Grasping Space and Size: Still Learning to Plan in O Scale

Things have been super slow here.  Lots of stuff is keeping me away from finishing projects I wanted to get done, but I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about layouts.  

I write about this a lot.  Boiling a railroad down to a manageable and buildable and achievable track plan, especially a railroad that one knows really well.

While building has slowly progressed on what I have called a photo diorama, I’ve also been paying attention to other small layouts and ideas that might come in handy.  A couple of things recently added to that list or conversation, and sharing them is worth while.

A couple weeks ago, I started thinking ahead to when some of the constrains I currently have on layout building are alleviated.  It’ll be a few years, but it usually takes me a while to ferment a track plan, and the change from HO to O scale has been a real struggle for me to wrap my head around track planning in general, so starting now and playing with space sizes and what fits is a useful exercise.

I stared with a list of industries I want to model somehow on the YV.  These are the bottom line, most interesting (to me) things I want to model.  Call it part of Givens & Druthers thinking or LDE’s, but for my purposes I’m calling this the ‘Must Include Industries”.  Here’s the list:

Lumber Mill

  • Log Unloading Track
  • Box Factory & Lumber Loading

Portland Cement

  • Hopper Dump
  • Bagging House

Other Industries

  • Standard Oil
  • Ice / Cold Storage
  • Station or Warehouse (both if possible)

I decided to try and fit the above YV locations into a layout that would fit in the largest bedroom in our house, and landed with this plan.

It’s good, it checks all those boxes, but one thing is really glaring to me and that’s the need to operate this with a runaround track.  That takes a lot of space.

Runaround tracks are common practice in track planning.  They’re useful.  Being able to have a train make facing and trailing point pickups and stouts means you can access a lot of the available real estate on the limited layout space.  

Layout panning requires a lot of compromises.  As modelers we are striving to bend and fit a representation of linear railroads (in most cases) that follow landforms, not walls, into confined spaces.  While that is part of the art of model railroad building, it immediately means we are compromising from the outset. 

What would my YV-based switching layout look like if I added a few other considerations? Make the room smaller, so 12×12.  Make the layout require one crew, one train, maximum of two operators and a host.  Still include the desired industries.  

I believe we are at an inflection point in layout design in North America.  Our massive layouts that people have built for years here, or that people have aimed to build “some day” may become smaller, bedroom size or smaller, operationally interesting and detailed, with many tending further toward the cameo layout that can be built in townhouses or apartments and require small numbers of operators.  

So, inspired by this, and an HO scale layout I saw while browsing some layouts online, I’ve designed this YV-inspired/based layout.

The layout includes all the industries I wanted, the log dump and box factory / dry loading for the lumber company, a track for rock cars and a track for loading boxcars at the cement company, a track for Standard Oil, a track for the ice and cold storage, and right in front of that I can add a station for LCL freight.  All of this can be accessed by a train headed in one direction, doing trailing point switching with no runaround track needed.  Adding or flipping just one industry in the opposite direction might be interesting and mean that I could stage cars for sorting and delivery at either end, or on cassettes at either end.  Something to think about.

It’s interesting to think about how I’ve gotten here.  From track plans drawn to represent just Merced or just El Portal that fill a garage to a switching layout with YV industries that now fits in a spare bedroom, the idea of a manageable and achievable layout of my own coming down the road is exciting.  Small layouts are more common that we might be lead to believe.  Building rolling stock, detailed structures, locomotives, and finished scenes can be done.  One thing that a small layout needs in my opinion, is operational realism, and we’ll talk about that in a blog post that will be coming soon.

It’s definitely time to get back to the workbench.


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