James McNab’s Grimes Industrial Track

Many of my layout ideas are for steam-era branch lines or short lines because that’s the style of layout-building with which I’m most familiar. But there are many great examples of prototypes for achievable layouts in the modern world, too.

Even though today’s railroading is characterized by big motive power and long trains hauling commodities and intermodel traffic over vast distances, there are still plenty of examples of prototype crews spending their work day with a single locomotive, shuffling cars for a handful of customers across a territory that would make a terrific, manageable layout.

Here’s one – not presented to encourage others to imitate what the layout builder is doing, but rather to inspire hobbyists to consider the many advantages of an achievable layout design, especially one based on a prototype that still exists and is therefore relatively easy to research.

James McNab lives in Iowa and models the Iowa Interstate Railroad’s Grimes Industrial Track in HO scale in a 12′ by 18′-8″ space. He’s set the layout in 2008, and as the name implies it’s a switching operation set in a suburban area – in this case Des Moines, but with minor changes to details such as street signs, billboards and vegetation, it could be Anywhere, North America.

The layout is modest – with fewer than a dozen track switches and a one-train-per-session operating scheme. But James is observing prototype practices to enhance the operating sessions, he’s doing an exquisite job of detailing the layout, and he’s creating a wonderful environment in which to enjoy the hobby:
 photo JamesMcNab-01_zpsca49cf87.jpg
(Click on the image to visit James McNab’s blog at Model Railroad Hobbyist)

I interviewed James earlier this year for an episode of The Model Railway Show – the podcast I used to produce and co-host. You can listen to that interview as part of Episode 47. You’ll also find links on that page to James’ YouTube channel and photo gallery, which includes a layout plan.

Many things about that interview stick with me, months later, so I encourage you to give it a listen (or, a repeat listen if you heard it when it was first broadcast). But one of the lessons from that interview is that James first became interested in the Grimes Industrial Track while working within sight of the line – proving that inspiration can be practically under one’s nose.

3 thoughts on “James McNab’s Grimes Industrial Track

  1. Trevor,
    Your Port Rowan layout has been quite the inspiration to me. Now that I am familiar with James McNab’s Grimes layout I think I ready to make real progress with my new layout. I model in n scale and have had at least 4 failed attempts. One thing you may have already touched upon in your blog, or not, could you offer tips on mentally distilling your layout plans and aspirations? Sometimes saying “less is more” is not enough. Thanks for letting the world in on your hobby.
    yours, Robin

    • Hi Robin:
      Thanks for the kind words and taking the time to write. Good luck on your next layout!
      I haven’t really addressed your question on the blog – it’s a good one. I’ll think on it. Meantime, if you have not already done so I would recommend the writings of Lance Mindheim. His website is full of useful and inspiring information if you’re looking to create an achievable yet rewarding layout. Check his own layout pages, and his blog. I also highly recommend three of his books:
      How to Design A Small Switching Layout, How to Build a Switching Layout, and How to Operate a Modern-Era Switching Layout. You’ll find more information in Lance’s Bookstore.
      While the subject is switching layouts (and tends to be small ones at that), the thoughts that go into them are excellent advice for any size layout, in any era. As an example, Lance discusses the importance of picking a theme or industries that emphasize car spots, rather than tracks. A freight forwarder, for example, might have a single spur but with four or five docks along the spur. This means cars must be sorted into correct spotting order before they’re shoved into the track. That’s a lot of play value for the price of a single turnout – certainly, more play value than a coal-mine with a five-car siding.
      I’d also suggest you look at the writings of Mike Cougill, who runs the OST Publications website. There are many great ideas in his blog and his books.
      On a personal note, what works for me – what has worked for the Port Rowan layout – is to find a manageable chunk of a prototype railroad and build that. My layout is modest – but so was the prototype. I’ve duplicated all of the track in Port Rowan, and resisted the urge to add spurs or industries. What I’ve found is that I have three tracks for switching (two spurs and the end of the main track), but that actually translates into eight car spots, so every track needs sorting before cars are shoved into position. That creates a lot of play value during operating sessions – which is why my two-town, eight-switch layout with a single train per operating session keeps two people happily engaged for 75-90 minutes at a time.
      I hope this helps…

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