Thursday, August 23, 2012

Prototype or Freelance?

I have always enjoyed the Gunnison/Crested Butte area of Colorado.  The mountains that surround Crested Butte are amazing.  In fact Kebler Pass has the largest aspen grove in the world.  So when it came time to design a prototype track plan for my Sn3 layout I decided on Gunnison.  Since my old layout was double decked, I kept that design for the new one.  While It's true that most double decked layouts have narrow sight lines and scenery can be compromised, the trade off is I get twice as much main line to operate.  So for me it's worth it. 
Since the Gunnison valley is mostly flat, it's a good fit for a layout on two levels.  I can model the valley floor and paint the mountains on the backdrop.  Also, with the exception of the K-36, every class of motive power ran into Gunnison in the early 1940's.  A K-37 could be found right next to a C-16.
So after researching the track alignment and doing some on location photography, I began designing the layout.  Gunnison yard would be on the lower level while I'd model a portion of the Crested Butte branch on the upper level.  So after 1 1/2 years, after I had rebuilt my old helix, handlaid the upper level and most of the yard, I had an impromptu operating session.  It was then that I realized how little main line running there was since the yard took up most of the lower level.
After a bit of re-designing in my head (I've never been one to draw on paper), I decided to only model the western half of Gunnison since it would give me more running room.  Fast forward 6 months; after another impromptu operating session, there were too many logistical problems with the yard.  I needed another siding.  But, it wouldn't be prototype...
The main issue was that I was trying to model too much of the prototype in too small of space.  While I could have picked a smaller area to model, I enjoy operations with a few friends over.  So I made the dreaded decision to freelance the layout instead.  This way I can model my favorite scenes instead of being tied down to one area of the D&RGW.  I have found that building a hardnosed prototype layout has taken away a lot of the joy the hobby can provide.  Now I can model what I want, I mean, it is my basement...
I like the early 1940's because I can model both the Moffat herald and well as the Flying Grande.  So Gunnison went away, besides I like K-36s.  I am now modeling a scaled down version of Chama with a branch line that resembles the Baldwin branch.
I'm pretty satisfied with the plan I've come up with as it can entertain 3-4 operators for a few hours.  There are two staging yards, one for Montrose and one for Alamosa.  A total of 10 trains make up an Op session, three from each staging yard and up to four on the branch.  The upper level also can have continous running. 
I've named the entire railroad after our dearly departed Golden Retreiver, Jake.  The Jakes Creek Branch.   I've also named all of the towns, etc. after members of the family.  Chama yard is now Elizabethtown, Baldwin is now St. Anne.  Theres a large stamp mill operation named after my wife (Queen of the West) and what was the Smith Hill mine north of Crested Butte is now named after my son Brian. 
I'm having a lot more fun now building structures, etc. from all over the Rio Grande narrow gauge system. I'll try to post a track plan soon.  Until then...


  1. I have a theory. I believe model railroading is, among other enjoyments, a method of telling a story. We build models because we either want to tell a story or we want to connect to a story that has already been told – in the form of history. Every model has a story. A layout is a storybook. No, it isn’t a story of words or narration in the sense that you would experience if you read a book, watched a play, or saw in a movie. It is more of a story like you would experience in a looking at a painting or drawing. In some ways the story is very individualized by the viewers reaction to it. In other ways it is very nostalgic in its connection to history or more correctly one’s interpretation or understanding of history.

    Let me see if I can provide a few examples;

    John Allan was a great storyteller with the use of models. He made his HO scale figures himself out of wax and visitors would find on occasion the figure of a man hanging from a trestle! As in Dead. Well, everyone figured there was a story there and when it was explained with the simple reply that he was a diesel salesman the story became pretty clear – especially after gazing around the Gorre & Dapheted (sic?) property – all steam!

    If you happened to model the C&S in the 1920s and you build a boxcar faithfully to no. 7722 you would have a 30-foot car with the faded Block Herald lettering on it. When someone who knew a little of the history saw that car sitting on your layout they would see not just a nice model. They would also find an immediate connection to a prototype car, long gone, that was built in 1898 for a previous owner of the railroad (the Union Pacific Denver & Gulf). The UPD&G originally numbered the car as 6500. The viewer might also understand that it was built as a 28’ car and at some point, shortly after the TOC, it was relettered Colorado & Southern RY. In the interim between 1898 and 1920 it was rebuilt into a 30’ car. It also went thru a couple of Federal Mandates by means of the United States Safety Appliances acts that modernized the car. All of that from a single model not even 6” long.

    Now lets say you build a portion of your layout that depicts the Alpine Tunnel and the Palisades. You build these scenes because you are enamored with the fabulous rockwork, incredible scenery, and most of all, a deep appreciation and astonishment for what it took the men who designed and built these things to do them. Now you have a visual representation of this incredible feat – a monument if you will. Within the bounds of your layout is the entire story of that accomplishment – whether any viewer understands anything about it or not! You’ve made a tangible connection to the history of that railroad. A story.

    Suppose then you run a train thru the tunnel and over the Palisades and in that train is your 1920s version of Boxcar 7722. Well! You just told a lie in your story! You will know it – or you should – and if anyone else knows the story and sees you do it they will know it too. What you feel you have to do now is either repent and promise never to do that again OR make up a reason why you did that! In making up your reason that it now becomes your story. But it is still a story!

    end part 1

  2. Begin part 2

    There is nothing wrong with telling lies on your layout or in your models. They are your creation and your connection to, or telling of, a story that you are compelled to tell. No one has any grounds or right to criticize you or your modeling enjoyment or the story you intend to tell or connect to; especially if you do it with cognizance and deliberation.

    I think Jakes Creek is fabulous – even if it does represent the Evil Empire – now there’s a story. I think it is quite clever to adjust the story, as you have, in order to rectify the “lies” you were faced with in keeping it the Gunnison to Crested Butte line. But so far as I’m concerned you didn’t have to. I don’t have any opinion (nor the right to condemn) against the wonderful work you have done. In fact I think it is wonderful that you’ve found a way to enjoy all that you appreciate about the prototype and yet keep aspects of the hobby that are important to you.

    I think the only issue I have when a lie occurs in a prototype model or layout is when it is done accidentally, without realizing it. I am most concerned about this in my own work and efforts but it does get my attention when others do it. Not that I hold them to some level of disrespect – it’s just a hobby. Not at all. The issue is a matter of intent. Telling a lie unintentional isn’t really lying in a punitive sense – it’s just embarrassing - so it is more likely that “I feel for ya”! Telling a lie intentionally (in your modeling) is more along the lines of “telling for effect”! And that I admire!