Keith Jordan’s “The Patch”

One of the challenges many hobbyists today face is reduced real estate for their layout. As Baby Boomers age and their kids leave home, they’re downsizing. And younger modellers buying their first home either can’t afford a “huge train room with a two-storey roof” – or are choosing to buy condominiums and live downtown, to take advantage of being close to their work and the many amenities of urban living.

So I love finding inspiring layout themes – or actual layouts – that don’t require a lot of real estate, yet provide interesting modelling and operating possibilities. One such layout is Keith Jordan‘s HO scale layout of a switching district on the ATSF known as “The Patch”. Click on the photo of Keith’s layout, below to visit it now:
Keith Jordan - The Patch photo ThePatch-KeithJordan_zpsf0f72eb0.jpg

Keith actually has a large layout elsewhere in his house. This layout is built on a narrow, L-shaped shelf in his office. As this PDF of the layout plan shows, it takes up minimal space, being just 12″ deep, approximately nine feet long on one leg of the L, and about eight feet long on the other. Yet, it features two distinct operating districts – the First Street Yard and The Patch.

Since it resides in a nicely finished room, Keith took great care with the presentation of the layout. The Patch would look just fine above book cases in a condo’s living room. Have a look at how it blends into Keith’s room in the photos on this page.

Keith describes a number of operating sessions on his web site.

Keith’s plan would fit well in S, too – the legs of the L would be about 12 feet long and the depth of the shelves would widen to, perhaps, 16″.

While Alco High Hood switchers are not available in S scale, a number of four-axle switchers have been produced in 1:64 that would be reasonable substitutes – anything from a GE 44-Ton or 70-Ton engine to EMD SW-1, SW-8 and SW-9 models, to a Baldwin S-12. (And a note to manufacturers: it’s curious that the Alco S series and Alco HH series have been neglected. I think they would be great additions to the scale. If I recall, there’s an Also S series model available in brass, but none of the High Hoods has been produced.)

Have a look around. I’m sure you’ll enjoy what you see. Thanks, Keith, for sharing your work online!

(BTW, you can read more about Keith’s rendition of The Patch in Great Model Railroads 2012 and in Model Railroad Planning 2011, both from Kalmbach.)

CNW – Geneva Switch Run

The Winter 2012 edition of Classic Trains magazine may attract notice on the magazine rack for its cover photo of a Delaware and Hudson PA on the point of the Laurentian (and I know my friend and fellow hobbyist Michel Boucher will pick up a copy), but for me the real prize is found on page 50.

That’s where Robert A. Janz writes about working for the Chicago and North Western in the summer of 1952, when he was called to fill in on the Geneva Switch Run, a local that worked a 2.6-mile branch between Geneva and St. Charles, Illinois.

Robert weaves a wonderful tale about working this job – a modest train with a six-person crew, powered by a CNW R-1 4-6-0. As the map in the magazine illustrates, the branch to St. Charles curves northward from the east-west mainline between Chicago and Omaha. It runs up the west side of 7th Street, serving a number of industries en route. At the north end of Geneva, a spur strikes east several blocks, where it curves south again to serve a number of industries along the Fox River. Back at the west side of Geneva, the line continues north through open country to a small terminal in St. Charles, featuring a passenger station, a freight house, and a few more railroad customers.

As Robert relates, trains were arranged into four blocks. These were north and south west-side cars in Geneva, east side cars in Geneva, and St. Charles cars. Switching was conducted on the west side, then cars taken over to the Fox River. Cars lifted from east side industries were left on the spur where it joined the main track, to be collected on the way back from St. Charles. The six-person crew was required because there were numerous grade crossings in Geneva (and a few in St. Charles), so this job warranted a dedicated flagman. There was even a bit of middle of the road running.

As I read this feature, it occurred to me how similar an operating session would be to my own, Port Rowan layout. A single, short train… a single locomotive… no other rail traffic to worry about… but a lot of thought required to safely and efficiently serve the customers in these two communities. If one used staging to represent the Geneva yard and began modelling the branch just as it left the mainline, it would fit in a relatively modest space in HO scale (or be the basis of a stunning basement endeavour in O scale).

Why HO and O, but not S? As always, it comes down to equipment availability.

– In HO, Hallmark Models imported the R-1.

– Glacier Park Models offered a beautiful model in O scale (including Proto:48). Click on the image below to visit their web site and read more:
CNW 1385 GPM link photo CNW1385_zpsc62c8774.jpg

– In S? Well, this is another example of why a friend of mine says, “‘S’ is for ‘Sorry’,” as in “Sorry, that model hasn’t been done.”

Perhaps, some day, an S scale manufacturer will consider adding some small steam prototypes to its catalogue. They are definitely more layout-friendly than prototypes such as the Baltimore and Ohio EM-1 (2-8-8-4) monsters that also appear in the Winter 2012 Classic Trains.

