Spot order and small layouts :: A visit with Gord and Andy

Late last month, I ran into Gord Ross at one of the local hobby shops. Gord’s a regular reader and after talking with him a while, I invited him to visit. Well, we had that visit on Thursday.

I also invited my friend Andy Malette to join us, because I know Gord has put his toe into the water in S scale, and Andy knows just about anything one could want to know about building a layout in 1:64. Andy was able to provide Gord with lots of information about sources for equipment and other stuff one needs for a satisfying S scale layout.

We started with lunch at Harbord House, then headed to the layout room to run a freight extra to Port Rowan behind 10-wheeler number 1532:

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The layout ran well and the work took about two hours to complete. The three of us had a great time.

Gord is considering an S scale layout for a small space, and noted that having a chance to run my layout answered several questions for him about whether a modest layout can be entertaining. I’m convinced they can be, as I’ve written about this on this blog and on my Achievable Layouts blog. But it’s one thing to read something – quite another to experience it for oneself.

We discussed the advantage of choosing industries that support a variety of car types with specific spotting rules. I think this is particularly important for smaller layouts.

For example, a furniture factory might require the same layout space as a grain elevator, but it would require more switching.

That’s because the furniture factory could receive inbound loads of lumber, fabric, leather, glass, hardware, adhesives, finishes, solvents, and the occasional delivery of machinery. Finished furniture could fill outbound cars. What’s more, these inbound and outbound carloads would likely need to be spotted in specific order along the factory’s siding – and some cars spotted at the factory might not be ready for pick-up.

By contrast, a grain elevator might receive several cars for loading, but if they’re all going to be loaded with the same commodity, spot order doesn’t matter.

If we assume six cars will be switched at our furniture factory, that could require a fair amount of back-and-forth shuttling to lift cars that are outbound, then sort inbound cars and cars that are staying put into correct spot order. A grain elevator – even one with a 12-car capacity – would require much less switching.

For an example of a prototype for an Achievable Layout with not one, but two furniture factories on it, have a look at the CNR Southampton Sub. Click on the image for more:

Southampton Depot - GTR photo SouthamptonDepot-GTR_zpsfe992786.jpg

(Lance Mindheim has written a fair bit about the philosophy of choosing industries for their spotting locations, as opposed to their car capacity. Here’s a good example on Lance’s blog, using an article by Jim Lincoln on a corn syrup facility as his example.)

Even a team track – the easiest and most space efficient industry to model – can offer this sort of play value. In fact, team tracks account for the majority of the spotting locations on my layout. I make this work by dividing the team track into several spotting locations and then assigning specific spots to specific customers. For example, Potter Motors in Port Rowan receives the occasional flat car load of tractors.

A flash of red photo WAB-Flat-04.jpg

This car must be spotted at the very end of the team track, so that Potter can set up a ramp to drive the tractors off the end of the flat car. On my layout, I’ve designated four spots on the Port Rowan team track and labelled them “T1-T4”, counting from the wheel stops. Then, on the waybill for the flat car with tractor load, I have noted it must be spotted in “T1”.

Gord and I also talked about small, prototype examples. My go-to example is the CNR Waterloo Sub to Galt, Ontario. I’ve given this example to several friends and know at least one person who is building a version of it in HO. I’ve also written it up on my Achievable Layouts blog: Click on the image, below, to read more about this subdivision.

CNR Galt Header photo CNR-Galt_zpseb46cb88.jpeg

Andy, Gord: Great to see you both and I’m looking forward to more operating sessions!

