Design Theory, a Rookie's Perspective

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SpaceMouse

Fun Lover
I know that when it comes to layout design my IQ is somewhere between a rock and a tree stump, but I figure that I have seen a few layouts posted and I thought some might be interested in what a rookie has to say about layout design theory. If not you can stop reading........ I'm not going to give you another chance.

Okay if you are still reading either you're interested in what I have to say or your going to read through and squash me like a grape. Fine, there is a lot of experience gained in being squashed.

First of all let me say that to me there are four types of layout designs:

1) Layouts I can help with
2) Layouts I can't help with
3) Layouts that don't care to be helped
4) Layouts for people that say, "Here's my room. What's a good layout?"

I am completely ruling out layouts from books because short being hit by lighting twice in the same day, your odds are not that great of getting a great layout. And I don't care if it is designed by John Armstrong Koester Chubb. Only you can design your perfect layout. John's layout is perfect for him, but unless you know what he knows, you aren't getting everything out of it.

Let's clean some house by eliminating #3. This is the guy that draws a few circles on a page puts a spur for an industry that "I haven't decided what it is" mostly because everyone knows a layout needs a spur of two for industry. There might even be three tracks together somewhere for a yard. His idea of operating is to turn on the power and run trains. The purpose of this layout is to run trains. He may know what road name he likes. He may even know what period he likes, but it doesn't matter, he'll probably never get beyond the plywood empire. Suggestions are met with "Dang it. I don't care. I just want to run my trains." As far as I'm concerned, that's fine. But I don't want to get involved with critiquing his layout other than. "You'll never reach that spot." To which the most common reply is, "I can if I stand on a stool and lean way over."

Number 4 is a pre-1) that has not taken the time to figure out what they want. Or they may simply be taking the easy way out by letting someone else do their thinking. They may or may not have figured out their givens and druthers. They may have no clue on how to proceed. They have only a vague idea of what they want. Like the ones above, that try to get a canned layout out of a book, any layout design you throw at them will not work, because they don't know what they want.

The first key is knowing what you want. Or at least knowing enough to know where to start looking.

For the most part, people don't want to make the effort to move from 3)or 4) to 1) or 2). They know what they know and don't care to do what it takes to learn more.

Now for number 2). The number 2 guy I can't help because he knows more about what he wants than I could ever know. He know the purpose of the layout, what industries are in the area, how long their sidings need to be, and what every piece of track is for. He knows where the trains come from and where they go when the head off to staging. Sometimes I can point out a place where a run-around goes or place that's hard to reach, but mostly he's run the layout so many times in his head he knows what will work and what won't and why. John Armstrong Koester Chubb might be able to help him, but he's beyond me.

The one I can help, 1), is the one that has made the commitment to be a number 2 and is making a good stab at it. He knows or thinks he knows what type of operating he likes be it passengers, yard goat, or rail fan. What he is missing is the homework. He needs to research. It is in the research process that the purpose of the layout emerges. All of a sudden or over a period of time he has a vision. The vision spurs more research and his possibilities unfold. He meets his limitations, makes compromises and chooses between important druthers to refine his thinking. His thinking then leaps to the cad lines or paper and more compromises need to be made. Eventually, the drafts emerge and the refinement begins. More obstacles may require more research and yet more compromises.

My role in #1? Asking the guy questions about his purpose and vision. Because if the purpose and vision is clear, everything else will fall into place.
 
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RCH

Been Nothin' Since Frisco
SpaceMouse said:
My role in #1? Asking the guy questions about his purpose and vision. Because if the purpose and vision is clear, everything else will fall into place.
So, Chip, it looks like the Socratic Method is your choice of offering help. I think that despite your claim of being a rookie at layout design, you're wise in the ways of dealing with people who wish to learn.

The best college professors I ever had both used Socratic Method to teach. Both had very high success rates with their students and I got experiences that have shaped the way I learn and teach others.

