Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Spring Awakening

     So, fresh on the heels of last weeks post, I did receive some nice and well thought out responses not only from a friend, but better yet, two readers of this blog that until now, I have not had the pleasure of making their acquaintance. That's a big win, as a fresh, unbiased view of my layout and my "situation" is always helpful, AND, it's nice to know that my mile-long post wasn't completely ignored!

     So, instead of responding to them in the comments section and risking being "lost in the pile" with everything else, I thought I'd dedicate this post first and foremost to thanking them for taking the time to share their thoughts with me, but obviously also to take a moment to respond to their comments. Let's begin, shall we?
First up, we have Rhett, and he commented -
     "Personally, I'd be building toward the new theme. Simplification without having to give up the essentials is a huge WIN. Why bite off more if it's just more and not tangibly better?"
     Rhett, you are 100% right, and that there lies the problem. There's no reason NOT to make the change, but there is the nagging thought of "Have I really given the layout a chance to prove (or disprove) itself?" And not just for my own fulfillment mind you, but also to my crews (both regulars and guests), as well.
     As I mentioned, I have not had a problem attracting return operators (yet), and the biggest win was the honor of hosting a ProRail session in 2013 for many esteemed out-of-town model railroaders who traveled MANY miles and were to be guaranteed a good time, OR ELSE! I wasn't told that I failed to "entertain", so I guess that's a good thing, yes? Especially considering that some of my guests were those who themselves own terminal-themed layouts (and well known ones at that, but I won't drop names, thank you very much), that I personally hold in high esteem, and they gave all appearances that they enjoyed their time operating the layout. In other words, I had my layout on the line, and all signs point that it "passed the audition".
     So I guess that is the long way of saying I'm not sure I want to call it quits on the waterfront just yet. Let's give it one more go.....MAYBE!
     Oh, and please take a moment to visit Rhett's blog "R.C. and a MoonPie Railroad" at -, and see what he's been up to....I know I'll be spending some time visiting!
Next up, a friend of mine Joe Zyla responded, and had this thought to share with me -
     "I have to agree, simpler is better, especially when there are other forces pulling your time and resources. The satisfaction of building a layout towards completion is gratifying. The draw of complex operations and busier railroads? You have that through the operating sessions you participate in with the other layouts you visit."
     And once again, Joe is spot on. I am very lucky to live in a region of the US (and New Jersey specifically) where there are approximately eight layouts that I can operate on regularly if I so choose, all prototype-themed, and run the gamut from sleepy single track steam operations to large, heavy main line TT/TO ops (both steam and diesel), to terminal operations. So why have a layout at all, LOL!?!? For many years I didn't, and it begs the question, 'what will I be achieving that will be different from what everybody else is doing?"
     Well, for starters, the theme for the LV's West End Branch is semi-urban in theme - Not a large yard operation with a high car turnover rate like the NY Harbor Terminal currently in "operation", but still busy, and still with lots of switching. So other than a lot of track all over the place (and some actual scenery, and by that I mean grass and trees), it's not so far removed from a short line or branch operation-themed layout like my friend Ted DiIorio's Ma&Pa layout - Is it a bad thing that it would be a lot in concept like Ted's layout? Absolutely not, and I don't mean to make it sound like I have to change the layout be so radically different and unique so as to stand out from the herd. In fact, the only other layout in the immediate area (that I know of at least) that is a terminal switching operation with a NY Harbor theme is my pal Dave Ramos' NY Harbor RR - - so it's not like I am floating in a sea of these kinds of layouts. But neither do I want to "trade up" for no good reason other than to do it, and then regret doing so. And with that, see my reply to Rhett's comment....
