One Industry Wonder
Many modelers do not have a lot of space for their model railroads. While expanding the garage, or adding on is an option, money is still a factor that will drive most away from expanding. While every modeler has a dream railroad, many modelers may never see that day when they're behind the throttle of a long train inside a thousand square foot room due to a variety of reasons; lack of space, lack of time, lack of money, other members of the family, too much maintenance, the list goes on. So rather than wait for an opportunity, modelers instead, search for other options.
Enter the realm of the micro train layout. Ever since the birth of the hobby, modelers have strove for two things; really small or really big. Modelers who went large went for large rooms, separate buildings, or formed clubs where everyone's assets could be pooled so no one man had to bear the entire burden of finances and maintenance involved with owning a large railroad. Modelers who went small figured out how to maximize space for the trains, movement within the room, and other activities. Over time, such a philosophy of modeling in the space available evolved into the micro train layout hobby. This idea even went further, and today there are contests to see who can make the smallest layout possible.
The modern micro train layout was described by the late Carl Arendt. Mr. Arendt came up with a great definition of a micro layout after viewing others' small works of model railroading, and building his share of micro layouts as well. Carl's website, carendt.com, has been maintained by others since Carl's passing. In that site, I found the best definition of a micro train layout:
"Micro layouts are small model railroads, usually less than three or four square feet in area, that nonetheless have a clear purpose and excellent operating capability." –Carl Arendt
One specific design on Carl's site is the tuning fork layout. A tuning fork, for those who don't know, is an instrument where two tongs vibrate, and the vibration makes a noise. For the less music-savvy readers, think of a steak knife with two prongs. The track plan follows the same idea, two spurs connected by one switch and tail track. The beauty of this set up is simplicity and prototype accuracy. In real life, there are many industries that have a spur on a branch line and the mainline, or require an extra siding if the industry is isolated and far from other rail lines.
These situations can be found all over the country and world, so this particular design lends itself well to the prototype. Gravel, mining, logging, other industrial, dockside, roadside transfer, grain elevators, coal depots, fuel depots, warehouses, just about any industry or industry type can be placed in a model where one or two spurs supply an industry. For an example, let's focus on something that is straightforward, yet versatile and unique; warehousing.
Warehouses are found everywhere, and handle nearly all types of freight. On top of this, warehouses also have several doors in most situations, which allow a series of cars to be unloaded and loaded. Combine this with cars being loaded and unloaded at the same time, and the need for additional cars and/or swap-outs, an operator can have a nice session doing nothing more than working a true-to-prototype puzzle.
The way I see it, there are two basic designs that can be used with a one switch layout serving a warehouse; 1, one spur services the warehouse and the other spur acts as a staging yard, or 2, one spur serves one warehouse, the other spur serves the another warehouse, or services an outdoor transfer for large objects like generators, tractors, combines, wind turbines, anything large that's moved by rail. As I had stated earlier, this design is versatile and a surprising amount of interest can be incorporated into the design.
In HO scale, this plan can be made into a micro layout, however the tracks would be very short, and would have limited capacity. To stay around 4 square feet, yet maximizing the track length, a layout would have to be about 8" wide and 72" (6 feet) long. Each spur track would have to be around 3 feet in length in order to allow enough room for the tail track. This is doable, but to me this isn't optimal. Thankfully, most modelers don't need to go this small. In HO scale, 8 feet of wall space, or a wall in the garage would be perfectly suited to this design.
If really short on space, this design and the size requirement meet in a near perfect harmony when in N scale. the same 6 feet of length, with spurs at around 3 feet in length, would hold about ten 40' boxcars, and could hold about nine 50' box cars, and would hold around seven 60' box cars. For an added challenge, an overhang or other necessary object can be hung from the roof of the warehouse, track side, and hangs over the track. If set at a minimum height, then hi-cube box cars and large objects couldn't go past a certain point. This type of obstruction, while not common, can't be called rare either. Such a situation, from an operators standpoint, can be both a challenge and a headache. Ultimately, it's up to the modeler to decide if such restrictions would help or hinder operations. One thing can be certain, however, that adding obstacles such as this complexes the operation of the layout.
While talking about an industry is fun to some (me), and talking about design is something we all do, it isn't the most exciting, so let's look at a few prototype photos for inspiration. Below are several photos of a warehouse in Brookings, SD known as The Crossroads Center. The warehouse had ten doors, each separated by 80-100 feet. In HO, an exact model of the track-side of the building would be around 10 feet in length. In N scale, this building is a bit more manageable at around 5.5 feet in length. If a spur track is to be this long, the tail track needs to be nearly as long in order to provide adequate room to shunt cars on the layout. In HO, we would be looking at about a 16-18 foot long layout, and we would be looking for about 8-9 feet in N scale.
Looking to the left, the set up can be seen as simple. One track serves the industry, and another track on the model would serve as staging or the mainline.
Try to count all the doors, there should be 10 of them. Each door has a concrete platform that sticks out which allows unloading crews to access the loads inside the box cars easily. Metal ramps, boards, and other methods of creating a ramp have been used in warehouses so that forklifts can access the boxcars and haul out large objects with ease.
This photo shows the side of the building where the tracks curve off and connect to the mainline. In this particular case, the mainline would be used as another spur, the switcher would shunt cars from the mainline to the industry and vice-verse. If wanting to model something with even more interest than a simple warehouse, another spur can be added to run parallel to the tracks in place currently. Then another warehouse, or an outdoor unloading ramp could be used for large pieces of equipment.
