Sunday, December 08, 2019

LDJ-66: Structures and Switching; Bridge Selection; G&D Challenge; more

I enjoyed working on the latest Layout Design Journal, being delivered to Layout Design SIG members by surface mail and email now.

This issue includes: Compact HO switching layout shares home office space and boasts scratchbuilt structures based on real-life buildings. Pro railroader describes lessons learned from choosing the “wrong” bridge for his layout. Mountain challenge design by real-life railroader replicates elements of John Allen’s Gorre & Daphetid. Four mid-sized switching layouts in N and HO. As seen on tour: More Benchwork and Human Factors ideas from NMRA SLC LDSIG tour. Design Challenge: model railfanning, public display, scenery presentation, and/or fantasy in any space. LDSIG Annual General Business Meeting Minutes and upcoming events.

To download a free “Sampler” of a few pages of LDJ-66 and other recent issues, visit this link:

We are now working on LDJ-67 and expect to distribute it in February; so renew soon if your membership is expiring. To begin or renew your LDSIG membership, visit this link:

Friday, November 01, 2019

New LDJ Design Challenge: RDSF

Attention layout planners! For the next Layout Design Journal Challenge we’re asking designers to create track plans and stories for publication in the magazine. The theme this year is layouts whose purpose is one or more of the following: model railfanning, public display, scenery presentation, and/or fantasy-inspired ("RDSF").

Challengers may use *any* dimensions – from a few square feet to a large basement (or any one of the past challenge spaces).

Entrants need not be members of the LDSIG. Our target date to receive the first entries is January 31, 2020, but later entries will be accepted!

Read much more in LDJ-65 or on my website.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Changeable Plates, Building Rooms, more in LDJ-65

The Layout Design SIG's Layout Design Journal #65 is in the mail now. On-line delivery emails are also going out now.

This issue includes: Changeable plates allow a layout to go back in modeled era and/or change prototypes for photography. Tips, tricks, and surprises in specifying a layout room in a custom-built home. Design Challenge: model railfanning, public display, scenery presentation, and/or fantasy in any space. Modern-era Switching Challenge layout based on a long-ago Fallen Flag. As seen on tour: Benchwork and Human Factors ideas from NMRA SLC LDSIG tour. Free on-line US topographic map source and use. LDSIG News and announcements, including Board of Directors Election.

You may download a free “Sampler” of a few pages of LDJ-65 and other recent issues.

To begin or renew LDSIG membership, visit this link.

The new Design Challenge is open to anyone, not only LDSIG members. I'll post it here in the next week or so.

Thursday, August 08, 2019

Death of Expertise, Part 2

For those keeping score at home, we can now add “International Trade and Tariffs” to the list of things that people on Model Train Forums think that they know a lot about – but don’t.

Another depressing example of the Dunning/Kruger Effect brought to us by the Internet.

Monday, June 10, 2019

See You in Salt Lake City

I’m excited to be participating in the Salt Lake City NMRA convention beginning July 7. Seth Neumann and I will be presenting the Layout Design SIG’s four-hour Layout Design Bootcamp "super clinic" Monday morning July 8 beginning at 8am. I’ll also be presenting my one-hour Small Layout Design – Beyond the Timesaver clinic Tuesday evening July 9 at 6:30pm. (Clinic handouts are on my website here, I may have slightly updated versions posted after the convention.)

In addition, I’ll be offering help sessions as part of the LDSIG’s free help program in the SIG Room. Sign-ups are on-site beginning on Sunday. All of the LDSIG activities, including the Wednesday General Meeting and self-guided Layout Tour, are found here.

As I have said here before, I hate that the NMRA continues to schedule Conventions at the peak summer heat times. It’s a dumb practice both in terms of that being the seasonal nadir of model railroading interest for many as well as offering unpleasant weather pretty much anywhere in the US. I’m not sure how many more years I’ll put myself through it … but SLC in 2019 is a go!