6 thoughts on “Spot order and small layouts :: A visit with Gord and Andy

  1. Hi Trevor, A big THANK YOU for being a terrific host and letting a “rookie” engineer run the train! I had a great time, ( couldn’t believe it took that long )
    and was totally absorbed in the operation. Your layout ran as good as it looks, which is exceptional. It really is fun to run a locomotive that slow and not have it falter. I’m seriously thinking about that Waterloo sub and how to model a section of it. And a thank you to Andy, my conductor for our run, a pleasure to meet you
    and being patient with my adventure at engineer.(heh, we didn’t miss the watertank stop too badly!)
    Thanks again and cheers, Gord

  2. This is a great post. It works so nicely with other examples, such as those you suggested, where we could identify industries not so much by certain architectural or like aesthetic values but for the effect they could have on our layouts. What about the way they’d encourage us to collect and more frequently use a favourite freight car type? What if they could host more switching moves beyond just “Shove in a string. Lift another out.”

    You suggested a furniture factory and I remembered the charming North Stratford Railroad you’ve mentioned before. I realise I don’t know much about the typical car moves within a furniture factory such as North Stratford’s Ethan Allen plant. It sounds like an industry that should be a great fit for the car types, number of moves, and also for the other more emotional aesthetic it provides. If you ever had time, could you find a place in Acheivable Layouts to work through a generic furniture factory? What kinds of materials or loads in or out and at what frequency? I know we can guess at these but I wonder if there are any examples? Jack Hill once did something similar with Interlake Paper describing how many loads of starch in and at what rate; how much waste out and similar rates.


    • Hi Chris:

      Interesting idea – I’ll consider it. I don’t know that much about furniture factories – it would require research. But perhaps some others who read this blog might have some info they could share…

      That said, reviewing the article in Prototype Modeler magazine about the North Stratford Railroad, I’ve learned that the Ethan Allen plant in Beecher Falls worked like an auto assembly plant: It received subassemblies (by truck) and shipped finished bedroom and dining room furniture (by rail).

      The North Stratford owned about 100 boxcars – many of these used for Ethan Allen shipments. The article notes that 10-15 loaded boxcars would be shipped in a typical month. It was switched about once per week – pulling loads from the plant and replacing them with empties.

      This was in the 1970s-1980s, and would make for a fairly rudimentary operating session. The article’s author suggests that on a model railway, those sub-assemblies come in by rail as well, to make for a more interesting operating session. I agree!

  3. Your comments about modest size and play value are spot on.

    I just returned from the OSOmaha operations invitational in Omaha, NE. Charlie Duckworth’s Bagnall Branch of the MP is a great example of your ideas. My partner and I worked the Eldon Yard for bout 75 minutes. The job was simple: lift the inbound interchange cars, drop the outbound interchange cars, spot 3 loads and place cars on the proper tracks. No puzzles or artificial difficulties. Not more than 10 cars. The job was tremendous fun. The rest of his layout was larger, but who cared, our world was about 18 inches by 9 feet.

    Rene LaVoise models another MP branch line. His total space is modest. One town wasn’t more than 6 feet long with perhaps 5 spots. Took for-ev-er to complete the work. TOTALLY absorbing.

    A layout or shunting area need not be large. It must be laid out in a railroad-like manner and run like the real thing.

    Bill Jolitz

  4. Now, a question about team tracks. You mentioned customers assigned to each spot. How did you decide who your customers are? How do you decide how many cars/week or /month they receive and what is in the car?



    • Hi Bill:
      Good questions. I started with information about my prototype – about the customers that used the railway. Some of that came from books – like the Ian Wilson book about the lines south of Hamilton. Some of that came from this blog – readers who remember the line and those companies that shipped or received on it.
      Beyond that, I use a bit of conjecture. A company receiving or shipping product that requires special equipment for loading/unloading would have a designated spot. For example:
      – Unloading tractors from a flat car requires an end loading ramp, so the flat car must be spotted at the end of the track.
      – A company might have a gantry crane for lifting pipe out of a gondola.
      – A side-loading ramp would allow customers to use a lift truck to unload a boxcar.
      – And so on.
      I don’t worry too much about frequency. I have waybills printed up for each car, describing various inbound and outbound loads. I pick cars at random to fill out trains – then pick suitable waybills from my files.
      Not too scientific, but it works…

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