Friday, December 29, 2006

We have liftoff

Yeah, it’s just a simple wall outlet. Two sets of plugs, one controlled by a wall switch and one always on. High on the wall above these, another switched circuit for layout lights.

But it's what's missing that's important … a clunky surface mount box and a load of previous-owner-installed conduit that was at the exact location I needed for the Oakland Harbor Belt's main staging yard.

For a number of reasons, this has taken weeks, even months, to be completed. But now that the job is done, the last external constraint to continuing layout construction is removed.

There's still a lot of day job work on the schedule, two huge layout design projects to complete, and a bunch of smaller design projects in the backlog, so there won't be a lot of time in the next couple of months. But I'm excited … time to get moving!

Currently listening to Soundgarden's A Sides. When you're contemplating a big construction project, you need big metal!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Notes from an accidental railfan

I hope everyone is having a pleasant holiday season. While returning from our Christmas visit to the ancestral homeland in Southern California, I had the chance to do a little accidental railfanning.

I grew up in Palmdale, less than a half mile from the SP (now UP) line from L.A. over Tehachapi *. As a kid, I often listened in the night to the passing trains blowing their horns for the crossings of Sierra Highway and Avenue P (yep, just a letter). During the summer we'd ride bikes into town and sometimes wait at the Sierra Highway crossing for a train to pass.

Then, as now, I wasn't much of a railfan. I do enjoy seeing real trains in their natural environment, but I generally have spent my hobby time in other ways. So much of what I like about railroading has passed out of existence that railfanning today's rail scenes doesn't generally hold a lot of interest.

But I thought it might be neat to travel home from Palmdale to the Bay Area along a different route than our usual path up Interstate 5. And what better path to take than to follow the passing trains to Tehachapi? (Sorry, no pictures, just words -- remember, I'm an accidental railfan. But here are some others on the web.)

We started out on Highway 14, which quickly leads to Mojave. Now made more famous by Pelle S√łeborg's articles in the model press, Mojave is a bit grittier and larger than suggested by his well-done layout. Most of the neat railroad buildings of my youth are gone, but the small yard was full of UP and BNSF trains, including some Norfolk Southern run-through power in a BNSF consist. The yard may have been more crowded than usual since we were traveling the day after Christmas.

Turning onto Highway 58, we were treated to our first train, running Westbound (roughly compass Northwest) through the sweeping curve near Warren. Double stacks and trailers-on-flatcars, with a four engine head-end consist including three different variations of the disappointing (in my view) orange and green BNSF livery and one glorious Santa Fe super fleet unit still in silver-and-red warbonnet. (Nope, still no photos)

The big cement plant at Monolith (others' photos here and here) provided the opportunity for me to share details of its history and function with my wife and daughter, whose complete silence indicated their rapt attention. Or not.

Through Tehachapi, we passed another BNSF train of stacks and pigs, again Westbound. Near the fabled loop at Walong, a very long UP train auto carrier train came into view, including some of the giant "Auto Max" cars I had not seen before in real life. Armour Yellow everywhere, no heritage power on this high-priority movement. And yet another Westbound UP container train just beyond the loop. A great show on a beautiful clear day. Since I am working on a design project right now that includes the loop, it was fun to have a reminder of how spectacular the area is in real life.

Eastbounds were in the hole all along the way -- obviously the Dispatcher was fleeting the Westbounds to get things moving on this day after the holiday.

A quick stop for lunch in Bakersfield (geez, those Happy Meals are sure an effective marketing gimmick!), then over the (compass) west end of the former ATSF yard. As we were working our way across the San Joaquin Valley on 7th Standard Road, we encountered the neat small industry (shown at left in a view from Google Maps) along the former ATSF line south of Shafter. This is a place called "Crome" by the Santa Fe, and "Hights Corner" on other maps.

I don't happen to have the Santa Fe CLIC Book for this area and my auto mates didn't seem so keen on a stop, so I'm not sure what industry is located here now, but there was still rail activity. Definitely a modelgenic size and the angled intersection of the streets and rail lines made for an interesting configuration. There also seems to be a bulk unloading facility running along the aptly-named "Santa Fe Way" road slanting from top-left to bottom-right in the view.

Our travels then took us briefly on Interstate 5 until we could leave the hordes behind for a scenic jaunt through Coalinga (no search there for remnants of the SP, though) and on to the west on Highway 198. Just before joining Highway 101, I took a side trip through the burg of San Lucas on the former SP Coast Line. A large concrete elevator had attracted my eye in the past, but the industry seems now dormant. One forlorn and rusty covered hopper was spotted at another industry in town, so perhaps there is still some rail activity here.