Not to be too philosophical (but we are discussing theory here), the desire, aptitude and will to pursue personal growth are some of the keys to continuous enjoyment in life, whether in work, family or hobby life. My hobby life certainly became more enjoyable once I realized it was the process, not the end result, that provided the most enjoyment to me.

Anyway, I look forward to responses to this thread!
 

CBCNSfan

Registered Member
Staff member
Let's clean some house by eliminating #3.
#3 That's me! I'd like to discuss #3 you must have been studying my layout and my posts :D
This is the guy that draws a few circles on a page
Yep! even I have no idea of how many circles I've drawn with a compass and graph paper although I did know the principal industry was to be a coal mine I bought because it was cheap, to service a power plant that still hadn't made yet. (this was Before DPM)
puts a spur for an industry that "I haven't decided what it is
" Yep! I'm just about to do that shortly, what it will be eventually I have no idea, I'll find that out from the members here when I post :D
mostly because everyone knows a layout needs a spur of two for industry.
No not really, its just a space that needs something, I'm still not sure of what, but it was discussed previously on this forum although I haven't done anything about the suggestions, one of them was to put an industrial spur there :D
There might even be three tracks together somewhere for a yard.
Well as a matter of fact there were four at the beginning, but Modelbob made me re-route one of them so that now it's behind a station that wasn't there before. and there is three tracks in front :D
His idea of operating is to turn on the power and run trains. The purpose of this layout is to run trains. He may know what road name he likes.
Well truthfully I haven't gotten that far yet, but yes there will be a larger number of through freights than milk runs, after all a three track yard will be limited in what it can handle. I chose the name because it was a local road and I was sick of seeing just CN :D
He may even know what period he likes, but it doesn't matter, he'll probably never get beyond the plywood empire.
Well actualy I'm trying to do better than that, I did get a lot of plywood covered but there is lots leftto do, and I would like to get enough done to be comfortable running trains. I'm afraid the pop can to represent a tank farm, of a block of wood for the "Hoo Flung Dung fertilizer Co.", just doesn't do it for me :D
Suggestions are met with "Dang it. I don't care. I just want to run my trains."
Well it does take quite a bit of convincing, and I do put up quite a resistance to change, but before I'll change things, your point has to be well presented, convincing, logical and doable.
As far as I'm concerned, that's fine. But I don't want to get involved with critiquing his layout other than. "You'll never reach that spot." To which the most common reply is, "I can if I stand on a stool and l
Awh! Dang it Chip, now don't be like that, I'd be pleased iff'n you'd join in when we starts, yuh! never know you just might be the winner in changing my mind. Now as far as that place where I has to use the stool, well that's another problem we'll look after that one later :D ( It's above the mill)

******************************************************
Chip, Hope you don't take offense to this post, none intended. I had to laugh when I was reading about #3, It's just that I could see so much of (well not all of) myself in #3 good post.

Willis
 

Lady_Railfan

House Mother, Cheerleader
Chip, THANKS for a super-duper thread! What number am I? I'm not telling!!! But I printed your opening post. I hope it's the first in a series. :)
 

SpaceMouse

Fun Lover
Lady_Railfan said:
Chip, THANKS for a super-duper thread! What number am I? I'm not telling!!! But I printed your opening post. I hope it's the first in a series. :)
Series? That might just be all I know.

RCH--The Rookie thing referes to the fact that I started the hobby last Christmas when my son got a Hogwarts Express.
 

IronBeltKen

Lazy Daydreamer
I wanted a steel-mill based layout ever since I was 9 years old (that is when I went on a school field trip to Ford's Rouge complex in Dearborn, MI). I finally built my first one 30 years later, when Walthers came out with their series of kits for that industry.

My tendency is to start out as a #3, then as time passes and I reach my threshold for frustration, I slowly morph into a #4.
 

HaggisKennedy

Coal Shoveler
I saw a #3 in a magazine. The guy built all the benchwork, laid down the roadbed and the track, then started running trains. I remember the article that went with it saying that the guy couldn't care less about scenery, he wanted to operate, and that's what the layout was good for. He didn't have time to put down scenery.

