Layout Design

Having established the layout time and place, I gave some thought to track arrangement: how would the railroad serve the area? I’d already decided on suing a scenic divider to partition the layout into an ‘urban’ and ‘sawmill’ area, but I needed a track plan that was logical, fun to operate, and wouldn’t look like a bowl of spaghetti. Using a divider helps greatly for the latter, as a viewer can’t see all of the layout at once.

During the Research phase of the project, I bought nearly all of the roiling stock, save the locomotive. This wasn’t in the original plan, but the opportunity was there, so some $400 disappeared down the eBay rathole. Having actual models on hand helped in checking clearances and siding lengths. You can draw on paper all you want, but nothing is comparable to the actual model, and having rolling stock on hand helps create a sense that this could be a model railroad, rather than another carpentry project. The models also lend a sense of urgency: you want to have a place to run them.

Checking Siding Lengths.

A word about hobby shop v. internet shopping. In truth, the local hobby shop is invaluable. There is usually a ‘train guy’ with experience you don’t have, who is willing to talk at length about challenges you face. On the other hand, $22 for a turnout on a layout with 14 turnouts is outside of my budget. I’m trying to balance purchases so that the folks at the local hobby shop will talk to me, but I’m quite certain they know what the score is. As I get into the scenery phase of the railroad, I’ll be buying most of my supplies from the hobby shop, but for big-ticket items, I’m afraid it’s the Internet.

Because this is a switching layout, I decided not to reinvent the wheel. Many people more talented in layout design than I have come up with some very nice and challenging track arrangements over the decades, so it made sense to adapt some of those folks ideas.  Although I had divided the layout space into ‘urban’ and ‘sawmill’ halves, I was less concerned about specific industries than having a track arrangement that would be challenging and fun to operate. I figured I could supply thematic industries after the track plan was complete. Not the way the prototype does it, but consistent and plausible modeling goes a long way toward creating a convincing illusion.

Two of the more famous switching plans is the ‘Timesaver’, by the late layout wizard John Allen, and the ‘Inglenook’ arrangement  by Alan Wright. The Timesaver was pretty much a non-starter, because I’ve rarely read of anyone who built it who actually enjoyed it. I’m building the railroad for fun, not to be frustrated by a creation that’s going to take hundreds of hours and a fair amount of treasure to build. And I like the versatility and sublimity of the Inglenook. It’s simple, widely adaptable, and depending on the industries switched, can be enjoyably challenging.

For the urban section, I drew two Inglenooks back-to-back, and for the sawmill area, a modified version of the arrangement. I was careful to keep sidings in each ‘puzzle’ the correct ratio of 3-3-5 cars, so the functionality of the trackwork would be maintained. After that, is was a matter of connecting the pieces with sections of curved and straight track, throwing in an interchange track, and, done. Thanks, Mr. Wright. You saved me hours of doodling, and I may well have not come up with something as good.

Original Track Plan

This is the original track plan designed for the original 2′ x 4′ space. As is invariably the case, I modified it prior to committing track to table, and drew a ‘shop drawing’ with drafting instruments on 1/4″ graph paper, but I can’t seem to get a good copy of that version.

The gross arrangement is:

  • The entire ‘upper’ half of the layout will replicate the loading area and site services section of a sawmill. Material intake and milling are assumed to be ‘off layout’.
  • The spur at the upper right is the interchange track,
  • The ‘lower’ half will represent part of the waterfront and downtown area of Tacoma.
  • The left side is the modeled section of harbor, with a car float pier and a deck girder bridge carrying the track off through the divider.
  • The two shorter spurs on the right are a fuel dealer (coal and oil) and a team track.
  • The two longer spurs will be some sort of warehouse service, although I haven’t figured out exactly what.

I haven’t figured out exactly how to hide the divider openings. I’m leaning toward an elevated highway running the length of the table for the urban side. Photographs I’ve seen of Tacoma of that time don’t show such a structure, although Seattle does have one. This may be a case where practical need trumps historical accuracy. As for the other side, I’ll probably crowd the openings with structure/trees and call it good.

I mentioned modifications, and the final version had the following adjustments:

  • The interchange track was flopped over to the other end of the table.
  • Both of the crossings on the urban side were eliminated.
  • The layout size was increased to 2 1/2′ x 4′.

And that’s it. Now it’s time to do a little gandy dancing.


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