Monday, May 27, 2019

30 and counting … LDJ-64

Years before I began editing the Layout Design SIG’s Layout Design Journal, I was an avid reader of the magazine and its precursor the Layout Design News. The LDJ is a venue where track planning and design ideas are examined, often in considerable depth.

I was the editor of the LDJ for a handful of issues beginning late in the last century and returned as editor in 2011. Along the way, the magazine became full-color (a huge improvement!) and on-line-delivery options have become available. I try to encourage authors to contribute the same sort of thought-provoking articles that intrigued me when I was a reader.

While looking up some reference information for the recently published LDJ-64, I started counting the LDJs for which I have been editor. I was a bit surprised to find that it totaled thirty LDJ issues! (I also edited a few additional issues of the LDN before taking over the Journal).

Many thanks to the LDSIG leaders, Editors Emeritus, readers, our dedicated LDJ volunteers, and (especially) authors who have supported my work.

Layout Design Journal #64 includes: Award-winning exhibition-style mini-layout mixes fine modeling with animation. Real-life railroader’s Cajon Pass Mountain Challenge layout design explores ‘50s and ‘60s themes and concepts. Designing layouts with a plan for layout capacity based on prototype experience and concepts. Switching Challenge: Port of New York Jersey City passenger and freight rail-marine terminal features CNJ and LV operations. LDSIG News and Announcements, including LDSIG activities at SLC NMRA 2019.

To download a free “Sampler” of a few pages of LDJ-64 and other recent issues, visit this link. And join or renew LDSIG membership at this link.

Thursday, March 14, 2019


I mentioned my Model Railroad Planning 2019 article on designing switching layouts inspired by Clackamas, Oregon in both HO- and N scale for two different clients a few weeks ago. In that post, I noted that a friend was independently planning a 2-rail O scale layout for the same area.

I had a little time, so I proceeded to sketch up something to fit his roughly 16’X20’ space. He’s building with sectional track and benchwork sections (mostly 2’X4’), so that added a little complexity to the task. (Not to mention the demands of the large scale in terms of siding and spur length.) But he and I were happy with the results.

Click here for a larger view.

He needs occasional access to closets along the bottom edge of the drawing by rolling away the benchwork sections, so I tried to incorporate smaller track sections at those joints that could be easily removed and replaced. I gained some flexibility by wrapping the runaround along three walls. And the long, narrow strip of benchwork on the right wall was great for extending the main lead and imagined connection to Portland.

As with any design for a larger scale in a relatively small space, arranging things so that the larger industries may be represented by flats keeps down the square footage demands.

He indicates that he might swap the designations of the two Fred Meyer tracks to allow the bakery to be the longer track where a variety of car types might be spotted (hoppers of flour, tank cars of oils or sweeteners, box cars for packaging, etc.). He may make additional revisions as he builds, but this gave him a good starting point for his design.

I can’t remember ever designing three layouts in three different scales for the same real-life location. But it’s been fun!

Friday, March 08, 2019

Art in Model Railroading, Double-or-Half, and more in LDJ-63

It was interesting to explore a number of topics from a different perspective in LDJ-63. Although I personally don't have the modeling or photography skills to approach art with my own work, I'm happy that others doand are willing to share!

This issue includes: Stepping out of the Sandbox: Lance Mindheim on model railroading as art. John Sethian builds O Scale scenes inspired by Edward Hopper paintings. Multi-deck layout retrospective and lessons learned for large HO proto-freelance layout. Rethinking successful San Francisco State Belt HO layout in half, and double, the space. Portable banner helps tell Hawaiian Fn3 layout story. More design lessons from museum dioramas. LDSIG News and Announcements, including LDSIG activities at SLC NMRA 2019.

I personally particularly enjoyed Bill Kaufman's article on what he would do differently with his mid-sized San Francisco State Belt layout if he were to build it in halfor doublethe space with the same scale, era, concept, locale, etc. I hope we'll be able to publish more of these articles by other successful layout builders.

To download a free “Sampler” of a few pages of LDJ-63 and other recent issues, visit this link.

To begin or renew Layout Design SIG membership, visit this link.