In the meantime, though, I encourage readers to have a look at Robert’s article in this magazine. Obviously, it’s an ideal prototype for CNW fans looking for an achievable layout. But there’s no reason that, with a change of structures and setting, this couldn’t be great inspiration for any small steam or early diesel era branch. It certainly reminded me of some of the CNR (and CPR) lines around Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge…

Definitely worth reading – thanks, Robert, for writing about your experience!

It’s past time to dump the Sacred Sheet from the hobby

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I was more than a little disappointed to see a popular hobby magazine run a feature at this time of year highlighting several plans for HO layouts based on the tried and tired four-foot by eight-foot sheet of plywood (hereafter called “the 4×8”).

I’m convinced that the 4×8 – often offered as a first step for beginners to take beyond the “train set under the tree” – does more harm than good in the hobby.

I have several problems with the 4×8 from a layout design perspective, all related to the fact that a 4×8 takes more space than people think:

– A 4×8 layout needs access on both long sides and at least one short side. If we assume a fairly tight 24″ for each aisle, that means at a minimum a 4×8 layout requires a space of 8’x10′.

– If we allow for a more comfortable 30″ for each aisle, that increases to 9’x10.5′.

Running a layout around the perimeter of an 8’x10′ space (or 9’x10.5′), with the operator(s) standing in the middle, enables one to design and build a much better layout. There are many reasons, but here are three:

– If the layout builder wants a continuous run, the curves on a 4×8 must be so tight that they restrict the type of equipment that can be run. What’s more, the tighter the curve, the more precisely it must be laid if operation is to be reliable. Track switches are also often limited to smaller sizes. Many published plans feature 18″ radius curves and Number 4 switches. By contrast, a layout built around the perimeter of an 8×10 space can take advantage of broader radius curves – 24″ and above. There’s also room to use larger switches: For example, all turnouts off the main and all crossovers can be Number 6.

– It the layout builder wants switching, a 4×8 places some serious limits on the design of sidings and spurs. Often, plans are forced to introduce diamond crossings or unrealistic switchbacks to make spurs fit. By contrast, a layout built around the perimeter of our space has room for more industrial spurs, longer spurs, longer run-around tracks, more thoughtfully designed yards, and so on. There’s even room in an 8×10 space to incorporate more sophisticated layout design concepts, such as staging tracks. This would introduce new hobbyists to the concept that their layout is part of a larger system.

– The 4×8 pretty much fills an 8×10 space. There’s not a lot one can do with a room that has a slab of plywood taking up the middle. By contrast, a layout built on narrow shelves around the perimeter of this space leaves the middle of the room open. And the space under the layout’s shelves can be used for anything from bookcases for one’s collection of hobby magazines, to rubber tub storage of seasonal items, to a workbench and tool storage for the new hobbyist.

Why is this something that should concern us? The limited possibilities of a 4×8, coupled with the engineering challenges of tight curves and switches and the space-hogging nature of the slab, can create multiple causes for frustration and disappointment for new hobbyists. It’s very possible that those frustrations will drive most of the new hobbyists that we pick up, especially at this time of year, back to the TV chair or to another hobby. And that’s a shame because we might be losing someone who, with a different start, could have become a great model-builder, or layout designer, or author, or club organizer, or NMRA association volunteer… or even just a person who loves the hobby and helps support manufacturers, publishers and others by buying lots of train-related stuff over a lifetime of engagement with model railroading.

This is why I feel the only thing a 4×8 sheet of plywood is good for is raw materials for a better layout design.

I’m not alone in thinking this way. Many modellers would like to see the Sacred Sheet excommunicated from the hobby. But one of the best arguments I’ve seen against 4×8 layouts can be found on the Layout Vision website of my friend Byron Henderson. Here’s his take on the issue, called Why Waste the Space on an HO 4×8?

So what can be done about this?

For a start, those who create layout design articles for the popular hobby publications can pledge to ban the HO scale 4×8 from their design language, and instead submit articles that offer alternatives that are appropriate for new hobbyists that fit an 8×10 (or smaller) space. We also need to explain to new hobbyists – whether they’re people we meet at the hobby shop, a train show, online, or in the pages of a magazine – why the traditional 4×8 is a bad idea, and why the alternatives we propose are better choices that are just as easy to achieve.

Byron’s website offers many examples of 4×8 alternatives to suit all tastes – from around the walls, to dog bones, to point-to-point shelf switching layouts.

Meantime, Scott Perry is another advocate of alternatives to the 4×8. Scott has designed a beginner’s layout (in HO) that I think does a much better job of introducing new hobbyists to the full potential of model railroading, even as it allows them to build the skills they will need once the bug has bitten and they’re ready to tackle a larger empire. It’s called the Heart of Georgia Railroad (The HOG) but with a swap of paint schemes and some industries it would work for almost any short-line style operation across North America.

I interviewed Scott about the Heart of Georgia on Episode 51 of The Model Railway Show.

Scott maintains a blog about the HOG, and runs The HOG Newsgroup. Both offer details on building the layout, as well as places for those new to the hobby to ask questions.

Byron’s web site and Scott’s HOG RR are two great places to start thinking outside the 4×8 box: Have a look.