Sunday, April 18, 2010

More fun, no puzzle!

Readers who have visited my website will already know that I am no fan of switching puzzles such as the "classic" Timesaver or Inglenook. While they carry a railroad theme, too often the artificial constraints of these puzzles amount to no more than moving an empty slot around – like a sliding block puzzle.

More authentic operating challenges can be developed in small spaces by using the real-life challenges of "sure spots", seasonality, shifts, etc., as I mention in my web pages.

Sure spots, in particular, are often overlooked by newcomers to model railroad operations. Sure spots are specific locations on a track where cars are to be delivered. This might be a specific loading door, a grain dump, a discharge spout, etc. So with sure spots, a single track may have several switching positions. I used this to good effect on my small N scale switching layout and on many other layout designs large and small.

A good example of this on the prototype and a compact model is found on Jack Hill's blog page.

At first glance, this looks a bit like the two-turnout, three-track Inglenook puzzle. But two things make it different and realistic: enough length to switch out the cars efficiently; and sure spots for placement of commodities within specific cars.

The author is apparently a real life railroader, and his approach to modeling in a small space (in O scale, no less!) is to build on these prototypical challenges for engaging operations.

Sure spots can even add variety to a seemingly generic set of cars. Real-life railroader Jim Lincoln wrote about such a situation in describing a modern corn syrup transloading terminal in Model Railroad Planning 2010. Different grades and types of corn syrup in different cars must be switched in and out of the facility from a nearby yard. Similar activities take place with plastic pellets, chemicals, and grain in the modern era.

The concepts of sure spots, seasonality, and shifts (among others) can make any small layout more interesting than just another switching puzzle. Breweries, paper mills, auto plants, and many other real-life facilities can be themes for interesting switching challenges without artificial puzzle frustration.