I have written often of my frustration with the one and only curve on the layout. A 48 inch radius is too tight for a standard gauge curve in quarter-inch scale even in a branchline setting. While my equipment would operate through it, the cars and especially the locomotive looked ridiculous. The curve also had super elevation, so certain cars would lean in toward the center and derail because the wheels lifted off the outside rail.
I pondered a lot of different ideas but in the end, none of them were satisfying. There is simply not enough room to increase the radius without a major rebuild that would involve half of the layout. Furthermore, I realized that I tended to avoid running on this track, which prompted me to question if I’m not going to use the track, why have it in the first place?
In thinking long and hard about the curve, the one option I kept coming back to was removing this section of the layout completely. Why would I reduce the size of the layout, since this track allowed a train to leave the modeled scene? Keep reading.
Think of what you will gain instead of what you might lose
While considering the removal of this area, I thought in terms of what I would gain instead of what would be lost. The gains revolved around an opportunity to focus my evolving vision of the layout more tightly. Think of it as editing a manuscript, anything that doesn’t directly contribute to the story needs to go.
Even though the curve was faithful to the track arrangement of Valley Junction, my rendition of it was a visual caricature. The toy-train nature of how rolling stock looked on it was at odds with the realism I worked so hard to achieve elsewhere on the layout. The character of the tight radius didn’t mesh with the flowing lines of the No. 10 turnouts or the quality of the scenery. By removing this curve, I eliminated the visual mis-match and emphasized the realism of the rest of the layout by bringing a greater degree of consistency to everything.
Focus is a principle I think I understand better than I actually do.
My temptation from the beginning of this layout was to include too many elements under the guise of following the prototype. Quarter-inch scale doesn’t suffer this kind of foolishness for long before the compromises involved exert their toy-like influence.
Over the years I realized that overcrowding is a prime reason why quarter-inch scale suffers in appearance when compared to smaller scales. The volumetric increase in the size of everything in this scale automatically eats up the empty space in a given area and, it’s this empty space that is critical to realism of a scene. One of the keys to the effectiveness of the mill scene in the photo above is the openness and breathing room it has. The empty space around the track and the mill provides the breathing room we expect to see and, by eliminating the visual crowding so typical of modeled scenes, you are free to focus more intently on what is included.
Focus On Operations
This is all well and good but, what about the impact on operations of removing the curve and staging cassette?
This is a concern. That’s why it took me so long to work up the courage to make the change, I wasn’t sure if having the train captive so to speak, would ruin things. I don’t think that has to be a foregone conclusion though, because it depends on your objectives for operating. Mine have grown far simpler.
I have never been enthralled with the idea of multi-person operating sessions. Having to depend on others to fully enjoy my layout seems counterintuitive at best. My preference has always been for impromptu, relaxed operations whenever the mood hits. Therefore, I’m very content to switch a handful of cars for a few minutes, then call it a day.
Understanding what I most enjoy about operations, allows me to focus on what I would gain with the changes, such as a more intense focus on the sequence of steps the ground man has to perform and his interactions with the locomotive. This is more interesting to me than any over the road running. At this point, I don’t know if the inability to have a train leave the modeled scene will be satisfying or not. That’s something I will determine over the course of time as I adjust to the current changes.
I think focus matters more than size.
Many of us bemoan the lack of the space for the layout we desire. It’s understandable given the emphasis on large layouts driven by operation-oriented criteria like multiple towns or the perceived distances required for timetable & train orders or other operating styles. If your space is truly limited or you don’t follow the mainstream, it’s easy to feel left out of the party. I’m actually of the opposite mind in preferring a much smaller layout as a deliberate choice.
What I find interesting now is applying different design principles to the layout to see how far I can carry things. I treat it as a canvas to express my impressions of the full-size world and whether or not I make further changes is still uncertain. For now I’m happier with things and I don’t miss the curve at all. In fact I’m glad to have that monkey off my back. As you can see in the next to last photo, I have some ground cover to fill in and I need to decommission the former junction turnout but otherwise, the change as I envisioned it is complete.
It’s easy to feel deprived if you can’t have as big a layout as you’d like and the criteria I use aren’t to everyone’s taste but, I hope there is something useful for others in my ongoing experience with the I&W. I have discovered that a layout of any size is rewarding when it matches your objectives and expectations. Perhaps that’s the real key to satisfaction in this craft.