Night and the rain began falling at about the same time, so that put an end to even my (very) casual railfanning. With relatives and friends in So Cal, I've traveled from north to south and back again many times in the past. I've sometimes focused on areas along the way that represented specific modeling interests, like the SP/ATSF Sunset Railway and the route of my proto-freelanced Midland Pacific. But my experience this week suggests that maybe I should have a slightly more open mind on my next trip …. and get out the camera! That is, for any trip I make without my family of reluctant railfans.

*For more on railroads in the Antelope Valley, I recommend Phil Serpico's book Railroading through the Antelope Valley. John Signor's fabulous Tehachapi book, along with Serpico's, gave me a real appreciation for what was passing by through those years of my youth.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Sellios gets real

It was interesting to read about the changes George Sellios (of Fine Scale Miniatures fame) is making to his Franklin and South Manchester layout. OK, I'll start with the disclaimer: Sellios is an exquisitely talented modeler and I'll never come close to his skills, not that I feel the need to do so (thankfully, or I'd never have the guts to build anything).

I have read most of the Sellios articles in the commercial press; I even bought his book on the Franklin and South Manchester. But to be honest, I never really enjoyed the pictures; and I sold the book shortly after buying it. I never could identify what it was that bothered me, sort of a hyper-reality that I have found vaguely disquieting.

After reading Mr. Sellios' article in the December, 2006 Model Railroader magazine, I've finally put my finger on what's bugged me. It's certainly not the execution of Sellios' modeling, it's his vision. And not the semi-run-down-cusp-of-the-depression vision that some have criticized. Instead, it's the way the scenes are compressed, almost as if looking through a telephoto lens.

When we look at a real scene, our minds highlight the interesting bits (tracks, a train, a station building), but don’t focus on the relatively non-descript space in between. We sense that the space is there, but it's not remarkable. However, it's that very unconscious sense of the empty space that clues our minds to the realities of the scene.

Artists talk about the idea of negative space. The concept that what is not shown helps to create context and interest in what is shown. The empty space around an object helps create the interest in the painted or sculpted object itself.

Many of the scenes on the Franklin and South Manchester contain all of the elements that one might see in viewing a real scene, but they are compressed, even amplified. They're too close together (at least for me) -- there's not enough "negative space". The clutter of a 500-foot-deep scene in real life is compressed into 80 scale feet of model railroad.

Sellios notes himself in the article that he has un-detailed some areas to make them look more realistic -- removing crowds from station areas and wall-to-wall clutter from loading docks. The new scenes are still a trifle too condensed for my taste, but they are certainly more realistic to my eye.

I guess it all goes to show how individual are our tastes and how unique is each of our visions. That's something I really enjoy about our hobby and look forward to exploring as my own (much more modest) layout building continues.

Thanks for visiting, click here to see the latest posts

Currently Listening to: Skip, Hop, and Wobble by Jerry Douglas, Russ Barenberg, and Edgar Meyer. Acoustic "newgrass" music (and much more) with a kick. I've become such a fan of Dobro through listening to Jerry Douglas.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Another new design in the gallery

I've been so busy with day job and model railroading projects that I have not spent much time on the website. But I did just add a short note on an interesting little design for someone here in the Bay Area. This was one of those rare cases where the benchwork ( a series of narrow shelves tucked in a corner of the room) absolutely had to be laid out first and the N scale layout designed around the benchwork. (And no, I haven't changed my mind -- "benchwork first" is still a Tricky Trap. This is one of those exceptions that proves the rule.)

All the same, the owner was interested in a real location (the Sacramento Northern's Yuba City Yard). No way to fit it all in, but I think we came up with a pretty good plan that's under construction now. You may read all about it here.

Monday, November 27, 2006

101 reasons for a change?

The book 101 Track Plans for Model Railroaders (Kalmbach, 1956) is deservedly a classic. The designs include a few neat early offerings by John Armstrong and some very skillful illustrations, most by editor/author Linn H. Westcott. 101 Track Plans is a great time capsule of layout design thought from the period. In fact, I believe the only updates since the initial publication are the addition of a paragraph on N scale (which did not exist as a commercial scale at the time the book was written), the inclusion of N scale in the size calculations, and a succession of new cover art.

