et my friend Chris Strecker for an early morning breakfast, followed by an invite to his house to try operations on his blossoming layout, a simulation of car spotting in Taft Yard in Orlando, Florida (yeah, right down the road).
His layout is one of those elegant small layouts (where you aren’t throwing track across a basement). Basically it’s a dogbone with two staging tracks on the back wall and a host of industries along the leading edge. Chris has actually placed a number of real places on his line (and a couple of fictitious ones at well (and who among us has not done that?)).
The thing about a small layout is you have to be clever to make it work, and as Chris is a game designer, cleverness abounds. One position runs through trains, the other runs the local (Taft) switcher. The freights get a lot of running in, counting laps as they move between Miami and Jacksonville via Taft. Coming north, you’ll run four laps (passing through the switching efforts) and then “arrive” at Taft. Assuming the switch crew has gotten all their work done, your pickups will be on a trailing track and you’ll swap out. From there, it’s two more laps to Jacksonville and then the southbound runs, coming back two laps to Taft. The neat thing about this is that it gives the local crew four laps (i.e. hours) of time to do all their work between pickups. Since there are two trains a day in each direction (named after actual trains) those one-hour laps add up to twenty four. This makes for relaxed ops, the local cutting in and out of traffic, the way freight establishing the tempo.
Of course, we switched out at mid-point, meaning we both got different jobs. I really enjoyed my switching – like the Tuscarora, you only are moving a couple of cars but you’ll need to figure your moves around the parade of freights. More interesting, the only possible run-around is Beaver Scrap, a rust-bucket industry. Since they are often working gondolas, it is considered “bad form” to move their cars out of the way and cost them valuable “scrap time”. Run-arounds should be minimized or the scrap boss will be screaming at your yardmaster!
So yes, this is one of those microlayouts that let you play with trains without ten guys and laying out all those snacks. We had a great time running, and other than me being attacked by a hellhound, it was a grand day out!