The Missing Conversation Vol. 5


Can a smaller layout provide operational enjoyment? Yes, I believe it can.Volume 5 takes an in-depth look at switching a plastics plant. You’ll see how a simple track arrangement with only three turnouts keeps the crew busy and main line traffic flowing. This by far is the most popular volume in the series.


From The Intro to Vol. 5

Each of us, in our own way, is using this hobby to recreate something special about trains and full-size railroads. Something that moves us, excites us and stirs our imaginations in deep ways. I think that many of us want to be in the cab, hand on the throttle and barreling along the track. Or maybe we imagine ourselves in charge of sorting out which cars go where at a lonely siding or major industry. Such scenarios are things that very few modelers will get to do in the full-size world.

Some folks will always just want to run trains, but many more consider the mental challenges of switching to be the most enjoyable and coveted job during an operating session. We imagine ourselves walking the cars, pulling the pin here, hooking up the air hoses there, or riding a car to work the handbrake, stopping it just where we wanted.

I’m among that group, even though the process of sorting out cars and working efficiently has always baffled me. How do you know which cars go where? I suspect I’m not alone. Professional railroaders have the advantage of doing the work on a daily basis. They work the same job every week. So the moves become second nature, even though traffic levels may vary considerably.

Modelers are disadvantaged here since we only operate once a month or less. There’s not enough repetition for us to internalize the work. Unless of course it’s your own layout, in which case there’s the danger of too much repetition.

Our knowledge of how full-size railroads go about their work is growing daily. For example, we now understand more about the safety issues that professional railroaders have to consider, such as grade crossing procedures and how these issues can impact our modeled operations in a positive way by slowing down the frenetic pace we’ve labored under for decades.

We’re discovering, too, how such knowledge influences layout design by reducing the need for track stuffed into every possible nook and cranny of space. That’s a holdover from the era of model industry buildings no bigger than the box car that served them. It’s also driven by the fear, that if we don’t include plenty of things for people to do the layout will be boring. As Lance Mindheim says later in this edition, there’s no real basis for such fears Look for the principles behind the specifics It will be easy to think this issue is only about the work at a specific plastics plant. It isn’t. I’m simply using the operations here to illustrate principles that you can apply to your situation with a little thought and planning. It isn’t as hard as we think.

As I hope this edition shows, there is more to switching operations than pulling six empties and re-spotting six loads, then high-tailing it out of town before the Limited barrels through.


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