“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.

17 thoughts on ““If I had more space…”

  1. Trevor, I agree entirely!
    I have found when operating singly, that you cannot run more than one train at a time, realistically, so why try to cram more tracks etc into the layout. If I had more space (a slight possibility), then I would do the same again, just more spread out and with greater turnout sizes (mine are all #6 for HO).

    • Hi Brian:
      Thanks for joining the conversation. You’re so right – one train at a time. In fact, on my layout I double-up the operators – I am finding ways to keep two-person crews busy on a single train.
      Increasing curve radii and turnout sizes does wonders for transforming a layout’s appearance from “train set” to “railroad”, I’ve found. Even when I design a small layout, I try to use larger radii and frog numbers – unless the prototype situation specifically calls for tighter track work. An example of this would be street running on a former interurban line.

  2. Trevor,

    Excellent post. Something everyone wants, but never truly appreciates. I have started to realize that large radius curves are much better, not only for aesthetics, but also wear and tear on our equipment. The sharpest curve on our On30 project is 42 inches, and just the other day, I thought going to 48 inches would be better. Even working in narrow gauge, the large switch sizes are better, once again for both aesthetics and smoother operation.


    • Hi Matt:

      I recall from my days building an On2 layout that there would be discussions on the Maine two-foot boards about the minimum radius for various pieces of equipment. Many people planning a Maine two-foot layout were trying to figure out how tight they could go. At the same time, many of those people who actually had built a Maine two-foot layout were saying, “If I started again I’d make the curves even bigger”.

      My On2 layout was built with 42″r curves (the same, you’ll note, as my current S scale layout – because that’s basically what the train room will accommodate. Anything larger and I’d have no mainline at all: I’d be building a shelf-switcher). I thought that was pretty generous when I built the layout. If I were to start again, with a larger space, I’d set 60″r – or even 72″r – as a minimum. But never in my current layout space.

      My Maine two-foot equipment went around them, but those On2 passenger cars looked goofy on 42″r curves. They were a scale 50 feet long – 12.5 inches – and designed for broad arcs and tangents.

      You know this, but many people forget that the Maine two-footers were not built in narrow gauge due to geography (as was the case for the Colorado three-foot lines). It was strictly for the economics of building a narrow gauge railway – basically, all they could afford to build in order to serve lightly-populated areas. The two-footers traversed relatively forgiving terrain: If the traffic had existed, they would’ve been built in standard gauge. And the SR&RL’s Big Forneys could clock 70 mph on a passenger train, which says as much about the generous track standards as it does about the fearlessness of the train crews!


  3. The research I’ve done leads me to believe that #8 and #10 turnouts are appropriate for sidings and spurs, respectively, but in the end it’s whatever looks right. Your Port Rowan property plan should identify P.S. and P.F. chainages for each turnout–the frog number can be determined by the distance from P.S. to P.F. (i.e., the lead) using turnout geometry drawings. For example, this distance is about 65 ft. and 80 ft. for #8 and #10 turnouts, respectively (although this varies by railway and point length).

    • Hi Jeff:

      That’s good information to know. As you say, in the end it’s whatever looks right.

      I think when it comes to turnout sizes, layouts need all the help they can get to not look like train sets, so it may even be appropriate (although rarely done) to use a larger-than-prototype frog number.

      As I noted, I’ve used #7 and #9 for spurs and sidings, respectively – but with one #10 in front of the St. Williams station. The turnouts all look great – but that #10 really stands out as a long piece of track work, and I love how a passenger car looks gliding through it.

      So, if I had the space, I would definitely increase the size of the turnouts I use. #9 would look even better on spurs. And since there’s not much difference, visually, between a #9 and a #10, bumping up the sidings a couple of sizes to a #11 or a #12 would help give them a different (more important) appearance.


  4. Excellent post Trevor. I’ve been having similar thoughts as well, even going so far as to consider tearing out about half of my current layout – the urban portion with the larger IAIS and UP yards. Since completing track work, I’ve found that it’s the relaxed rural switching I enjoy the most, and that urban switching in a larger yard (by IAIS standards) gets downright tedious. If I was starting over, I’d almost certainly focus on the rural half of the layout or, worst case, keep the footprint the same, but spread the rural towns out to make things that much more open and uncrowded.

  5. “Mixed Train M233 arrives in Port Rowan on my S scale layout. Would more space for the layout make this event any different? No.”

    I disagree, but it depends on how the space is used. If the space were used for more scenery (as well as larger radius curves!) then the scene could be improved. If you visit an N gauge layout that has wide baseboards, but look along the length of the layout from the end, you will see what I mean, as the train will become lost in the landscape, as it should do.

