HomeThoughts and MusingsThomas M. Tuerke on Model Railroading • Choo-choo-choosing how to Run your Trains

Choo-choo-choosing how to Run your Trains

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Choo-choo-choosing how to Run your Trains

I'm of the opinion that there are two kinds of Model Railroaders, namely the ones that love to just run their trains around the track, and the ones that want to "run a railroad."

My guess is that everybody starts out as the first kind, what I'll call the "Choo-choo" railroader for lack of a better term: there is something hypnotic about the long, snaking string of cars following the parallel "iron" rails. For some people the fascination remains, while others get bored with that and "move on," either out of the hobby, or into "operations"... the "Waybill wonk" or "Timetable Tyrant."

(Let's neglect, for a moment, the Pure Craftsman—who is less interested in seeing the trains eventually run than in constructing exquisitly detailed motive power, rolling stock, structures, or scenery—since this is a fairly small minority: most folks want to see their trains run.)

I don't want to say that one is better than the other, mind you. It's just that I put myself into the latter camp; I guess I'm not as enthralled by watching a train go around in circles as I once was. For me, anyway, watching the train do circles—no matter how big the track is—becomes repetitive and monotonous... and eventually, pointless.

That's where operation seems to come to the rescue. The whole point of a railroad—at least the twelve-inch-to-the-foot variety—is to transport goods and passengers from point A to point B. Preferably in such a way as to make a profit. So this means problem-solving of the same order as used by crossword solvers... and they seem to have fun doing that. It means self-improvement (how do I solve this in fewer steps?) akin to how athletes get better at their game... and they get satisfaction from that. In this way, running a railroad becomes more than just the pride of owning a beautifully detailed model and seeing it run, but the thrill and satisfaction of a continual set of challenges overcome.

That, to me, seems like a pastime that will keep me interested for years to come.

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Choo-choo-choosing: Case in Point: North Pole Short-Line
- Thomas M. Tuerke

A few years ago, I built a pair of "modules" that when put together, form a 4'x4' square consisting of an over-and-under loop. The idea was that it would be for putting under the Christmas tree, but came apart for storage. For giggles, I put four switches on the thing, not really thinking much about it except that it would make the thing look more interesting.

Well, it got used once, put away, and lay neglected in the attic, collecting dust for a few years.

This year, I pulled the thing down, cleaned it up, and put it under the tree again. While I used the two loops to test various engines on the tight radii and steep 4% grades, I soon found myself deciding to do minor operations using the sidings. A plausible economy suggested that there'd be movement of magic wood from "Enchanted Lumber" to "Claus Mfg", which in turn produced finished goods for "Bigh Sleigh Toy Distributers". Then, of course, there was always "Bad Boys Mine", with the odd shipment of coal, and the need to transport reindeer from their summer pastures to the winter training grounds. Oh, and let's not forget all that hot cocoa! Toss in a couple of passenger stops (the elves need to commute to work,) and you suddenly had a good reason for a timetable. Never mind that the same train goes around in circles, plunging through an ice tunnel to climb up and over the summit behind the tree (spectacular the first three times the train goes around.) All of a sudden log buggies and flat cars, box cars and stock cars, tank cars and hoppers have a reason for being in the consist, and the train has a reason for being on the road: empties need to be set out here, pickups up full cars need to be made there, and since the sidings are short, sometimes part of the train needs to be "left behind" in one siding while the rest of the train gets run around to the next siding to set out something. It got interesting, and stayed interesting for a long while... all in about 16 square feet.

Moreover, I could see this becoming a great way for dad and daughter (let's say) bonding, where one plays the engineer at the throttle, the other the brakeman (ahem, brake-person) throwing switches, and both concocting waybills as fancy dictated.

Isn't that a lot more interesting than just watching the the train go 'round and 'round?