The map above illustrates the approximate layout of the warehouse and spur track. the white text box has a line drawn in which is roughly 200 ft, making the radius of the track somewhere between 500-600 feet, plenty big for a spur. This track immediately joins a mainline which runs through he town of Brookings. While this prototype lacks a second spur, the design can be modified to be more operational such as the diagram below.
While the prototype that I chose is far from glorious, the warehouse does offer a multitude of places to expand, and make the industry more interesting than it would appear. Modelers generally have one of two things that help us, attention to detail, and/or a sense of humor. In photo 3, windows to the warehouse office overlook the tracks, so office workers could be placed in a scene inside the building on the model. Each door can have a different scene altogether, and each scene is hidden and uncovered depending on how rail cars are placed. Ten doors means ten scenes that can be added. To keep with some variety, each door doesn't have to have a unique, funny, or weird scene, but I'd recommend adding at least a couple attention-grabbing scenes in the transfer doors.
Rail cars have a nice opportunity on this layout to be shown off. The best modeled train cars, the most beaten up, the most covered in graffiti, the most unique all have a place with this type of industry. If wanting to model a more urban environment, include a lot of trash. plastic bags, broken boxes, shattered crates, pieces of lumber, old tires, oil drums, tool boxes, hoses, shovels, picks, anything that could be considered junk can be included in the scene. Another big detail that is often overlooked is the sign. Photo one shows a large sign with the company name. On a model, modelers can simply reproduce the sign to be accurate, or modelers can take this opportunity to do something unique. Instead of a simple company sign, a pun, or a play on words can be used on the sign which would grab attention. This is especially helpful when the modeler has an audience to capture and intrigue.
On our models, it is hard to avoid showing the roofs of all the houses. For most of us, we don't like an eye-level layout because of the maintenance issues, however we usually compromise with something that stands between waist and chest level. Since the roofs will be seen, might as well make the most out of the space. A detailed roof can be intriguing because it isn't often that the public sees the roof of a large building, so the variety of shiny exhausts, ducts, and vents can look interesting. Not to mention that in addition to the normal roof details, another scene could be added on the roof of a pair of workers doing some antics while on break.
As I said, there is a lot to offer from such a simple industry.
Now for an example of what this industry would look like as a switching layout:
Above is a rough representation of a switching layout. The layout length would vary depending on the scale, but we shall assume HO or N scale is being used. For N scale, this layout would be only about 4-5 feet long and maybe only 8 inches wide. in HO scale, this is about 6-7 feet in length, but could manage on a 12 inch deep shelf. To make the layout somewhat interesting to operate, each spur would hold approximately four cars. Numbers 1,2, and 3 each have a door next to them that a car would have to be positioned at so the car could be worked. On top of this, if the goal was to arrange the cars at each door in a certain order, just like the real world, then this simple shelf becomes much more. After a few months, this might seem a bit boring (at least it would to me) but with something this cheap and small, most people wouldn't be too upset to move on to something else. This layout does exactly the job it's selected for, to entertain for the short term and/or provide a working model railroad in a small space that is both realistic and easy to create. If wanting to display your models at a train show, this model railroad would work great because of it's simplicity, and smaller size. Both add to the portability of the layout.
If prototypical realism is the main goal, the design such as the one below works beautifully.
Above is what this layout design would look like, but expanded to incorporate more of the scene and be more prototypical. In fact, the only prototypical change to this design is that the warehouse sits outside the curve of the spur, rather than on the inside which is where the layout edge is. To make the layout interesting, the warehouse could be positioned at the edge of the fascia with an open back, allowing interesting scenes to be taking place inside the building. The first spur track which serves the warehouse would hold 10 rail cars on the straight away plus about 5 more through the curve. The second spur may hold 7-8 cars, but would certainly hold enough to allow for one set of incoming cars, or one set of outgoing cars during an operating session. The tail track should hold around 7 rail cars plus the locomotive. For N scale, this design would only be about 6 feet by 5 feet with a depth not exceeding 14". In N scale, this design would be great to allow for a lot of scenery with complete scenes.
For HO scale, this is more of a room-sized plan. Although this is a far cry from a micro layout, many modelers have the opportunity to build a low profile, low impact shelf layout such as this. The measurements would be about 10 feet by 8 feet. In a living room, normally sized bedroom, or in the corner of a garage, this layout would find it's niche.
A normal day of operations for the room-sized plan would go something like this:
Operating session length is about 20-30 minutes in length. Operator starts locomotive and picks up cars on the second spur (in the corner of the layout) and proceeds to work the industry, taking out cars that need to be shipped elsewhere, and replacing full cars with empties for loading on the first spur which serves the industry. After about 10 minutes of changing out the cars, a new set comes into the layout, this time the cars are full of goods that came through with the daily local freight. The engine again switches cars, but only rearranges them instead to taking cars off the layout. Towards the end of the day, cars that were unloaded are taken out, plus any cars the warehouse got around to loading and filing paperwork related to the loaded cars. The engine then takes those empties and one or two full cars and places them on the second spur.
All movements must be done by moving a minimum amount of parked cars so that the loading crews in the warehouse have the best chance to load the cars. Loaded cars needing to be emptied may be placed farther down the spur to doors 6-10 while empty cars might be placed in doors 1-5. Doors can be assigned to each car that is incoming, while cars that are outgoing must either be left alone as much as possible, or are scheduled to be taken out. The warehouse tells the crew where to place cars along the warehouse.
While the operations require thinking a few moves ahead, the session is not too terribly hard to complete because of all the extra track space. What makes the operating session fun but long enough to be interesting is the sheer number of cars that may need to be switched. This particular industry might only need service two days a week, or may need service seven days a week. That's really up to the operator to decide.