     With all this talk, I really need to post my PowerPoint presentation I gave a year ago this month about the pros and cons of modeling one piece of the LV for the other, so you guys can see all the supporting data I keep referring to. Next blog post, I promise!
And finally, we have David Keith sharing his take on the situation with me -
     "When I'm not working on a significant project, my mind wonders. The wondering keeps me from working on a real project. It seems like you've let your fire go out. There is only one way to get the fire going again, stoke it! That is to work at it repeatedly. So if you want to be "Lehigh Valley Harbor Terminal Railway", then start repeatedly doing something towards it. If you’re "DONE", then pick what's next and start stoking. The in-between place is not good...I can tell you. The people I know with great layouts repeatedly work at keeping the fire."
     So, am I getting boring by saying I agree with David, too, at least to a certain point, that is? More specifically, I get what you are saying, David.
    I only have to look at two of my friends in particular, even though they are separated by WHY they are driven to work on their layouts. Again, without naming names, the outcome is the same - they stay "involved" for lack of a better term, with their layouts and it shows. It doesn't matter WHAT drives them, it's that they stay driven. The important part of that is two fold - First, your operators (and guests, especially if they visit semi-regularly) want to see what you've been up to! It's just human nature, and the thing that draws most of us to the hobby in the first place. That, and your operators will (or at least SHOULD) care that you've been "workin' on the railroad"! If things need fixing, you SHOULD be fixing them! And that leads to the other part, OPERATION. You can't operate reliably if the layout needs fixing, and that is the #1 fastest way to anger your crew, and then you WILL have the problem of attracting crews. In my book, you shouldn't just work on the layout because you want to be noticed - there should ALWAYS be a goal, no matter how big or small. I have always believed that if you WANT to make the time for something, you WILL make the time (within reason, of course). My problem is that I have always been a procrastinator (it'll still be there later!), and sometimes, what happens is it's ISN'T still there when you decide that enough is enough. I can't change my stripes, but you ARE right David, if I really want to stoke the fire, I damn well should do it!
     My problem is that I enjoy planning (and collecting) data on things, sometimes on multiple things (currently doing so for both layout projects), and while that can cause "paralysis by analysis", I don't think that applies here. In fact, it's the opposite, or at least I think so. I am gathering some much data for a REALLY GOOD version (or so I think so!) for the West End Branch (data that I have never been able to collect for the layout I currently have), so much so that it makes me constantly think about wanting to do the "big switch" more often than not. Is that bordom speaking, regret, or a shift in modeling priorities? And then we go back to my response to Joe.......Oh, the humanity!
     And as with Rhett, David shared his blog with us at  - - I'm looking forward to seeing some more S Scale modeling!
     So, I guess that's about it for now, and hopefully not only have I addressed everyone's comments, but also generated some good counter discussion in the process. Time will tell if I'll receive some more responses, and I'll follow up much like I did with these in a future blog post. In the meantime, there have been some similar responses on my new Facebook group page at - - Which I need to attend to as well, so if you're a Facebook'er, please join in the discussion!
Green signals ahead,


