Thursday, November 01, 2012

Sigh … Asimov was Right

How often have you seen this? An enthusiastic newcomer to model railroading shows up on an Internet train forum on a Thursday, full of fundamental questions. These are patiently answered for the struggling newcomer over the next few days.

But then, a miracle occurs! (Or not.) By the following Tuesday, our newbie considers himself an expert and begins offering pages of (bad) advice to others. In the process, he misuses or outright contradicts the meanings of standard hobby terms and concepts, mixing his turnback loops with his reversing connections and his selective compression with his scale ratios. Talk about the blind leading the partially sighted!

What's more, our newly-minted modeling maven petulantly defends his bogus advice as valid, since it’s "his opinion."

It seems that Science Fiction writer Isaac Asimov was predicting Internet forum discourse when he said:

There is a cult of ignorance in the United States*, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that "my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge."
From a Newsweek magazine column, January 21, 1980

*And Canada, apparently

Saturday, August 04, 2012


One of the major gaps in model locomotive rosters has been a quality mass-produced N Scale Alco S‑1/3 or S‑2/4, a fact with which I have bored readers before – and before that. S‑2s, in particular, were on hundreds of different railroads' rosters from 1940 to the present day.

So it was extremely welcome news from the National Train Show yesterday when Atlas announced its upcoming model of the Alco S‑2. In an embarrassment of riches, Bachmann also announced an S‑4 model in N scale at the same show. I would have made do with either, frankly, but the S‑2 is terrific. (Yes, some may grouse that one of the manufacturers could have kicked us down an S‑1/3 instead of similar-appearing S‑2 and S‑4 models – but let's not be bitter.)

 Depending on road names and liveries, I'll have some S‑2s on order as soon as possible. And maybe an S‑4 or two for good measure – they fit my 1955 modeling era as well.

But it does raise a question for me. I had considered modeling the prototype Alameda Belt Line (ABL), which was exclusively S‑2 powered in my era. But partially due to the lack of a mass-produced model of the Alco switcher, I developed a proto-freelance theme instead. Atlas is doing different versions of the S‑2, so one of them will probably be pretty close to the ABL's units (after some custom painting, of course)

So now … stay proto-freelance? … or ABL?

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

The Layout Design SIG

In my last blog post, I referenced my article from the Layout Design Journal (LDJ), published by the Layout Design SIG (LDSIG). I was surprised to receive a couple of emails from blog readers who were not aware of the SIG and its magazine, or didn't realize that the SIG was still active and vital. So here is a bit more information about the LDSIG.

For anyone interested in model railroad track planning and layout design, I think the LDSIG is a fabulous resource and well worth membership (full disclosure, I edit the LDJ). Besides the quarterly magazine, the SIG also sponsors programs at regional and national meetings.

"Samplers" of a few pages from recent issues are available for free download as Adobe Acrobat (.pdf) files. I'd encourage those who aren't yet SIG members to take a look – there are many interesting layout design ideas in every issue. Back issues of the LDJ are also available.

LDJ-47, Summer 2012
- Planning the Newcastle-Fassifern Railway with Layout Design Elements (LDEs)
- Improving a Classic John Armstrong Plan in N Scale
- The Continuous Model Railroad: More Railroad than your Room Can Hold
- Proto-Freelance Midwest NYC Layout Inspired by Published Plans
- Weighing the Scales: Experienced Multi-scale Modelers Discuss Pros and Cons
- Benchwork and Fascia Ideas from LDSIG Tours

LDJ-46, Spring 2012
- Three Crossings at Newburgh, Ohio
- Small and Portable: Baltimore's Wicomico St. on the B&O
- Designing a Busy Chicago Passenger Terminal, Multi-deck HO
- Planning for Signals, Part 3: References
- Oakland, California's Howard Terminal in N Scale

LDJ-45, Winter 2012
- Breaking Marley’s Chains – On2 to S for CN Branch
- SP on a Shelf – Houston's Clinton Branch
- Heavy Switching Design Challenge from Tulsa 2011:
  - The Copper Belt Railroad in N Scale
  - Kansas City Southern in Neosho, Mo.; 1956
  - The Pittsburgh Transfer Railway
  - Johnstown and Union City – Mushroom "cut-and-paste" design in N Scale
  - The Terminal Dock Railroad – Northeastern Rail-Marine
  - Electrasteel Corporation
- Gooseneck, Bottoms and Bluffs – Multi-deck HO design for Kansas City's West Bottoms

LDJ-44, Fall 2011
- Sectional, modular and portable layout focus:
  - HO Sections Designed to Move – and Do!
  - HO/HOn3 FREMO Modules for Home and Road
  - Compact OO English Terminus Display Layout
  - N Scale Free-mo Modules as Layout Design Elements
- What would you do differently?: Tips from five successful layout builders

