Monday, June 22, 2009

Layout Design

This is another in the series of retrospectives to catch up to current status.

General Layout Planning

I really enjoy looking at layout plans. I have been doing it since the 1960's through the commercial press. In 1996 at the NMRA Convention in Long Beach, I discovered the Layout Design Special Interest Group (LDSIG)and became a member. Besides meeting a lot of great people that have the same passion for layout designs, I have gotten a lot of design assistance. The LDSIG website has a layout design primer with all sorts of suggestions. It is a place where you can put up possible designs for review and receive comments that might help. You can also post progress on your own layout projects in the post design stage.
The LDSIG also is very active in my area having several meetings annually at regional meets and a dedicated SIG meet in Santa Clara. The LDSIG always has a presence at the NMRA national conventions and it is always the high point of conventions for me to participate in these activities, including tours, clinics, displays, consultations, and just good conversations with fellow members. Somewhere along the way I became aware of the need to design for operations and so joined the Operations Special Interest Group (OpSIG) which also has an excellent website to support another beneficial organization.

Kalmbach started publishing Model Railroad Planning as a special annual in 1995. I have and read all of them. Many LDSIG members have had articles published within its covers and MRP has highlighted the LDSIG on several occassions. It is an invaluable source of information and inspiration.

I had the space, even if it was filling up with stuff, from the time we moved into the house. The big problem was what to put into it. To try and decide on that I read about layout design and visited other layouts. I tried to operate as much as possible to determine what I enjoyed doing most and to see how other layout designs functioned. I am very fortunate to live nearby Gary Siegel's L&N EK Division of the problems with Gary's layout is that it is large and well done so it becomes somewhat intimidating. But it is wonderful to operate on and to learn from. Gary has the ability to plan his railroads in his head and then execute the plan to create amazing views and prototypical operational capability. I think it comes from years of study.

At first I was considering a freelance railroad and designed a railroad called the Carpinteria, Cambria and Northern. It ran up the California Central Coast from Carpinteria to above Cambria where it crossed over the Coast Range to connect with the Southern Pacific at San Miguel. It included several locations and routes that would never have been served by a railroad because of terrain but it was fun to think about. Somewhere I may have some of the old plans I did on Empire Express, a good planning tool for MACs, but basically the CC&N has all but disappeared. I think there are still some CC&N entries in the OpSIG Industry Database.

As I did more research into what I wanted to do, I kept coming back to the Southern Pacific Railroad. It was the railroad I remembered while growing up and it was the railroad that ran along the section I wanted to model including two blocks away from home. So somewhere in the distant past I joined the Southern Pacific Historical and Technical Society (SPH&TS) [ ] and have enjoyed another sector of our wonderful hobby. Attending SPH&TS meets over the past 12 years has been very beneficial to my planning. My appetite for published material on the Southern Pacific has spawned a massive library of books, timetables, brochures and other ephemera. It is also another great way to delay building a layout. Here is a copy of a Coast Division Map found on the back of the old timetables, to which I have added the route of my proposed and now under construction layout:


One of the tools that I started using for my layout design was 3rd PlanIt ( I drew a blank from dimensions of the garage and used it to doodle on. I also gave them to friends and they doodled as well. Here is the blank. Feel free to doodle on your own if you wish but keep in mind that I am already well into construction so it is just an academic exercise. I do recommend doing this for your own design. As you will see below there are lots of designs that could fit into the space.
I did ask some of my friends to give me some ideas by drawing some plans in the available space. Jon Cure, who has a wonderful Southern Pacific layout on a slightly freelanced Inyo Subdivision ( ) grew up in Santa Barbara and has a good feel for traffic patterns along the Coast. He submitted this interesting plan:
Walter Naumann, who built a freelanced UP layout in his carved-out-of-the-hillside basement, submitted a mushroom design:
Here are the designs I came up with that I thought I wanted to try. This is just the lower level. There were plans to have three levels! The second level would have Lompoc where Carpinteria is on the first level with the wye at Surf over the curve just beyond Summerland on the first level. I doodled some ideas of having modules extend out into the driveway above the plan [Carpinteria is in the open garage door.] make a loop and come back into the garage at the second level. There was to be a staging yard underneath in a sliding drawer as used by John Signor as well as the Silicon Valley Lines club in San Jose. The third level would take me over Cuesta above San Luis Obispo and end at San Miguel before returning back down via a massive helix.
There were at least three major problems with this plan - three “blobs”, outside operation, a blocked back door, and complicated benchwork for the upper decks. I decided to attack the blobs first and put out a request for help to some of my friends.
Here is Mike O'Brien's idea:
Here is Gary Siegel's rough sketches:

I kept looking at everything and tried to figure out how to fit it all in. Then I found something else. I have another friend, Byron Henderson, who as the former Layout Design Journal editor helped me along with publishing several articles. Byron is active with the LDSIG and he and I have a friendly competition to see who gets their model railroad up and running first. We are both still working on it. Byron has a great blog at and provides professional design services through Model Rail Services Byron Henderson wrote an article in Model Railroad Planning 2004 about the "X-FactorStaging". The idea appealed to me and looked like it might fit into my plan. You can see the layout Byron used at Byron's N-scale design is actually just an oval with two branches and the X-factor staging behind the branches. I took Jon's plan and flipped it over, added Byron's idea and came up with the following plan:

It looked like it would work but I was not real pleased with the tight curves in the Santa Barbara yard. Someone, and I am sorry I forgot who it was, suggested I move the yard to the outside of the curve. I did that and the "final" plan looks more like this:
Well that is it for this edition. Next time we will talk about benchwork and "Thin Walls"

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