Monday, September 24, 2018

The Winds of Change Are Blowing update.

To quote John Steinbeck 

“The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”

This can be applied to my layout as with many other's I'm sure. Over the weekend I had several enjoyable and informative chats with a number of modelers in regards to my layout and the issues I'm trying to deal with regarding my operations on The Little Rock.

I've always read about modeled operations, but never had many opportunities to experience it first hand on a layout that was built and designed for it, small or large. Needless to say it's always intrigued me. So from the beginning, I designed my layout for operations because I knew sooner or later I would become disenchanted watching my trains running circles. Even though I didn't fully understand what was all involved with operations or how it was suppose to work completely, I did my best. 

Over the last few years since getting the layout up and running my Ops have been in constant change.  I've found myself tweaking this and that, adjusting the track arrangements or adding or combining trains for easier car movements. The last several sessions we've had has been a pleasure to run and things have actually went pretty I can say that I've learned a lot since the first session. 

Recently though I feel like things have gotten a little out of control which has resulted in the feeling that I'm working for my layout and not the layout working for me. More work than fun. 

To quickly recap my original plans and why I fell in love with the overall aspect of the The Little Rock Line. This line ran from Biddle Yard in Little Rock, AR south 146 miles to Alexandria, LA. Near the end of The Rock's existence, this portion of their Southern Division was set off as a semi-independent segment and labeled "The Little Rock" It had its own Profit-Loss accounting, locomotive fleet and management team. Thus given greater flexibility and the latter did not have to rely solely upon the home office for sales, maintenance or operating decisions.

There was one local that worked the entire line. It ran six days a week, running south on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays as train #773 and would return on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays as #774. Sharing the rails with the local were two scheduled night freights #34 & #35.

To me, there was always something enchanting about seeing a short train trundling along at a snail's pace over a pair of rails half obscured with weeds.  Maybe a couple of first generation diesels on point with just a few cars in tow and a caboose bringing up the rear.  One of my childhood memories was on my grandparents farm, while taking a break from bailing hay on a hot summer afternoon, I heard the distant horns of a Chicago Northwestern local making its way to town past the hayfield.  Grandpa spoke up and said "Here comes the Tri-Weekly again".  Asking what he meant by that he replied "Well it's making its run today and will TRY to get back next week".  From then on, whenever I heard the Tri-weekly's horn, I'd jump on my bike and race to the crossing to see it wobbling down the tracks.

I think this was the reason I was drawn to the Little Rock?  Short trains, small power, and crappy track forcing them to roll at a reduced speed.

Over the last several years the layout has quickly moved away from a laid back kind of operation to that of a busy 1st class mainline.  The last session I had 22 trains scheduled to move in a 3-4 hour period.  This was done for several reasons, I wanted to see more train running, I wanted to make sure I had something to do for everyone that showed up to operate.  But in doing so this caused myself and a friend almost a week of evenings to get things cleaned up, cars staged and consists readied.  After the last session was over, only about 1/3rd of the scheduled trains actually ran.   Due primarily to the lack of crew that was able to make it.  This is why I said it felt more like work than fun.  After the session was over, the crews present and I decided that things needed to change.  

Since that last session I've chatted with several different modelers about operations, watched a ton videos on operations for small layouts and have made the decision to greatly reduce my operations. I plan to eliminate ten of the twelve through freights and detour trains.   As for the locals, I will move their base of operations from El Dorado yard back to the staging yard, I might even condense both trains into one trains that works the entire line in one session.  This will of course depend on the amount of time it takes.

I'll also keep the W&OV in Malvern and the ICG interchange as they are part of the layout for now.   If this works out, it'll be even less trains than I mentioned in the previous post. I'm pretty certain I can back things down to where just a one or two man crew can work the entire layout or at least sections of the layout easily.

The layout itself will stay intact with no physical modifications to it other than reworking the tracks in the staging yard.  I'm kind of thinking of tearing them up, cleaning it off and redoing the tracks with a much smaller yard and update it with better track and turnouts so that it's more reliable.

There's also a possibility with more room in the staging yard, I might be able to add an industrial scene.  This could also be ran as a separate mini layout by itself much like I've done with Malvern.

As I said in the earlier post, I want to run a few test sessions and see what I can do, what I want to do and how to go about improving things.


  1. Good move Allen. I think you have fallen into a trap lots of modelers have, too many trains trying to satisfy operators. You feel obliged to let everyone that comes to have a train to run.
    Not a good idea.
    Less is best. I solved that by my initial track plan and train timetable evolving after I went full DCC. It was much easier to manage the number of trains and the time they ran.
    Including a fast clock is a misnomer it should be a slow clock as once you set up your timetable you can then allocate a time for each train to run and then only a few guys actually get their hands on a throttle and slow the whole session down. Two man crews also work with car cards etc.
    On many of my ops session and I ran one on the last Friday of every month I would have 12 mates over.
    Once I moved to T/T and fast clock they all enjoyed it much better as well.
    To many cars on the layout is also a killer as it chokes yards.
    Have fun.

    1. Rod I'm pretty sure you are correct! I didn't even give this a thought but I can now see the trap you're referring to. I was trying to please everyone.

      Recently I was wanting to try this to see how it would work, but after some good phone calls and chats with others who have gone down this path I feel much more comfortable about the notion and am actually looking forward to it. Thanks for the input Rod. I might be calling on you with a few questions in time?

  2. Allen,
    I’m looking forward to seeing how you mix things up. Sometimes, less is more. Less stress, more enjoyment!

    1. So am I Karl. I've know about "Less is More" for a long time, but that's a good way to look at it! Which is exactly what I'm aiming for. I've got a dry run setup and ready to run shortly.