Of course, there has been some progress in design thought in the last 50 years, and many of the designs in 101 Track Plans suffer when viewed in light of these new ideas. Many of the designs are based on the "Prairie Dog Village" system of scattered access holes for construction, operation, and maintenance. Most people today would find it troublesome to crawl under the benchwork and pop up over and over again. Many, even most, of the designs require built-in-place hand-laid track to fit as drawn, with very tight radii that don't work well with models of prototype equipment built since 1956. And many of the plans have inaccessible areas that would be out-of-reach if built as drawn. Of course, newer design ideas like multi-deck benchwork are absent, as well.

Unfortunately, Linn Westcott's clever renderings make each of the designs look good. Much better, in fact, than they would look if executed in plywood and plaster, in my view. But these plans are offered up to hobby newcomers without any disclaimers or suggestions in the book. And I think that does a bit of a disservice to both the model railroading neophyte and to these classic designs.

I think it would be great if there were a more modern equivalent of 101 Track Plans*. Many of the plans published in Model Railroader and Model Railroad Planning would be good candidates for a new book that explored current layout ideas along with the classics. I think there is still a place for 101 Track Plans, but it should be in the context of the times. Simply re-titling the book "101 Classic Track Plans from the '50s" (or something similar) would help newcomers understand where these designs fit alongside current thinking.

I enjoy reading through my copy of 101 Track Plans for a nostalgic view of the hobby, so I am glad it is still in print. But a bit of context could help newcomers avoid 50-year-old mistakes.

* A year or so after I wrote this blog entry, Kalmbach did indeed come out with a new book/magazine, 102 Realistic Track Plans. You can read my thoughts on 102 Realistic Track Plans here.

Currently listening to: Devlar Surf Sessions on Live 365 . Gotta love that reverb!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Saying my final good-byes to the Midland Pacific

Before I began working on the Oakland Harbor Belt concept for my layout, I was focused on a secondary mainline / branchline proto-freelanced concept called the Midland Pacific (MPC). I discussed the MPC briefly in an article in the Layout Design Journal (LDJ-28, Spring 2003). The real-life MPC was actually promoted in the early 1900s and a few miles of track were laid before the railroad vanished without a trace. It would have run from the Bakersfield, CA area to Port Hartford (now Avila Beach), as did my imagineered version. An article with a more complete discussion of the MPC is in production for an upcoming LDJ.

I had worked on the MPC concept for a few years, including buying appropriate equipment as it became available. Since I worked on the MPC concept for so long, that was an extended period of purchases. Many of the locos and rolling stock acquired for the MPC do not fit the OHB, so I've been selling them via eBay over the last few months. But the current "for sale" batch really signifies the end of the MPC concept. The MPC would have crossed and interchanged with parent Southern Pacific at Pismo Beach on the SP's Coast Line. I had envisioned a parade of SP through trains, including the famous "Overnight" freight service and the legendary "Daylight" and "Lark" passenger trains. Even though the limited-run nature of N scale is often frustrating, I had managed to acquire suitable consists and motive power for all of these trains.

But there's really no place on the OHB for any of these trains, except as static backgrounds for photos behind the Santa Fe Alice Street Yard or the Howard Terminal. The SP will still be represented on the OHB, of course, but it's the grittier workaday locals, not the glamorous mainline rockets. The Overnight cars went first. (For one thing, they are in more regular production now, so in the back of my mind I thought I could always replace them.) Then various other locos and cars went on the auction block.

But now it's the Daylight. And the Lark. These beautiful models from Kato are not "rivet-counting" accurate for the SP by any means, but their colorful liveries speak of an era and a place far better than words or (my) scenery ever would. Visions of these trains have been with me for a long time, through several layout plans and dreams: San Luis Obispo/Cuesta; Ventura County Railway (LDJ-26); the MPC; and the short-lived San Jose and environs concept.

Even though I'm a terrible pack-rat, there's only so much space even I'm willing to set aside for storage of models that won't fit on the layout. Sale of the ill-fitting equipment is also financing most (or all) of the track I'll need for the OHB. So I know this stuff has got to go. But like the end of any relationship, the parting is stirring up bittersweet thoughts of what might have been.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Tricky Traps # 5-8

Following up on my earlier entry about four Tricky Traps of layout design, here are another few to consider.

Tricky Trap #5: The Peril of the Prototype

Hey, wait, Byron, this can't be a Tricky Trap! Why, following the prototype exactly must be the best way to design a layout -- right? Sometimes … not so much. You see, the problem with most prototypes is that they are just so darn big. Relatively speaking, our layout spaces are pretty puny by comparison. So we can capture, at best, only a tiny sliver of the prototype when we set out to plan a layout.

