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:
(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:
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.