Monday, July 28, 2008

Beverly Hills 502.50

It’s known more for movie stars, shopping, and as the location for a slightly sleazy 1990s TV show, but there was also a gritty side to Beverly Hills. And no, I’m not talking about Jed and all his kin. It turns out there was some real-life railroading going on in Beverly Hills (SP Milepost 502.5), Santa Monica, and West Los Angeles into the 1970s.

Mike Jarel has written a very interesting article in the most recent Trainline magazine (#96, Summer 2008), published by the Southern Pacific Historical and Technical Society, that traces the area’s history as remnants of the Pacific Electric’s interurban service (among others). Jarel grew up nearby and worked on the SP in the area, so the article is definitely written from a knowledgeable perspective.

By the 1960s, Southern California was booming and the need for rail deliveries of building materials, appliances, food products and the like was growing rapidly. Pacific Electric operated its own freight service (dieselized after 1956) in what it called the Western District until the full absorption into the SP in 1965, when the parent road took over operations.

There were small yards, runarounds, some street running, and a variety of industries sprinkled around the area. I’m really fascinated by these small urban terminal switching areas, and this is another example from a somewhat unlikely locale. The small yard at Sentous (near the intersection of today’s San Diego and Santa Monica Freeways) served multiple locals, with haulers from the larger downtown yards picking up and setting out blocks of cars. The industries and railroad facilities were of model-able size and included some very recognizable customers.

A series of Free-Mo modules duplicating some of these areas would be a great start on a model railroad that could be easily expanded or might have to be moved one day. By coincidence, my friend Trevor Marshall’s article in the August 2008 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman describes just such an approach (based on a different prototype and area, Peterboro, ON). Sentous yard could be modeled or represented by a pivoting sector plate as Trevor and Pierre Oliver did on the Peterboro project.

An approach like this could certainly provide more long-term operating enjoyment than the mindless loops on plywood sheets usually promoted by the commercial press for modest layouts. But don’t get me started on that. Instead, kudos to Mike Jarel, Trainline and its editor John Signor, and to Trevor Marshall and RMC for showcasing some very interesting prototypes and layout concepts this month.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

See you in Anaheim

For those of you planning to attend the NMRA Convention next week in Anaheim, I hope you’ll drop by one of my clinics to say hello. I’m presenting two clinics, “Creating an Operating Session” and “Layout Design from the Prototype”. I’m also participating as a panelist with a number of former editors of the Layout Design SIG’s Layout Design Journal to discuss “Layout Design Trends”.

The operations-oriented clinic will attempt to cover everything from car movement to train control to crew management and human factors. Obviously, an hour-long clinic will just scratch the surface of the topic, but hopefully it will be useful for those beginning to explore operations on their own layouts.

The clinic on designing from the prototype will hopefully interest those considering prototype-based layouts, freelanced layouts, and everything in between. I’ll try to share a bit about the thought process I find myself going through with most projects. Model railroad layout design is all about the trade-offs and compromises, and there are multiple junctures in the process where this comes into play.

The layout design trends panel discussion (Tuesday at 4pm) will be an interesting look inside the minds of a number of accomplished modelers and hobby thinkers. And me. Some preliminary email discussions among the panelists suggest that we will bring at least a few different viewpoints to the table. Model railroad layout design ain’t rocket science, but there are some interesting new ideas as well as older ideas being applied in new ways.

Hope to see you there.

Greatest. Baseball. Announcer. Ever. I’ve been spending time in Southern California recently helping out with some family matters and have had a chance to catch a few L.A. Dodgers broadcasts. Even though I was always much more of an Angels fan growing up, Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully is still the very best there has ever been at his craft, in my opinion. Scully never over-hypes a moment and has an instinctive knack for drawing the listener or viewer into the game with a pertinent fact or stat delivered in a relaxed and engaging manner.

Scully gives the game itself “room to breathe” – and with that, he smoothly communicates the ebb-and-flow rhythm that’s the natural pace of baseball pitch-to-pitch. It’s like watching the game with an old friend who happens to be incredibly knowledgeable (and has a research team backing him up). I imagine Scully will be retiring sometime soon, so it’s been great to have a chance to enjoy his understated excellence again. Thanks, Vin!

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Modules and Sections and Dominoes, Oh My!

This is going to be one of those model railroad layout design screeds that makes me feel slightly better but has no discernible impact on the hobby whatsoever. Ready? Here goes: the terms in the title above are not synonyms!!

Sections are just what the name implies. They are chunks of layout. They’ve been built separately for easier transportation, construction, etc. They often have legs so that they may stand alone, but could be suspended from a wall or between other sections. Sections may be flat-topped or open grid or some combination or variation. (Typically, they are not L-girder for obvious reasons.) Sections may be any shape or size. A sectional layout typically is built to fit together in one particular configuration – the sections are not interchangeable without some rework or addition of new bridging sections for a new space.

Modules are sections of layout that have been designed to a standard like NTRAK, Free‑Mo, or (many) others so that they may be interchangeably combined with other modules to form a layout. Some of these standards are national or international in scope, others defined by a single club, informal group, or individual. These standards define the track and electrical connections for mating ends. In some cases, the size and/or aspect ratio of modules are specified, but this is not universal. Adjoining modules may be built by the same or different people … but the interface between them is standardized. That’s what makes them modules. Sometimes people choose to build multi-module sets where the intermediate interfaces may not be built to the standard, but the ends are, to permit connections with modules built by others. The key is the standard interface at the ends. Ergo, all modules are sections, but not all sections are modules.

The term “domino” was borrowed by David Barrow to describe 2’X4’ flat-topped layout sections with legs. See, they look like a domino – with the flat top and 2X4 aspect ratio – just like a domino, get it? Thus, all dominoes are sections, but not all sections are dominoes. (By the way, dominoes may be an OK way to build some types of layout, but they are a really bad way to design a layout, in my humble opinion. But that’s a rant for another day.)

["Doorminoes", by the way, are a pretty cool idea: layouts or layout sections built on hollow core doors. Doorminoes have been used and popularized by Dave Clemens, among others.]

Let’s review:
- Sections are chunks of layout; size, shape, and track and electrical interfaces between sections are not standardized
- Modules are sections built to a standardized defined trackwork and electrical interface for interchangeability
- Domino is a term to describe a specific aspect ratio flat-topped section

OK, got it?

Hey, I do feel a little better.