Why Build Such a Complex Layout?

Posted on August 19th, 2013, by Michael Rountree

Recently, a forum thread at Nscale.net was begun, asking the question of why we bother with large layouts and complex trackwork, such as a big rail yard. The thread originator wondered whether we might be just as happy with a mainline loop and compelling scenery. Personally, I have given thought to the notion of a smaller layout footprint, as it might be something achievable within a shorter timeframe, and could exhibit rolling trains far sooner than my languishing Winchester Division. But here is what I had to say on that forum:

So many times, I look on these here fora and find such nice examples of small layouts that feature a continuous-run loop, and I get a touch of envy. The layout that I am working on at home is big, it’s shelf-style, and it won’t be able to support continuous running until it’s done, or at least the track is done. That puts me several years out from being able to just launch one into orbit and enjoy its progress. In the meanwhile, I’m laden down with all the trackwork and wiring and turnout-tweaking to achieve the big yards and industries along the way. And I have, many times now, given serious thought to either abandoning the large layout concept, or delaying it for a while, as I shift gears into small-loop-mode.

What keeps drawing me back to the big layout, though, is the real reason why I’m doing it all in the first place, and that is because I really want to tell the full story of the Winchester, Paston, and Portsmouth. Skimping on the layout plan would, to me, feel like I am not doing justice to the vision in my head. And I am the only person on this planet with this particular vision! There’s nobody else out there to tell a better WP&P story than I can. All I have completed thus far is a staging yard and the town of Winchester… yet just that much is actually enough to be considered a functional layout in its own right. I can tell at least half of the WP&P story now, as I can receive and dispatch traffic from afar, and break down or build up trains in the yard. It would just be in and out of the yard, but for some that is enough; I’ve got enough staging to keep things lively.

Yet, I realize that yard operations are not really what I’m all about, either. The yard exists because it plays a major role in the WP&P story, and to complete that story I need the other elements as well. I need the single track mainline through small Appalachian towns. I need the looming coal mines and conveyor belts. I need the B&O interchange, and the Potomac River (South Branch actually). And ultimately, I need the completed loop, so that trains can flow from staging to staging. When I get to that point, then I have the intermix of trundling mine turns that do their work amidst a parade of merchandise, and a yard that is visibly split in two because it serves those two distinct roles. I’m telling the story of a road that is something of a split personality – half forlorn, bankrupt branch line, and half urgent Class 1. It’s also half fictional, half prototype.

So the yard, the mine, the bridges, the mountains, the stream, the highway, the paint schemes, the balance of all these elements, it’s all necessary to the ultimate WP&P story. Some elements I might actually like more than others… for instance, I’d love to have a much larger and taller bridge somewhere, across a floor-to-ceiling chasm, but that just wouldn’t be right for the story I’m trying to tell. I am impelled, by my personal vision for this route, to do it right. And I might in fact end up with a spur I never switch. I’m okay with that.

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