Friday, March 6, 2015

Model Railroading Is Fun?

Well, that's what they keep telling me, at least. It's been almost two years since I have had an op session, and sometimes,  I wonder if the layout will ever run again in its current incarnation. No, this is not a pitty party, but rather an honest assessment of my personal interest in the piece of the LVRR that I have chosen to model, my financial situation (both current and expected), and my modeling priorities. Now before we go ANY further, I feel obligated to put forth a word of warning..... Due to not having blogged in a while, this is gonna be a long one, but I think it'll be worth sticking around to read, IMNSHO........

So let's get started......Now I want it be so noted that I have PLENTY of friends willing to pitch in and help work (and operate) the layout, so it's not like I am left all alone to tackle the whole thing on my own, and besides, they CONSTANTLY ask when the next work session is, and/or what I'm planning on getting done so that they CAN come over and operate. So, lack of interest by my "crew" is NOT the issue, but rather where my priorities at home (or more importantly, in the basement) are. I've been to plenty of op sessions, I've been to RPM meets, and I've also been playing out a LOT with my band, which honestly, takes up a good deal of my time, effort, and finances. There's that damn "F" word again......

I love model railroading, and always will - And it's not like I don't go down to the basement and turn it on every once in a while to roll some cars around and also plan operational "stuff" in my spare time (ie: at work) and check out eBay for the latest LVRR items (models, but mostly prototype stuff for future reference). I am also firmly commited to modeling the LVRR, and to modeling it in HO scale in the timeframe of 1950 to 1960 (but as close to 1951 as possible), and a layout designed/themed to be industrial/semi industrial in nature, with lots of switching (no mainline running). The change in any of those "given and druthers" would be a cost I'm not willing and/or able to finance, and besides, it's what I like most about model railroading, so none of that is a reason for my "modeling malaise". Let me explain a little further if I may......

What I am stuggling with is, is what Lance Mindheim has spoken about on why layouts can/might fail, on his blog at in a post about the "Three-Headed Monster" on his blog........Now, as Lance describes the "monster", what I am really doing battle with is only one of those three heads he describes, that being the "too complex of a design" head. Now, it's not that the layout plan doesn't work, or so my guys have told me. I DO have a very, for lack of a better term, involved ops plan AND involved track plan, due to the fact that this is a terminal switching layout with carfloats, yards, sub yards, multiple freight houses, a wye, multiple diamond crossings, etc, etc. If you aren't familiar with the "lay of the land" (and I don't blame you if you aren't), you can see a crude "line diagram" of a track plan I drew up in this image link -!/photo.php?fbid=10203935336368696&set=gm.661810710608539&type=1&theater (Blogspot was giving me problems posting this within the blog directly, so hopefully this link works)

It's enough layout (20x11 ft, give or take) to keep at least ten guys busy, and as I said above, finding them is, or at least so far, has not been an issue. The issue I keep running into is that this layout, to me at least, that it became too much to easily set up, and to enjoy by operating by myself WITHOUT a full crew to run it. Notice I did not say not too much to maintain, but rather to set up for an op session. I consider myself a rather seasoned model railroader, so I've encountered many solutions to setting up operations, and I also like to read A LOT, so I have all those good operations magazines and books (Model Railroader's MRP annual, OpSIG The Dispatchers Office, LDSIG LDJ, etc)  to draw upon for ideas. With that being said however, part of me hankers for something a little simpler (though no less realistic and involved operationally), much like what Trevor Marshall talks about over on his Port Rowan blog at - Trevor's simple, smart and very realistic layout has given me a lot to think about, and if I was just starting out, I'd go that route. Ah, that old hindsight being 20/20 conundrum......

Now, my friend Dave Ramos ( who has a very similar layout (both in size and theme) has encountered similar ops setup problems, in that the nature of our layouts (industrial switching fed by active staging) sucks up a LOT of cars, and the paperwork that goes along with them. Now, while Dave has been successfully operating for at least five years now, he still has these issues, regardless of how finely tuned his ops plan is, and continues to be tweaked where needed, simply because of the intensity of the operation. It's not a huge layout (it fills the perimeter and center of a roughly 20x22 basement, taking in consideration for bathroom and utility room walls), and the goal, much like mine, is to simulate a busy operation, which it does very well. I feel that Dave's ops plan that he has researched and put into place works great, and I aim to emulate what he's learned works (and what doesn't!), so when I DO get back up and running, I'll have a solid base to work from. Now, Dave's (and mine) layout designs are not for everyone mind you (you don't watch trains run thru "pretty scenery" and all you pretty much do is switch cars. A LOT!), though most people who have guest operated Dave's layout walk away having had a LOT of fun (and even want to come back for seconds, too!), and he also has no problem attracting a regular crew of about fifteen guys jsut about every month. So that being said, I have his help AND experience to draw upon, but..........