We may copy a particular arrangement of tracks without knowing how they were operated by the real railroad. And that means that we may not know that a crucial element to the way the real railroad worked was to use the passing siding ten miles down the line as a runaround to make it possible to switch our chosen town. Sometimes changes are needed for our cramped space, relatively higher amount of traffic, or the realities of model railroading. One of those realities is that we cannot reliably "kick" or "drop" cars in the smaller scales, which leaves out many maneuvers common in the steam- and early diesel eras. So there are times when additional tracks or different configurations are needed on the model to make for a smoothly working layout.

In short, copying the prototype is a good place to start … but the resulting plans need a careful going-over with an experienced eye to insure that they will work as a model railroad.

Tricky Trap #6: The Published Plan Pitfall

Oh, the horror! The litany of errors in published plans is lengthy. Sometimes it's sloppy rendering, but often it's simply overly-optimistic planners. Curves are drawn much sharper than they are labeled. Impossibly abrupt turnouts (how about a #2!?) would never work in real life. Track-to-track distances are much too tight. And on and on.

This happened before the era of widely available model railroad CAD, of course, but it also happens now and will probably happen as long as track plans are published. Hope springs eternal in the eager neophyte modeler, only to be dashed when the first turnback curve sprawls inelegantly over the edge of the benchwork.

Track plan drawings of already-built layouts are not immune from this Tricky Trap, although there is, of course, empirical evidence to suggest that something fit in the available space. The best published plans, in my view, include the brand and model of turnout used in the design, or if hand-laid track is required, make note of that fact.

Tricky Trap #7: Devilish Division-Point Desire

I've been doing layout designs for friends and clients for a while now. But it never ceases to amaze me how many people begin their recitation of "Givens and 'Druthers" with: "I'd like a Division Point Yard of course, two coal mines, a steel mill, etc., etc. …". All in 14X16 feet. In HO. When I ask them why a Division Point yard, they say, "Because [insert well-known model railroader name here] says that's what makes a proper layout."
Well, OK, Sparky, but Division Point Yards for the most part are really, really big. And in the steam and early diesel era, they typically carry with them a need for lots of engine service facilities, classification tracks, and other space-consuming elements. Not to mention that the typical layout is a scale mile or two or three long.

After some discussion, it turns out what people are really saying is that they would like to do some classification of cars, maybe originate and terminate a couple of local trains, stuff like that. And they think the way to get that is a Division Point Yard. But in fact, there were (and are) lots of differently-sized yards on real railroads -- and some of these are small enough to be very modelgenic. Considering a branch junction yard, industry-specific yard, or interchange yard might be "just right" to fit into the typical layout space without overwhelming the rest of the operation.

Tricky Trap #8: The Straight Line Straitjacket

OK, this is more of a serving suggestion than a Tricky Trap, but I think it bears mentioning. Real railroads, to be sure, are mostly straight. And long. After all, most real railroad surveys are done as a series of straight lines joined together by the minimum number of curves necessary. That made the real railroads cheaper to build and to operate. There are certainly exceptions like mountain railroads and terminal areas, but compared to the typical model railroad, which has to keep turning back on itself repeatedly to avoid crashing through a wall and into the neighbor's side yard, real railroads are characteristically and (mostly) unremittingly straight.

So what happens when we try to put these long straight things into our confined rectangular (usually) layout space? All too often, we run them in straight lines exactly parallel to one of the walls in the room. Or exactly parallel to the line on another lobe of layout across the aisle, all of which screams "model railroad here!".

It's much more interesting, in my view, to set the long straight runs of track at slight angles to the room, to the benchwork edge, and to each other. These angles, even very subtle ones, help create a feeling of real locations. Gentle curves can work well here, too, but they somewhat compromise the feeling of realism that comes from having at least some segments of the layout on a straight line, hewing across the landscape as if that landscape came first.

I hope you enjoyed these Tricky Traps of layout design. I may add a few more over time.

Click here to read an introduction to the eight tricky traps

Click here to read 1-4

Click here to read the latest blog posts

Monday, October 30, 2006

Tricky traps # 1-4

I wrote last time about the "Tricky Traps" that ensnare many folks who are trying to design a layout. This time, I'll highlight a few of the most insidious. No surprise, these first few are all issues I've raised before, so there's also more to read on the web.

