It’s been a few weeks since I removed the curve and staging cassette and I’m happy to report that it was a good move. With a consistent appearance and operation the layout is better.
A concern I had about the change involved the loco being land-locked from its inability to leave the modeled area. I worried, would destroy the illusion?
The ability of a train to physically leave the modeled area is a great advantage especially on a small layout like the I&W. With this in mind, I frequently examined the potential of the area above my work bench before and after making the changes. This section consists of a tail track for the run-around along with the single yard track where the boxcars are sitting in the photo. This portion of the layout has always been vaguely unsatisfying and, despite several iterations with the track and scenery, it still nags at me and I’ve yet to pinpoint the real reason for my dissatisfaction. Therefore completing the scenery has lagged behind here.
Because of my dissatisfaction with the area, I’ve often considered stripping it down to just track and using it as off-scene staging. To that end, I mocked up some variations with the fascia that centered on hiding the trackage (photo below) and, I quickly confirmed that I strongly dislike running on track that is hidden. I could have reduced the height of the panel you see here but that would still hinder my access, making everything more difficult than it has to be, so I discarded this idea. This area is the first thing one sees when approaching the layout and a blank fascia panel isn’t the most attractive first impression, although I had ideas for enhancing the fascia panel as a way to introduce the layout if I had chosen this route.
What do I really want from staging?
Thinking about the function I want a staging area to perform, I realized that I didn’t need to hide an entire multi-car train. All I want is an unobtrusive place to park the loco that provides an impression that it has left the scene. Clarifying this opened up possibilities I wouldn’t have thought of otherwise. It dawned on me that the tail track would serve that function and I could model a dense stand of trees and shrubs on the front edge of the layout that would effectively screen the loco by drawing my attention away from it but allow me to track its progress. I used a similar treatment on the end of the curve where trains entered the staging cassette and it worked well. It also means less construction upheaval as no trackage needs to be altered. Further, I could leave an open area to throw the switch points or couple/uncouple cars. A cluster of trees would also make a nice first impression.
From my post of April 29, this is an example of how a design choice serves my criteria and enhances the experience of the layout, instead of forcing me into unsatisfying compromises to fit some preconceived solution. By having the tail track on this end of the passing siding serve more than one purpose, I expanded the operating potential without the expense or disruption from adding more square footage to the layout. In all it feels like the right way to go.
I hasten to add that this is an old idea that has been used effectively by many others. It does demonstrate the power of ideas though. I initially found myself hamstrung by the idea of staging as something separate from the layout rather than integrated into it. This rigid thinking is what kept me from removing the curve sooner because I didn’t know where else to put a separate staging cassette or area. Once I was free of my preconceived notions of what staging is or isn’t, the decisions were simple.
If had found a better solution that involved remodeling this end of the layout, I would have done so but for now, things are in a good place. I have plenty of projects to keep me occupied and there is no pressure to change anything. That’s my definition of a Freedom Layout.