Paper copies are in the mail now, on-line-delivery emails will start going out in the next week or so.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Two-for-One SP Switching in MRP 2019

I always enjoy working with Editor Tony Koester and Kalmbach in publishing one of my custom layout design projects in Model Railroad Planning. This time around, it was actually two layouts – both based on the same area of Clackamas, OR in the 1990s.

The first client was looking for a basic HO layout for this specific industrial area served by the Southern Pacific to fit some on-hand pre-fab sectional benchwork. The layout was set to occupy a fairly restricted space, so while we were able to add one more section, things were tight.

The second client inquired a few weeks after that project was finished. He wanted an N Scale switching layout located somewhere in the west to operate a wide selection of ‘90s SP-and-kin diesels. Bloody Nose, Speed Lettering, Kodachrome, etc. I described the previous HO project, just as an example of the kind of thing we might do. No need to look further, he decided, and so Clackamas was redone in N scale.

Better artwork and more details are found in the MRP article, which is part of another great overall issue. Download a .pdf of this image here.

Coincidentally, a friend who lives near the modeled area had decided before the magazine was published to build a layout of the same industrial area – but in two-rail O Scale! He’s already on his way to a track plan, but I might be able to make a suggestion or two. It’s a three-fer!

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Once Every 15 Years, I Guess

When I started layout design and ops consulting in 2004, I knew that I needed to appear on the web. I was in a hurry, so choosing my email ISP for my web hosting for convenience’ sake was the path of least resistance. After all, I only expected to need about six or eight pages – how big a job would it be to re-do it later?

Yeah, about that. 60+ pages later, it’s a huge job. Over the years I’ve added topics of general usefulness for folks (I hope), as well as examples of custom layout designs for clients.

The creaky and arcane tools I started with in 2004 never really got much of an upgrade. And recently, my previous ISP announced they would be shutting down the tools, which would delete my site.

It’s probably for the best. The previous tools had been balky and not remotely easy-to-use for the last five or so years. Not to mention that nearly 40% of the recent visits to my site are coming from phones and tablets rather than traditional browsers. My old site did a poor job of accommodating these visitors.

The new tools I am using allow better interfaces for these devices, although I have not yet tweaked every page for best appearance. But the most-commonly-visited pages should be better for mobile users now – and I will get to the rest over the next few weeks.

Because of the arcane limitations of the Year 2000-era tools, web addresses (URLs) for my previous site were non-standard. That means that the addresses of content have changed on the new site, but nearly all of it has been recreated somewhere on the new site. It was painful to give up a decade-and-a-half of others’ links to my content, but it’s the price of existing in the current millennium.

Another consequence of retirement of these tools is that my personal web pages on the Oakland Harbor Belt layout concept will also disappear. But I’ve moved on to a new concept (more on that later) and I have archived the OHB content to make it available in some form sometime in the future (as if anyone is interested!).

When the numbers of visitors to started to grow quickly in 2008, I began paying closer attention to visitor- and page view counts. Since the beginning of 2009 my site has served over 3.5 Million page views. Not bad for a site that just started out as hanging out a consulting shingle in cyberspace.

So thanks for your support and interest over the years, and I apologize for the inconvenience of lost URLs. If you would like to link to my content again, I encourage you to do so – and thanks for that effort.

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Signaling the Death of Expertise

Shaking my head at the amateurs on forum threads lecturing real-life railroad pros with decades of pertinent experience. The topic as I write is Signaling, which is something many modelers think that they understand, but don’t. And yet they prattle on and on, trying to justify the incorrect position they took at the outset with ever-more outrageous digressions from reality.

My advice (which would only be ignored) would be to stop digging, take the “L”, and value the opportunity to learn from generous experts.

I recently read Dr. Tom Nichols’ book The Death of Expertise, an exploration of how uninformed people believe that they know more than bona fide practitioners. A key quote: “Americans have reached a point where ignorance … is an actual virtue.” As Isaac Asimov also told us – and as is on display every day in Internet forums.