“Simple and Complete”

Chris Mears writes an interesting blog called Prince Street Terminal and his latest posting really resonated with me.

It’s a short post, but Chris nicely captures the advantages of designing and building what I call an Achievable Layout. He notes that life has been busy for him lately, with the result that even grabbing 15 minutes for a work or operating session is difficult – but when he does find that time, the layout is ready for him to enjoy.

I feel the same way about Port Rowan. Last night, for example, I was airbrushing a project and decided afterwards that I needed to run my airbrush through my ultrasonic cleaner. (It does an amazing job of cleaning the airbrush.) The process takes about 20 minutes, and I didn’t want to leave the parts in the cleaning solution overnight, so I turned on the layout and switched St. Williams.

The thing is, the layout was ready to run – and I can run it by myself. If I had a larger, more complex layout, I would not be able to do that – not without upsetting the set-up for a future, group operating session.

(The Sergent couplers, by the way, worked flawlessly last night.)

But back to Chris: Click on the Prince Street Terminal banner, below, to read his thoughts on this, called “Simple and Complete” – and enjoy if you visit.

 photo PrinceStreetBlogHeader_zpsb1b8a4c3.jpg

Well said, Chris!

10 thoughts on ““Simple and Complete”

  1. Small can be beautiful. My H.O. layout is approximately 7.5 X 11.5, and has kept me occupied for the past 17-odd years. And like your friend, Chris, a lot of work is done in 15″ increments because that may be all the time that is available. I like to scratchbuild as well, so a favourite winter evening can be occupied with getting a train to chase itself around the layout on a continuous loop, listening to the Ottawa Senators hockey game on the radio and working on the next structure.

    • Hi Philip:


      I think the key – for me anyway – is to be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel whenever I start a project.

      For instance, I have eight turnouts on the layout. When I started building turnouts, I got two of them done in the first work session. At the end of the evening, I said, “Wow – 25% of the way there!” and that inspired me to push on with the remaining six over subsequent work sessions.

      On the other hand, if I had built two turnouts and then said, “two down, 48 more to do” – or “two down, 98 more to do” – I might have felt like I’d never get the track finished… and at that point, “What’s on TV?” might have been my next question.

      Not everybody has that same attitude, but knowing one’s own inclinations and limitations is important to enjoying the hobby, I think…


  2. Wow! Thanks, Trevor.

    I felt proud of myself to realise the value of the layout I have underway and it was that I had in mind when I started working on the post itself. Thanks for your compliment.

    We often lament periods of time away from the layout and I count myself among those who’ve taken down layouts when it gets too hard to bounce back from a period of inacitivity and back into getting excited about working on any part of the layout. It’s so easy to get caught up in a more complicated design and risk losing sight of just why we started in the first place. There’s certainly a delicate balance between a layout simple enough to be easy to complete yet still capable of hosting the way in which we enjoy this great hobby.

    • Well said again, Chris.

      In an email exchange with some friends earlier today, we talked about a mutual friend who passed away a few years ago. He had a large layout in his basement that he had not worked on for many, many years. I think the stagnation was due, in part, to the complexity of the project.

      Our friend had been modelling a relatively obscure prototype, which meant the few kits that were available for it were pretty rudimentary. That meant a lot of scratch-building or extensive kit bashing – which all added up to a lot of big projects. And at some point, the layout simply overwhelmed him.

      The parts he had finished were excellent. But there was a lot left unfinished.

      He seemed happy with his hobby, so I’m not being critical of his choices – but I did take a lesson from his experience and have adjusted my own modelling objectives accordingly.

      I’m very happy with the modest layout I’m building, in part because it gives me the luxury of time. I’m able to indulge in projects that are not essential for my layout simply because I want to – the snow plow comes to mind – knowing that following such rabbits down their holes isn’t going to derail the larger goal of building the layout and enjoying the fruits of my labours.


