Thursday, January 5, 2017

Tring Subdivision - Choosing an Era

Nothing is more touchy than selecting a specific era. This is probably were the "I want it all" mentality kicks in the most.

In the case of the Tring Subdivision, two eras are possible. One that I would call pre-1968 which is the classic transition era with medium-sized steamers and early diesels in maroon & gray paint scheme. During that period, most old time railroad structures weren't yet demolished including water tanks, depots, icehouse and other similar ancilliary buildings.

Pre-1968 layout with turntables

The second era is the post-1968 full diesel era when CP Rail Multimark logo was implemented and QCR identity almost completely erased. With less structures and easier to get rolling stock, this era is quite straight forward to model. The attractive Multimark era is also a modeller's paradise for weathering and even then, the old CPR paint schemes did survived.

Post-1968 layout without turntables

While I based my first iteration on the post-1968 era, I wanted to see what would happen if I made a pre-1968 version. First of all, I have to deal with more structures, many who are in the foreground, which isn't always great for accessibility and aisle width. Second, I need more trackage to serve the requirements of the era and large number of customers. Another problem raise quickly and it is related to turning locomotives. This is certainly a big problem because there's no room for wyes and adding turntables isn't very easy or realistic. One could be implemented in Tring-Jonction, but it would spell the demise of the feedmill and icehouse.

The big question would be: can I operate mixed trains in the 1960s ? That would means I would have the issue about turning the locomotives and fueling it... There is certainly no easy answer to that.

Another question also arises. While ice refrigerators would be nice to operate, it seems they virtually ceased to be iced after 1961 according to Richard Yaremko. They would be used in heated service until the 1970s, but it means a layout not operating under steam would have nothing to do with an icehouse. In fact, one can question the need for a reefer fleet even if an icehouse existed. Local traffic wouldn't require such a thing.

Stock cars are less problematic since they were used in Canada until 1987, well after Tring Subdivision end of service in 1985.

While I see a lot of appeal doing a pre-1968 layout, I can see a lot of shortcormings that could plague the design. First, "more than you can handle": a lot of car types and specific structures and tracks that hardly make sense in terms of operation. I firmly believe the layout should be in the diesel era. Less cartoony to my sense. The way freight could take care of a lot of specific cars that do not serve online customer.

Pre-1968: The water tank could be a serious liability when operating the layout.

In my mind, the sweet spot is probably 1970. You still have a "strong" customer basis, traffic is still quite varied (grain, lumber, building supplies, pulpwood, oil, granite, cattle and other farm product). You also have a nice mix of old and repainted cars and locomotive. Also, since CP Rail Action Red color badly fades in a very short time and that ALCO/MLW are known to get dirty quickly, you can model a neatly weathered locomotive fleet.

Post-1968: Possibility to integrate the feedmill instead of the roundhouse.

Another problem I have with the steam era is the fact you can hardly tell a story about the line. Nothing is coherent, you have elements hard to piece together. On the other hand, the scenario behind an early diesel timeframe is quite easy to achieve. It also makes the layout more versatile since you can model virtually any decade from 1960 to 1985 without requiring serious alterations.

Train of Thoughts

Many people probably wonder why each time I take a decision about a layout, I take care to document both sides of the subject in a lenghty manner. While it's common to do such a thing, most people generally stick to there first idea and try to support it.  In my case, it's probably a side effect of my professional line of work. Architecture is a finicky profession and many clients or contractors believe our decision are mainly based on look only and other trivial and superficial reasons. In reality, most of the time we have to make the best out of what we have on hands. In a recent contract, a client wanted to save money by cutting several elements he thought were superfluous and costly. As I often do, it was time to present both options, document their true cost and their impact on the project viability. As a matter of fact, in that particular project the option that seemed logically cheaper and more efficient was in fact more costly and complicated to do, and to booth quite ugly. Not a way someone should spend its hard earned money.

In the case of a layout, showing each sides of the problem at hands help to see what works and what doesn't. It would be too easy to support only one idea because it seems the best at first glance.

As I explained with the Tring Subdivision, the steam era is seriously more attractive. I was under the impression until I wrote this blog post it would be far better than a more modern era. The reason is probably related to my work this summer on a Temiscouata Railway-themed layout last summer where it appeared going further back in the past meant a more interesting project.

It would be easy to apply the same reasoning to Tring Subdivision, but it falls quite short when you try to explain why to readers. That's what I liek about blogging. You much put in words your ideas and it forces you to think things out much more than just talking to a friend. I started writing a steam era layout would be best and as I documented that case, it became quite clear a few major issues were slowly appearing that could make the layout concept crumble.

Be aware that conclusion I reached only works within the goals I set for the project. In my case, I prefer mundane fields, simple track plan and the feeling the train is going somewhere. I put more emphasis on small but well-thought location. On the other hand, I care very little about locomotives facilities like turntable, engine house and fueling infrastructure. Could that change with time? Yes, it's possible. But it only means if someone was really interested in such operations, the steam era-themed layout would start to be a serious option to study.

I wrote back in summer that a layout was a board game to me. You've got to make a set of rules that works seamlessly and fits your interests. Those rules aren't only operation-related but can be about artistic achievement, historic recreation, etc. It's probably why we can see a lot of diversity within a same subject, even a same thme or prototype. And it's also why we can like many layouts but don't feel compelled to build them. It's definitely a strong point about this hobby.

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