Tricky Trap #1: The 4X8 Freeze-Out

OK, you knew this one was coming, right? The commercial model press' over-emphasis of the HO 4X8 is one of those things that most everyone has come to accept, but I submit it probably does more harm than good. More often than not, these high-profile HO 4X8 plans are based on very tight radii and offer only limited operational interest for the long term. And because so much space in the commercial magazines is devoted to the 4X8, more imaginative concepts are frozen-out and newcomers are not exposed to them.

I've talked to so many people who became disenchanted with the hobby after starting an HO 4X8 and finding little reason to continue. The ironic thing is that 95% of the time (or more), something more fun, more space-efficient, and more expandable will fit in the available footprint when one considers the aisles around the "sacred sheet".

Let's face it, the only reason the sacred sheet HO 4X8s remain popular is that people are too afraid to cut a little wood. The commercial press is likewise afraid to try anything new, and so this Tricky Trap goes on and on … and on. And if you think this rant went on and on, check out this link for more on how I really feel about the HO 4X8 ….

Tricky Trap #2: The Siren Song of the Switchback

Yes, there are switchbacks on real railroads. Rarely. And mostly on logging and mining lines where they are used to gain elevation in steep terrain. But there are a couple of hobby "names" who sprinkle every one of their designs liberally with the most sinister variety … the industrial switchback with industries on both wings. These are exceedingly rare on the prototype, but to see these published designs, one would think it was the most typical thing in the world. And of course, novice designers follow suit.

Sure, these make a layout look busier, but the prototype avoids them because they are so inefficient to switch … especially if cars from one industry must be moved to switch the other. But neophyte designers don't have the background to analyze this configuration, so they over-use this model stereotype. It doesn't help that some commercial magazines seem reluctant to second-guess what the "names" have done, so these poor layout design practices turn up again and again. Speaking of turning up again and again, yes this is one of those tired topics I've written about before

Tricky Trap #3: The CAD-too-Soon Catch

Yes, I've done this topic to death. But it's still one of the Trickiest Traps because it seems like such a good idea. Nevertheless, jumping into CAD without some layout design background is almost always an oh-so-easy slide into an unworkable design.

Tricky Trap #4: "La Brea" Benchwork

The Rancho La Brea Tar Pits* are world-renowned. These natural asphalt seeps trapped millions of animals over many centuries in a death trap of sticky goo. How, you may ask, could this possibly relate to benchwork? Simple -- just think back to how many times you have seen a posting on the Internet along the lines of:
"I've designed/built all my benchwork and now I'm trying to find a track plan to go with what I've already designed/built. Any ideas?"
Um, yeah … got a sawzall? Once a benchwork design is finalized, on paper or in plywood, it becomes very difficult to change. That's just human nature. Usually, that benchwork is fiercely rectangular. Unfortunately, railroad tracks tend to curve and flow. See the incongruity?

In my opinion, designing benchwork first is one of the very worst ways to design a layout. And that goes double for benchwork schemes that dictate an identical set size and shape for each benchwork section. Designers are then constantly fighting to avoid benchwork edges when laying out turnouts and the like. I'm not against sectional benchwork, mind you. Great idea, if the sectional benchwork adapts to the track plan and not vice-versa.

Now there are exceptions. Modular benchwork that will be used with others to build a larger layout is a great way for groups to build efficiently or for an individual to be part of something larger. The best of the modular formats, such as Free-mo, allow a lot of flexibility in the design of each section, with only the interfaces specified. And it's true; occasionally the odd shape of a room or existing furniture or cabinets restricts benchwork flexibility. But those are the exceptions that prove the rule.

So don't be stuck in the Tricky La(yout) Brea Tar Pit Trap of pre-defined benchwork before beginning design. In most cases, benchwork should follow and (literally and figuratively) support the emerging design, not dictate it.

Ok, so those are the first four Tricky Traps.

Click here to read the latest blog posts

Currently listening to: Morning View by Incubus

*Coincidentally, there is a connection between the La Brea Tar Pits and railroading. When the Alta California Mexican land grants were being sold in the late 1800s, the Rancho La Brea area was purchased by one Major Henry Hancock. The family grew rich from oil drilling, mining the asphalt and (especially) from selling the surrounding land (yes, that's the Hancock of Hancock Park). Henry's son, G. Allan Hancock, took a large portion of the family fortune and used it to purchase the struggling Santa Maria Valley Railroad, into which he also sunk substantial funds over the years, making it one of the best-equipped and maintained shortlines in California. A railfan at heart, Hancock fils kept the steamers running in regular service longer than they should have, making for one fascinating railroad. In fact, it's only recently that the railroad was finally sold by the Hancock Estate.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Tricky Traps of Layout Design

Like many of you, I lead a (too) busy life. I'm trying now to finish up a very large design project while also doing a lot of work with my day job client. Priorities are always the key, and I struggle to keep them in mind.

