Glenn Sanders asked how my recent reduction in the amount of track has affected operations on the layout. In a word (or two), it’s better.

Let me share a bit of the back story. I’ve been stone cold toward the layout for the last year or so. The fun parts for me were basically over and while I tried to find new ways to pursue the hobby, they weren’t holding my interest as strongly as I hoped. If I don’t have an engaging challenge of some kind, I simply lose all interest. I’m hardly unique, I think that happens to all of us.

I decided that much of the scenery wasn’t up to my desired standards, so large portions of it came out. I was never really happy with the area over the workbench and didn’t know what to do beyond ripping it all out and starting from zero again. I wasn’t thrilled with that idea at all, so things just sat and gathered dust.

I’d put a lot of time and effort into the track and, truth be told, it had become too precious in my mind. In other words, I was very reluctant to make changes to it, even good ones. Finally, the level of frustration boiled over and I removed one of the yard tracks over the bench. I’ve shared that story on the blog already so I won’t repeat it here.

This helped, but my enthusiasm was still pretty low because other things about the layout still bothered me. The main frustration was it was still too crowded and disjointed visually, so more dust gathered over time.

While all this dust was gathering, I was reading Lance Mindheim’s writings about smaller, simpler layouts and operations and it really resonated with me. Trevor Marshall was also doing some very interesting things with operations on his layout which I also liked. Recently, I was deep into the work with Vol. 5 of The Missing Conversation about switching operations and learned a great deal that I never knew previously. So after a lot of thought and staring at the layout, then playing with an idea in Photoshop, one day a few weeks ago, I just walked into the layout room and starting removing track. It was a good move.

Less track near Mill St.

I removed half of the No.10 crossover and patched the track. The track alignment here is now closer to the actual Valley Junction. Long time readers may recall that a dense wooded hillside was located behind the tracks here. The future scenery treatment will be more pedestrian in nature for a more accurate reflection of VJ.

Less track equals more room for effective scenery.

This model of a mobile office trailer represents current practice on the line. It will be surrounded by parking and a service road to the yard. Trees and encroaching vegetation will smooth the transition from the layout to the backdrop. The old concrete platform was modeled after the one at West Harrison IN a few miles up the branch. It isn’t accurate for VJ but it will stay. I plan to park the locomotive here between tricks.

Now to Glenn’s question.
The first thing I noticed was how having less track helped me focus while operating. Without the excess track to fall back on, I had to concentrate on the moves and their sequence just like the full-size railroaders do. In my view, this is beneficial in numerous ways, in that I’m more engaged with the work and the scenery feels more open, making the layout as a whole seem larger.

The second thing I noticed was that the scene more closely resembled the Valley Junction of today that I see on my field trips rather than the freelanced version I had built. The former version was accurate with regard to the track layout, but it never resonated as deeply because I couldn’t relate to it visually. Things were simply too crowded on the layout as a whole, which destroyed much of the openness I saw at Valley.

What was I thinking?
I included so much track originally because I thought I would need it for “operational interest.” (A phrase I want to banish from my vocabulary.) The tracks I removed were mostly facing point, meaning they required a run-around move to spot cars. I thought the middle track near the mill would serve as a switch lead, allowing me to pull both yard tracks at once. I seldom used it that way, and since the yard only had one track now, the long switch lead wasn’t needed anymore. The Mill Track had a car spot with a below track conveyor pit for covered hopper unloading but, this could be moved elsewhere, to the Pole Track for example, without loosing the operation.

As with Valley Junction, I treat the layout as Yard Limits trackage. This allows me to go where I need to in order to make a move. Since the layout is a one train operation, this is more of a mental formality than requirement. At the actual Valley junction crews will use the former main as needed for switching, without the worry of blocking through traffic. Further, cars can be spotted anywhere if needed, even on the branch itself, as I’ve witnessed more than once.

Cars sitting on the branch at VJ

One day while I was photographing the yard, I noticed this cut of cars sitting on the branch just across US 50. No idea why there were left here. No room at the inn perhaps?

Beginning of branch at VJ

Looking west down the former NYC secondary from Cincinnati to Indianapolis. This was once a double track line, with a third track to the far left. No longer a through track, crews use it as a switch lead for working the yard. The branch to Brookville veers off to the right. Trees and other vegetation are reclaiming the wide right-of-way where the other tracks once ran.

Junction switch at Sycamore on the I&W.

The same view on the layout. This is more satisfying than the previous rendition, which was full of track in this location. I have a lot more work to do on the scenery around the mill and at the end of track to ease the transition to the backdrop before I’m satisfied with things. The gold bricking employee near the old canal lock may be seeking other opportunities soon. Viewing the scene from the aisle, most people never even know he’s there.

I’ve found I don’t miss the old trackage at all. I prefer slow, very informal sessions. Like Lance, I find short, but frequent sessions to be more satisfying than the traditional full-blown, multi-hour formal sessions typically featured by the operations crowd. Once again, this is just my personal choice. Your mileage will vary. Glenn, I hope this answers your question.
Regards,
Mike

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