The other issue I have, and this is one that is mine and mine alone, is how to explain to my crews (both regular, but more importantly, the guests), on how I want the layout to be operated. Initially, my instructions were TOO much and TOO wordy, so I "de-information overloaded" all those instructions, and while it helped, it still isn't quite the way I envisioned it to be, because in my mind, if I didn't provide all those detailed instructions, the guys wouldn't, and thus didn't know what was required of them to operate the layout the way I envisioned it being operated. Now, I understand that the way the prototype did things is NOT always easily scaled down, and that the "model railroad way" is sometimes the better, or at least easier, solution to acomplishing a job. And I also realize that my guys are smart enough (OK, MOST of them are, LOL) to figure out what needs doing. As long as car #1 goes from Point A to Point B before it goes to Point C, we're on the right track, so to speak.
So now that I've talked about the "why's", what is my solution? Well, that's where things get interesting....

Long story short, I encountered a internet forum thread on an other part of the LVRR, full of pictures and experiences (from both local railfans and former railroaders perspectives) that provided me a full-on database of reference material to draw from for modeling the  LVRR's West End Branch in Allentown, Pennsylvania. On top of that, a well writeen and researched capule history written by David Latshaw in the Lehigh County Historical Society's yearly proceedings, I now had everything I needed to know about this part of the LVRR. It's "design" has EVERYTHING I want in a layout - industrial switching, a simple track plan, urban and (at least in 1951) rural settings, and best of all, I could run it by myself without a crew, or operate it with up to at least five other people. I could reuse almost everything I have now - layout table footprint, engines and rollingstock, track, and in the end, less of all of those things that I need now! I mean, in just my main float yard alone, which measures approximately 12 feet long by 2 feet wide, there are approximately over 56 turnouts, and that's not even taking into consideration the rest of the layout! A finished (albeit still selectively compressed) West End Branch layout would contain roughly only the same amound of turnouts for the entire layout, and that to me is a VERY attractive proposition, considering I can reuse many of them, while at the same time eliminating three way and double slip turnouts currently being used in places. I can also get some nice scenery in (I have to admit, it is something I miss about modeling downtown Jersey City), and still have every kind of train operation that I have now (sans carfloating, obviously), so what am I really losing in the end? And I even did a full "compare and contrast" analysis of it for the last Valley Forge Pennsylvania RPM meet, which I will work on getting posted here ASAP, following this blog entry, for your viewing pleasure. So in the end, to redo, or NOT to redo, THAT is the question......

What has always kept me from making the change was time, money, and as I have told my friends who have helped me build the layout thus far, is that I feel I would be dismissing all their hard work that they selflessly put in to get me here. Now, they tell me to do what will make me happy, and that they don't, or won't, feel "slighted" in the least, so I guess I have to decide that on my own. Oh, that and that I myself sometimes feel that I haven't given the layout it's "due", so to speak. Am I wrong? I dunno, but I think it does speak volumes that I can't make up my mind what I want to do! The "fear" of starting over is not an issue, though I AM concerned that my lack of "work ethic" will put operating behind that much more......So, why NOT stick with what I have and just refine it? Oh, the possibilities.....

So that's where I stand with things. I know I can read magazine articles on layout designs and personal blogs for ideas until the cows come home, but in the end, it's my decision alone to make, and all the suggestions in the world don't mean diddly. So why can't I make one?

I hope to hear everyone's thoughts, weather you're just kidding around (you know who you are!) or 100% serious.

As always, thanks for reading, and I hope you're still awake,

Ralph, aka "The Commodore"

**UPDATE - Since I began writing this almost a week ago, I recently found that the hot water heater in the basement is on it's way out, NOT to mention, the water meter needs replacing (as per the water company), so room must be made (and that means stuff piled ON and AROUND the layout) to allow things to be manhandled around the basement, so even if I wanted to, nothing will be happeneing until that "project" is completed, most likely at the end of March. I have however talked to Dave about working on setting up the layouts car forwarding database, so at least that work will get done (assuming I stick with the current "theme"), and at least we'll be ahead of things in that regard.