more satisfying in the long term.

The Gift of Galt

I was pleased to hear from a friend over the holidays who told me that – after reading my blog entry about the CNR Waterloo Sub to Galt, Ontario – he grabbed his copy of To Stratford Under Steam, got inspired, and started building the yard at Galt in HO scale on an L-shaped shelf.

My friend had been struggling with a layout plan until he realized he had been trying to do too much in terms of size of layout and scope of the prototype he was trying to capture. He re-read Lance Mindheim‘s books and blog, then my piece on the Waterloo Sub as an achievable layout, and that’s all it took.

Yesterday I learned that the track is in and wired, and he’s able to run trains. He has also painted a basic backdrop and is starting to work on scenery and planning structures. In his email, he made the following observation:

So far, good fun, and I am quite taken with the minimalist approach to building a layout. I’m enjoying being able to come down and have an operations session that can be 10 minutes or over an hour, whatever time allows. It’s very therapeutic!

This just made my day. I’m really, really pleased that he’s making such progress and that he’s enjoying the layout. And that my blog played some role in getting him started? Well, that’s like finding another Christmas present under the tree!

The Layout Designer’s Layout Designer

I don’t normally use this venue to cross-promote the podcast I co-host, since this blog is a personal diary about my layout. But on Episode 45 of The Model Railway Show, I speak with Doug Gurin, the founder of the Layout Design Special Interest Group.

Unless you’re a serious student of layout design you may not have heard of Doug, but he’s influenced most of the layout designers you have heard of. Doug’s thinking about layout design goes way beyond what most people do, which is “track planning”. He’s conversant on many topics – from ergonomics to lighting to fascia colours. But it’s Doug’s thoughts about using a layout to tell a story – of a real railroad, in a real place, in a real time – that I find most compelling.

As an example, how would I represent my home layout – the CNR’s Port Rowan branch in S scale – at the dawn of the 20th century? The equipment would change, the track might have some minor adjustments, and there might be some changes to the details on the structures. And that’s where most modellers would call it a day. Doug, however, would want to know how we could demonstrate the culture of the railroad and the spirit of the community.

There might be scenes of prosperity – a well-kept flower garden at the station, railway bridge and building employees giving sheds a fresh coat of paint, section gangs standing by for the train to pass so they can resume trimming the ballast on the right of way. Things like that.

By contrast, in my 1950s version of the branch’s story, I paid a lot of attention to distressing my ties and adding static grass between the rails to reflect its status as a marginal line on which only the minimum amount of maintenance is being performed. There will be no railroad employees painting sheds or tending station gardens on my layout, because that would confuse the story I’m trying to tell those who see the layout. Instead, they might be putting a crude patch on the water tank to stop (or slow) a leak – something essential to keeping the line running, but nothing more.

It was also from Doug that I first heard the concept of “modelling jobs” – something that’s big on my list of ways to make my modest layout entertaining for me and my guests. While Doug did not give me the idea of using fascia-mounted brake wheels and air hoses as operations aids on my home layout, or tell me when and where to use them, it was conversations with Doug over the years that fostered my interest in finding ways to help model the jobs of railroading in miniature. And that’s what made me consider fascia tools in the first place, and then research how brakes are used during switching so I could emulate that.

In our interview, Doug and I talk about many things related to layout design – from the origins of the LDSIG, to considerations for the layout designer that go beyond track planning, to areas in which Doug feels we could do more. I hope you give it a listen, because I always come away from a conversation with Doug having learned something that has changed my approach to the hobby – and I’m sure you will too.

Go run your trains – often!

Curtain Call photo FullStaging-01_zps7487614a.jpg
(Full staging on my Port Rowan layout: Click on the photo to visit my layout blog)

I really like Lance Mindheim‘s thoughts about layout design, layout operations and the hobby in general. I encourage as many people as I can to check out Lance’s blog. (Unfortunately, the blog does not appear to have an RSS function, so one can’t have new postings delivered automatically. One has to remember to check in regularly to see what’s new.)

One posting that I’m thinking about a lot lately is his September 30, 2012 entry, called How to “Play” with Trains. Lance notes that somewhere in the evolution of layout operation, modellers started embracing the idea that operating sessions had to run several hours, involve many trains, and require many operators. Operating the layout solo is almost (or entirely) impossible because moving any equipment outside of the formal, multi-hour operating session would disrupt the traffic flow on the layout. In essence, everything would need to be reset before the next big session.

At the same time, when he’s hosting these big sessions the layout onwer/builder (the brass hat) is so busy looking after the layout and his guests that he doesn’t have time to pick up a throttle. The end result is that the the brass hat never gets to run his own layout.

How messed up is that?

What’s more, fear of messing up the layout can inadvertently lead layout owners to leave a negative impression of the hobby on others. I’m reminded of a friend’s story about the time he was invited to visit a Famous Model Railroader (it doesn’t matter who, so I will not name names). My friend took along some beer as a thank you for imposing on the FMR’s time and after a tour of the layout room tour in which he ooohed and aaahed appropriately, my friend asked, “So, FMR, why don’t we run a train or two?”

The answer was, “No, I don’t think there are any trains scheduled to run on the railroad today.”

As you can imagine, my friend was ready to take back his beer – perhaps to help wash out the sour taste the experience left in his mouth. Now imagine how this attitude would go over with someone who is not already in the hobby. After an experience like that, chances are they never will be.

So, what’s the solution?

Lance’s answer is to design a layout that can be operated frequently, in brief sessions. Without consciously setting out to do that, it’s what I’ve done with my Port Rowan layout. Now, having read Lance’s thoughts on this, I’m making a point of ensuring that I run the layout four or five times per week.

Now, The Daily Effort takes about 75 minutes to complete a run from Simcoe (staging) to Port Rowan and back, with work in Port Rowan and St. Williams. And I don’t have 75 minutes, four or five times per week. But the thing is, the entire run does not need to be completed in a single session. Instead, I am splitting the run over several sessions. Five 15-minute sessions will get it done. (So will one half-hour session plus three 15-minute sessions, or three 20-minute sessions, a 10 and a five, or…)

(Note that even larger, more complex layouts would benefit from having a section that could be operated in this way with minimal disruption the overall traffic flow – perhaps a branch, connecting shortline, waterfront area, or industrial park would serve the purpose.)

When I run out of time to run trains, I simply make a note of where I am in the operating cycle, shut off the power and walk away. The next time I can run, I can quickly pick up where I left off. Having done this for a couple of weeks now, my goal is to never again run a train back and forth at random – even when non-hobbyists visit. Instead, by replicating the real work on the Port Rowan branch – even just a little bit of it – I can help explain to casual visitors why so many of us find this hobby so compelling.

In addition to keeping my interest high, these short but frequent operating sessions help the layout too: They keep the rails clean, they keep the switch mechanisms and switch points limber, and they help me identify any maintenance issues that need to be addressed. That’s good news for when I am hosting formal operating sessions with a friend or two, because it means the layout is always in the best shape it can be. And if I want to give friends the full experience of running a train from staging to staging, that’s easy enough to set up at a moment’s notice.

That’s why I encourage everyone to read Lance’s blog entry on how to play with trains. And then, I encourage you to head to the layout room and do just that. Have fun – I am!