I was doing pretty well on one of my priorities, which was to stay away from online forums and groups. Nothing wrong with these Internet chats per se, of course, just it's so tempting to waste time reading drivel instead of buckling down and working on what's important.

But in a moment of weakness, I dropped into one recently -- and quickly remembered why I had resolved to stay away. There were a number of examples of help-seekers posting layout plans and receiving advice from the self-appointed "experts". A heaping helping of CAD-too-Soon was on display, to be sure, but also a lot of very poor advice being given along with much encouragement for bad ideas being tossed casually about.

Over the last year or so, I have been informally cataloging a Rogue's Gallery of common layout design mistakes. Here, in ten minutes of reading forum posts, a half-dozen of these malevolent miscues reared their ugly heads.

So are these the Seven Deadly Sins of layout design? Not quite. Some seem like reasonably good ideas that are deceptively disastrous. Some are simply over-applied or misused. And in a few cases, they are ideas that work in a very narrow range of situations but have become part of model railroading lore, duping the unaware. So let's call them the "Tricky Traps" of layout design.

Since some good may come out of examining the bad, I'll be writing more on the Tricky Traps over the next month or so (while also pursuing the higher priority items on my to-do list.) I'm not sure if the final number will be six or seven, or ten. But I hope you'll find it interesting as we explore the La(yout) Brea Tar Pits.

Well, it turned out to be eight!

Click here to read 1-4

Click here to read 5-8

Click here to read the latest blog posts

Currently listening to: black & white by Cafe R&B. Another of those great bands that sadly almost no one knows.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Good news / bad news

I was a little chagrined to see some of my website articles published in the July 2006 Dispatcher's Office magazine published by the Operations SIG. Don't get me wrong, I'm very happy to support the OpSIG in any way I can -- it's a great organization. I had offered the editorial staff use of any of the articles from my site that would be appropriate. And I even edited a couple of articles specifically for print. The two articles I reworked for print publication with some new material and sketches were "Forget the Fast Clock" and a "Little Love for the Yard". (The links take you to the original web versions.)

But when the magazine came out, a number of other articles from my website had also been printed, complete with the promotional language I use on the website. I was more than a little embarrassed to see that in print, since it was never my intention to use the OpSIG to promote my commercial enterprise. (Unlike the shameless plugs on this Blog!)

In addition, one of the articles I prepared for print was garbled somewhere in the production process and came out a bit unclear. To see the yard operations article in the form I originally intended, just click here.

Oh, well. In the end, the good news is that the OpSIG members had something interesting (I hope) to read. And I'll get over my chagrin ....

Currently listening to: Sixty Six Steps by Leo Kottke and Mike Gordon.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

The Tragedy of CAD-Too-Soon

The wide availability of inexpensive or free layout design software has led to a wave of model railroad layout designs being published on the Internet. Many of these are by relative newcomers to design and, all too often, the results are precisely-rendered disasters in the making.

I wrote about the symptoms and cure for CAD-Too-Soon-Syndrome on my web site. Best practice in layout design is not the result of good drawing tools, but instead the application of an understanding of design principles and thoughtful consideration of alternatives. CAD often short-cuts these steps and leads to deceptively good-looking designs which are unbuildable and/or will operate poorly, in my humble opinion.

New designs posted to Layout Gallery

I've recently posted two new designs to the Gallery. One is a neat HO standard gauge logging railroad in a space slightly less than 9'X11' -- a typical spare room. I really enjoyed working on this design and it shows what can be accomplished in a small amount of space, even with 22" minimum radius.

Click here to read the story of this layout.

Model Railroader Magazine is currently running a layout design contest for roughly this same space. I won't be submitting an entry myself this year (just too many other design projects underway), but I expect some entries will be based on a similar configuration.

The other layout I posted recently is my own small N scale switching layout based on trackage around San Jose, CA. This 18"X72" layout was designed around some track components I had on hand and has been a fun switching challenge. The layout reflects some elements of the WP and SP trackage around 5th and 7th Streets in San Jose.

Click here to read the story of this layout and its operations.

Currently listening to: Electric Blues Radio on Live 365

Newsletter moved to Blog format

In order to make the Model Rail Services Newsletter more timely, I've moved it to a Blog format as opposed to traditional web pages. Hopefully this will help me increase the frequency and usefulness of the newsletter.

Click here to see the older archived pages through 2005.