And, having operated on such puzzlers, they can be fun games to play.
That said, I have to admit I do not like them – not at all. In fact, I wish they could be interred in the Museum of Model Railroading along with pop-up hatches, dyed sawdust scenery and other examples of “How We Used To Do Things Before We Learned Better Ways”.
Did I mention that I don’t like them? 🙂
I do believe that waiting for the space or time (or both) to tackle a dream layout is a fool’s game. None of us can predict the future – and that space or time (or both) may never happen. In the meantime, the hobbyist waiting for that uncertain future to arrive is missing out on the opportunity to do something that he or she can enjoy today – and may find, having built a layout that fits current space, time and financial constraints, that it provides plenty of operating fun and construction challenges.
So I’m a big fan of building small layouts. I just do not think the Switchman’s Nightmare and the Time Saver are good choices.
The problem with both of these is that they are artificial switching puzzles. Real railroads avoid puzzles – so shouldn’t we? Instead of puzzle-layouts, I encourage people to look at the many modest yet operationally-satisfying track arrangements to be found in the real world that one could build instead. They are just as much fun as the puzzles and are better choices for creating realistic settings to which others can relate – especially, those who are not part of our hobby.
I’m a big fan of Lance Mindheim‘s writings on this subject. Lately on his blog, Lance has been tackling subjects such as a one-turnout layout. Look for the September 17th, 2012 entry on his blog for the writeup, but here’s a direct link to the layout plan.
How can that be as fun – or more fun – than the Time Saver? The key, as with so many of Lance’s plans, is his choice of industry. Here, we have a bakery with specific spots for various in-bound cars of ingredients. Pulling empty cars, spotting loaded cars, respotting partially-unloaded cars, dropping cars “off-spot” for future spotting, and shuffling everything into correct spotting order will take a surprising amount of time.
And, unlike the Switchman’s Nightmare or the Time Saver, Lance’s one-turnout layout replicates real work.
(While I’m not a big fan of real work – it’s something I do to pay the bills and pay for my play – I am a big fan of activities that replicate it. This is why I’m modelling a specific prototype location. My operating sessions replicate real work done in Port Rowan. This is also why I’m training my eldest border collie, Mocean, to herd sheep. He and I did some training for Agility and I’m very impressed by the skills and dedication it takes to train a dog to do this. However – even though I may never make it to the Canadian herding championships or even get to combine my interests in working sheep dogs and steam trains – once I tried herding I decided I preferred how it uses the dog’s instinct, bred and honed for a couple hundred years, to perform real work. But I digress…)
In fact, a quick examination of the plan for Lance’s home layout shows that it actually consists of a number of one-, two- or three-turnout layouts connected end-for-end. The lesson for hobbyists aspiring to that basement-filling empire should be that it’s possible to build a small switching layout – based on prototype practices – today, and then expand it if and when the time, space, money and desire permits.
Now, this is a hobby and therefore there’s no right way to do it. If the Time Saver speaks to you – go ahead and build it. And I’ll be happy to run trains on it (if, after reading this, you give me the chance).
But if you’re open to ideas for a small layout – or if you’re looking for an alternative based in reality – I highly recommend Lance’s books on designing and operating small switching layouts.