  3. Trevor,
    I’m pleased that you are having such success with a prototype appearing coupler. I am curious about the uncoupling part. As I recall the Sergents are not self centering and therefore remain as they were during uncoupling. (correct me if I’m wrong on that) I assume they couple very well in the centered position with just a kiss. What I’m wondering about is how careful do you have to be when passing the magnet over the couplers to uncouple. Is there any tendency for the coupler to try and follow the magnet if you get too close? Or, is the magnetic force only enough to raise the ball? My new couplers are similar in that they are prototype in appearance and operate by raising the link pin with a magnet. Contact is not necessary and the couplers have a centering spring. It appears on the surface that our operation will be quite similar, but I am interested to hear of any related experience..
    Thanks, Ben

    • Hi Ben:

      An excellent question and I’m sure it’s one others will be interested in too – thanks for asking!

      Yes, you’re correct: The Sergent Couplers do not return to centre like a Kadee does. This has advantages and disadvantages.

      1 – It’s prototypical. Real couplers don’t return to centre either.
      2 – It makes it easier to couple cars that are on curves, or on the transition point between curves and straights, because one can line up the couplers to directly face each other, regardless of the relationship of the cars themselves.

      1 – The couplers do have to be lined up to couple.

      Most of the time, they will be – they’ll stay in the position that they were uncoupled in, thanks to a spring inside the shank that bears against the post in the coupler pocket to provide resistance so that the coupler stays where you leave it. Sometimes, as you note, the magnet will attract the ball inside the coupler and pull it out of alignment. Some springs deliver a lot of pressure and are fine – others seem to have too light a touch. I think the lighter springs could be fixed by stretching them a bit before installation, so they provide more pressure when compressed in the coupler shank.

      I assume that since you’re working in P:48, you’re using the Protocraft (Clouser) couplers? I used the kit versions on my P:48 equipment and really loved the action. I would be curious to see how the newer, ready-to-use versions behave – do you have experience with those?


      • Trevor,
        Thanks for such a detailed response. I would agree that leaving the couplers in the uncoupled position is an advantage, especially if one of the cars is on a curve. I am not operating under power as yet, so that aspect will have to be determined for myself. The Protocraft coupler that I am using does have a soft centering action, but that could be removed and experimented with. As far as can be determined now, most of my coupling/uncoupling will not be on curves, but there may be several spots in the future that will bear watching.
        My railroad is similar to yours in that much of the operation will be reachable, although some yard situations will require a good 40″ reach. That is why the Protocraft won out over the Kadee. With my bifocals I cannot see to line up a pick for the Kadees and with my prototype modeling a magnet between the rails is absolutely unacceptable. With the magnet wand I need only to come near the top of the mated couplers to get them to open. I have seen no tendency to date of the coupler heads being displaced by the magnet wand.
        The newer built up Protocraft versions of course save a lot of work and seem quite uniform. It is still too early to say, but I suspect I will be learning about graphite application as operation finally gets under way. In the meantime I will be trying to absorb as much of your experience as I can. Thanks for your willingness to take the time to explain the details to me. A true advantage of hosting a blog.

        • Hi Ben:

          Good points, all.

          I would add that while I really don’t like the glad hand on Kadee couplers, I’m also not that keen on using a pick to physically force open the knuckles. I feel that the downward pressure could, over time, damage the car. I also think that rummaging around between the car ends, trying to fit the pick into the correct spot between the knuckles, is a good way to accidentally put the pick through a ladder rung or other detail.

          That’s a big reason why I prefer the magnetic uncoupling approach used by Sergent (S and HO) and Protocraft (O). I think it makes for less fretting while uncoupling – and therefore gives the cars a better chance of standing up to the rigours of an operating session.

          Naturally, it also means one can’t use steel wire for grabs or other details… but it’s rare that people do that nowadays, I find. I recall that in HO, some kits of Athearn Blue Box / MDC Roundhouse vintage had stamped metal ladders that would grab a magnetic uncoupling wand and not let go. I also recall that in the early 1990s, I was headed to an operating night on a club layout and had a Rix magnetic uncoupling tool in my shirt pocket. I stopped for gas and after paying, just tucked my credit card into the same pocket. The magnetic stripe never worked after that…


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