LDJ-43, Summer 2011
- Designing a “Three-way” Layout Design Element on the BN
- Lessons Learned: Phil Monat's Multi-Pass Delaware & Susquehanna
- Three stories on lightweight benchwork ideas from Gatorfoam™ and Luan
- Planning for Signals, Part 2: Model Implementations
- Signal Repeaters

LDJ-42, Spring 2011
- Designing the California, Oregon and Western
- Thoughts on Multi-Pass Design
- 90 Feet more Mainline on the Idaho-Montana Railway & Navigation (UP)
- Layout Design Challenge -- Road Warrior Revisited:
  - B&O’s 26th St. NYC Yard
  - Central California Traction in Stockton and Lodi
  - SAL, ACL, A&W in North Carolina, 1925
  - Timetable and Train Order “Trainer” Layout
- Design Considerations for Prototype-action Couplers

LDJ-41, Winter 2011
- The Ultimate 4X8? RGS in HOn3
- Garage Bay Passenger Ops Design Challenge: Calif. Bayside Commute and Reading Lines in Philadelphia
- Modeling a Mile: Layouts for W&LE / Nickel Plate; B&O; WM
- Planning for Signals, Part 1: Prototype Practices
- Design Ideas from Milwaukee 2010
- “This Column does not Exist": Support Column Ideas

Thursday, July 19, 2012

N Scale Howard Terminal in the LDJ

As many blog readers know, I edit the Layout Design Journal of the Layout Design SIG. Thanks to the contributions of our authors and editorial volunteers, every issue of the LDJ offers interesting ideas about model railroad layout design and track planning.

The Spring 2012 issue (#46) includes my article on the Howard Terminal, a terrific little "pocket" rail-marine terminal railroad in Oakland, CA. Beginning with the compact prototype, I developed plans for switching layouts to fit the ubiquitous N scale hollow core door (36"X80") and more-efficient shelf layouts using the same floor space as the hollow core door and its aisles.

This is one of four N Scale switching layouts featured in the article

You may download my six-page N scale switching layout article here as a free Adobe Acrobat file. (By the way, the download may take a minute or two, my ISP is slow at times -- please be patient.)

If you enjoy the article, I hope that you'll join the LDSIG. Members receive the LDJ quarterly and there are also LDSIG-sponsored events at regional and national conventions.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Oh, the Irony

The January 2012 issue of Model Railroader magazine includes a track plan for an N scale switching layout inspired by railroads around San Antonio, Texas.

The unintended ironic point is the prototype file photo that MR's editors used to illustrate the article: an Alco S2, noting in the caption that the S-2 "is typical of the 1950s motive power … to use" on the N scale layout. Oh, indeed, an S-2 would be perfect for the layout, as well as for many others.

But of course, there's been no mass-market N scale S-2 available for a couple of decades. And that model, from Arnold, was pretty poor (to put it as kindly as possible).

An elusive (in N scale, at least) S-2, this one in the later livery of one of my favorite shortlines, the Alameda Belt Line. Photo by Richard Silagi.

Just to rub salt in the wound, Athearn's latest big announcement is an HO GP-38-2 in the Genesis line. Really? A nice model, I'm sure. A lot like all the other HO GP-38-2 models (Atlas, Bachmann, Walthers/Life-Like). Including the existing lower-end RTR HO-GP-38-2 model -- from Athearn itself!

As I've mentioned before, a quality mass-market N scale Alco S-1/3 and/or S-2/4 switcher model would likely sell tens of thousands of copies. Yet model railroad manufacturers continue to crank out "me too" HO models. I guess it works on someone's marketing spreadsheet. I can't see how it makes sense in the real world, though.

I suppose that we can't hold it against MR's full-time editors. Apart from David Popp, the rest are primarily HO scalers. And I'm sure none of them could possibly imagine that such a popular engine in real life could be completely missing from the second most popular modeling scale.

Epilogue August 2012: Happily, Atlas and Bachmann just remedied this long-time issue with S-2 and S-4 N scale models respectively.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Two-Railroad Town in MRP 2012

Model Railroad Planning 2012 features one of my custom HO layout design projects for a mid-sized space. As you may read about in the article, my client was interested in a real-life setting in California's Central Valley, but it took some searching to find just the right candidate location that met his layout vision.

Reedley, California was the client's choice and I think that the final layout turned out very well. The Southern Pacific and Santa Fe paralleled one another through town, with some industries sandwiched in between the two main lines.

The final design included hidden stub-end "X-factor" staging tracks below and is just one more example of how an around-the room design is so often superior to the "sacred sheet" HO 4X8 track plan folks are tempted to plunk down in a room that would hold something much better.

Editor Tony Koester and the Model Railroader staff did a fine job on production (as always), and generous assistance from railroad author John Bergman, Dr. Jim Lancaster and John Signor provided classic images of Reedley to complete the article. Click here to see this layout in my layout design gallery.