Staging is where you finf it_2.0Last week I discussed how beliefs impact our thinking about layout design. In this post I’m sharing a recent change in my own thinking.

I’ve written at some length of the evolution the I&W has taken from an overcrowded design to one that feels right for the space I have to ¬†work with in quarter-inch scale. Many of you expressed your appreciation of the journey and it’s been gratifying to know I’m not the only one.

Looking back at the process, I’m struck by how hard some of the decisions were because of the assumptions I had about their consequences. An assumption that I held close was the idea that a train had to leave the modeled scene, especially on a smaller layout like mine. I felt the illusion of going somewhere was critical.

This is why it took me forever to remove the ugly, tight radius curve that led to the staging cassette. The curve I never really liked at all, even from the first. Since it led to off-scene staging, I feared removing it (and by default, the staging cassette) would introduce consequences that would impact my enjoyment of the entire layout.

Well, as I reported earlier in the blog, one day I had my fill of the frustration it was generating, so out it came and guess what?

Nothing. Drastic. Happened.

The sky didn’t fall, the layout is still intact and so is my sanity. Hmmm. What’s really going on? Maybe my assumption about a train having to physically leave a scene was a hindrance instead of a solution?

Staging is where you find it

I came upon this scene a couple of years ago. It’s the remnant of the old Grand Rapids and Indiana that came down from Michigan and terminated in Richmond. The GR&I was absorbed by the Pennsy’s westward expansion and today this two mile or so switching branch serving an electrical cable manufacturer is all that’s left. I’m facing north and you can just barely see the end of track in the far distance beyond the grade crossing.

What’s interesting is the locomotive was shut down completely and just sitting there. I don’t know the specifics of the situation but one could speculate the crew outlawed on their time, shut everything down and called for the transport van. It seemed odd at first but in the modern era, this an every day occurrence. I often see a similar scenario in the yard across from the depot where L84 works the plastic plant. The first shift crew will outlaw and a van with a fresh crew will arrive to continue the work and take the first trick guys to get their rest. Thinking about all this led me to ask:

What is operation?

In decades past, it was all about fast clocks, CTC dispatching and car cards for keeping track of what went where. Staging was preferably out of sight with plenty of capacity in case extra trains were needed for whatever reason. Not a thing wrong with any of that.

For those who prefer a more laid back choice, off-scene staging is still important. Afterall, whether it’s a trio of modern horsepower or a leaky teakettle, if your modeling through traffic, it’s got to go somewhere.

What if your focus is confined to a single location like mine is, does the train really have to disappear? You’ll recall that after removing the curve and patching the benchwork I still struggled with a way to hide the locomotive so it could appear “onstage” at the beginning of a session. Recently I wondered, why am I worried about this?

Because the session would begin at that point and wouldn’t be over until the train left again.

(Hand raised with a question) Who made that rule? The disgusting answer is: I did. It was how I defined operation in my mind because of what I read. Operations was always outlined as a full day cycle that had a beginning and end. Each train would start somewhere, a staging track or on-scene yard, and go somewhere else. My railfanning experience was similar. I would pick a spot, a train would arrive, do something and then leave.

For all my time in this craft, I never considered alternatives to this scenario. It never dawned on me how many times I stumbled on to a train in the middle of switching, or watch as the crew would stop work and head to the nearby diner for lunch. In the first instance, the train had already arrived on scene, while the second was a legitimate way to suspend operations with the train still present.

This all may seem self-evident to many of you but it wasn’t to me because of how rigid my thinking was. I had accepted a one-size-fits-all solution that I applied to every situation. Once I realized this, a number of things lost their so-called importance. I’m no longer obsessing about the train or locomotive being out of sight at the beginning or end of a session because that is far less important to the story I’m telling with the layout.

I’m content to end a session by parking the engine and saying the crew has outlawed on their time or they ‘re hungry and heading off to a nearby fast food emporium. The next session can mark their return from lunch or a new shift on the clock. Both are perfectly legitimate for my purposes. To begin a session, I’ll stage the loco near the yard office and the conductor is getting his game plan in order before starting work.

The lesson I learned is about understanding my mental blocks and seeing them for what they are. My solutions won’t work for everyone, nor am I offering them as such. I am saying there are always alternatives and seeking them out pays off handsomely.

In closing I’ll ask, what mental blocks are keeping you from designing and enjoying a layout for the space you have now instead of dreaming about the space you want tomorrow?

Related posts
Enter Stage?
No More Troubles With The Curve.
Less Track Equals More Layout.

Volume Five of The Missing Conversation: Switching