    Personally, with more space, I would go for larger curves and a wye for tuning locos, instead of a ‘table, but as it is, will use what I have – most of a 17’ x 8’10” garage.

    • Hi Simon:

      You’re right – it would make the scene different (but hopefully, not improved that much). But have another look at what I wrote: I asked whether it would make the event any different. And the answer is no: M233 would still arrive at Port Rowan, do its work, and leave. Building the layout to fill a bigger space would not change the essential nature of the work that this train does. And for that, the layout I’ve built is big enough. In fact, the layout is big enough to do everything I want to do from an operations perspective. I’m not interested in adding a larger town, such as Simcoe, even though it would include a larger yard and more opportunities for switching – because I get plenty of opportunity for doing that on the layout as it is.

      My point being that I think that with this layout, I’ve hit the sweet spot for my own modelling objectives. I’ve hit the right mix of challenge, manageability and entertainment. So that if I had a larger space, I would not be tempted to add complexity – merely stretch the existing elements (a five-turnout terminal, a three-turnout intermediate stop, and a staging area) by increasing the curve radius and adding mainline running between locations. The mainline running would be relatively easy to add, since it would, for the most part, require adding a single track, and basic scenery: static grass, weeds, crops and fences.


        • Hi Simon:
          Agreed – 100% – which is why if I had more space, I wouldn’t change the layout plan so much as put it in the Embiggerator.
          It’s all academic, of course – I don’t have more space, and don’t plan to acquire it.

  6. Au contraire, although it is academic for you in your circumstances, I think it goes right to the nub of the hobby, and the question Mike Cougill puts repeatedly and eloquently: what does one want from the hobby?

    If we look at the event, the arrival of the daily mixed train, it serves as a useful exemplar of what makes this hobby different from other modelling disciplines, i.e. the movement of trains.

    At one extreme, it is the arrival of the train, switching, and subsequent departure. This can be completed effectively using snap track, a couple of plastic structure kits, and off the shelf equipment. The focus here is on the operations, an the scenery subservient to that.
    At the other, we might have an enormous, wide, scenic setting – maybe using N gauge in the space at your disposal – where the train is part of a bigger picture. The focus here is on creating a believable whole, but the operations provide a reason for the movement.

    Finding where we sit between these two scenarios (and the operations side could be much more involved than this), or how much of each we wish to incorporate into our given space, requires a delicate balancing act, one which – Mike again – rarely happens first time, and putting off making a start simply denies one invaluable experience.

    There is one constant through all this, which I haven’t mentioned: reliable operation, which requires quality components carefully assembled, well maintained, and operated with care and an attempt to replicate the smooth moves of several (hundred) tons of metal and merchandise.

    It is obvious from your blog that you have found your personal balance, and you are demonstrating just how much fun there is to be had without filling the space with track.

    This is inspirational stuff!

  7. Despite the clichê, less is proving to be more. The spartan nature of this layout does not detract from its function nor the enjoyment derived from operation. If having more space simply meant adding more of what makes the layout great – those details and features providing an accurate sense of of place, time, and process – without adding complexity for the sake of “more activity” – I’d really be interested in seeing that happen. I’ll even bring my shovel so we can dig out towards the fire hydrant.

  8. One extra thought, but the Yosemite Valley Railroad used #7 and #9, exactly as you have. Maybe the CNR (and its predecessors) used, say, #8 and #10, but you definitely have a prototypical precedent.

    • Hi Simon:
      Good thought too. Thanks for sharing. I’d still take advantage of extra space to increase the turnout sizes – mostly because it would be another way I could differentiate my layout. Larger-than-prototype turnouts wouldn’t be a problem – they’d emphasize the realism I’m trying to achieve in my modelling.

      • I am in the last gasps of planning my layout, using Templot: this taken me to new depths of understanding for the product, and my plan includes tie spacing to match what I have managed to find out about short line track laid about 100 years ago. Like you, I am restricted to a 42″ radius plus transition for my turn back curve (and thanks or demonstrating that this need not look too bad), but elsewhere I have tried to keep things gentle. Initially the planning used number 8s, but then I remembered Jack Burgess’ book on the YVRR and he information re number 7 and 9. This was good, but looked better with number 9s throughout.
        Then I decided, just out of interest, to see what a number 10 would look like…
        …Suffice it to say, I will be using these going forward: they open up the space better by opening it out more gradually, for very little extra length – worth sacrifing a few inches of track elsewhere.

        I came across some standards for a Class 1 railroad, an it now uses #10 as the minimum for new lay, even in yards, and requires any new private industrial track to use a minimum of #8. (Renewing existing track is a different issue.)

        But no one needs to take my word for it, just click on the link you have provided to Mike Cougill’s blog.

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