Sunday, January 31, 2010

Nothing like eating your words... one day later.

This weekend, the local model railroad design crowd hosted the "Layout Design and Operations Meet" for something like the tenth year running. They even managed to sell out the usual venue at the Santa Clara Depot; the 130 attendees forced them to move it to a local hotel to have enough room. Like other years, Saturday was filled with talks and presentations, and on Sunday, attendees were invited to participate in operations on local model railroads.

I got my chance to visit Ed Merrin's Northwestern Pacific layout. This was a big deal for me; his last layout really inspired me when I saw it in 2000. I loved its small size (a bit less than a two car garage), great implementation of a double-deck layout, and lots of places for switching. Ed's current layout has a similar theme and shape; it's a bit larger than my layout, but it's again got a nice mix of heavy switching and nice rural scenes.

When I list the things I did well on my model railroad, I always point out that I chose not to have an explicit yard on the layout, but instead filled the space with industries that would make life fun for the switching crews. Yards are fun because they provide a full operating session's work for the yardmaster switching boxcars, because they're focal points as crews start and stop trains in the yard, and because they're good for showing off engines and freight cars.

On the bad side, yards take at least the space of one or two towns. In my specific case, no model yard would ever look like the huge mainline yards of San Jose and Santa Clara, so I didn't think they were worth building. Instead, the trains start in staging, come "on-stage" to do their switching, take their bows, then go back off to staging. It's seemed like a great solution for small layouts.

Ed's layout is the opposite. His three major towns - Petaluma, Santa Rosa, and Willits - were reproduced from the original track plans, and each one supports a small but decent yard. Each has a yardmaster who's responsible for sorting cars, keeping the town under control, and working with the trains coming through. Scattered through each town are several smaller industries for switching. In some ways, his layout is the opposite of mine; rather than build large industries, the yards really are the large industries, handling lots of freight cars as they get changed between trains or sent off to local industries or nearby towns, with the nearby industries helping give the yard a reason to live. Sometimes, those industries are off-layout as cars get sent "off-stage" towards their ultimate destinations - Los Angeles, Oakland, New York. Because each car gets handled by one or more yards, and because each hand-off requires the yardmaster and engineer working together, the process requires the crews to work together, and keeps everyone quite busy and having fun with the operations game. [Photo: John Sing and Rick Lopez manage the yards at Willits and Petaluma.]

So, yards aren't as bad as I thought. Yards can be small enough to be realistic, and can generate enough traffic to be an interesting part of a layout. I'm not sure I'd change my current layout to add a yard, but I'll be more cautious about declaring "no yards" on my next layout!

Could you live without a yard on your model railroad?

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