I also recall reading a blurb about David Barrow's Cat Mountain layout that was sparse in scenery. It had it, but it was considered minimalistic (in the writer's view); only enough to get out of the plywood/benchwork category. Apparently, it isn't the level of detail that a John Allen or Malcom Furlow would do.

Kennedy
 

narrowgaugecdb

New Member
Space Mouse, replace the word layouts with the word people and you will better understand whats happening. At least this is my experience when you work in a group of people at the model train club. This hobby is not just about running little trains.
I liked your input about this matter.
 

Cjcrescent

Master Mechanic
Chip;
First off let me say that I agree with your breakdown. I have met many modelers that are in these categories. I describe them slightly different but the concept is the same.

Number 4 is a pre-1) that has not taken the time to figure out what they want. Or they may simply be taking the easy way out by letting someone else do their thinking. They may or may not have figured out their givens and druthers. They may have no clue on how to proceed. They have only a vague idea of what they want. Like the ones above, that try to get a canned layout out of a book, any layout design you throw at them will not work, because they don't know what they want.
These people are actually the easiest for me to deal with. First off when trying to design a layout for these folks the first thing I give them is a layout planning form. This form makes them THINK and then DECIDE about what they are looking for. IF they complete the form, then they have now come up with their givens and druthers. We get together, either by e-mail or telephone and discuss these very items. While talking to them I generally have a sketch pad for doodling ideas.

Many just starting wants to "do the four track Pennsy Horseshoe curve on one end of the layout coming around to the Argentine Yard on the ATSF with coal coming off the branch from the Powder River Basin, all in 4x8". A form will "narrow" their concept down to something that is very doable without being impossible.

I am completely ruling out layouts from books because short being hit by lighting twice in the same day, your odds are not that great of getting a great layout. And I don't care if it is designed by John Armstrong Koester Chubb. Only you can design your perfect layout. John's layout is perfect for him, but unless you know what he knows, you aren't getting everything out of it.
Ah, but in layout planning especially for others, never disregard what has passed before. These layouts, as a whole, may not be perfect, but an area from Armstrong, pasted with Chubb's Blue Coal branch, added to Koester's engine facility will at times, give you the ideas, and the actual arrangements you and your victim, errr... client are looking for. Plus if he has completed a planning form, both he and you will know what he wants. Its down on paper/on the computer screen.

The biggest problem I get with planning a layout is, the "I already have my benchwork done and this is what I want." And his benchwork dictates a minimum radius of 15", but he wants auto parts trains with 6 axle locos. The trick is to show him, via his own information from the form, that what he has viewed as acceptable, (his benchwork) won't work.

The one I can help, 1), is the one that has made the commitment to be a number 2 and is making a good stab at it. He knows or thinks he knows what type of operating he likes be it passengers, yard goat, or rail fan. What he is missing is the homework. He needs to research. It is in the research process that the purpose of the layout emerges. All of a sudden or over a period of time he has a vision. The vision spurs more research and his possibilities unfold. He meets his limitations, makes compromises and chooses between important druthers to refine his thinking. His thinking then leaps to the cad lines or paper and more compromises need to be made. Eventually, the drafts emerge and the refinement begins. More obstacles may require more research and yet more compromises.
This is where a planning form that lists the givens and druthers really works. (I call the givens and druthers, the gimmes and gotta haves.) The Gotta haves or givens, are the things that actually drive the concept of the layout. Take away one or two of these and the layout concept is no longer credible.
A gimme or druther is something that when added, the concept is enhanced, but the loss of it won't damage the overall concept. A planning form will force someone to put down in black and white what he wants the layout to do, how it operates, what industries it serves, what cars/engines he runs, senic concepts, etc.....

A form not only makes him decide what he wants, but also shows him that given the concept he has settled on, what he dictates to himself in terms of equipment, loco types, car types, but also the numbers of these he will need, given the area/era he settled on. A form also makes the job of planning a layout easier for you as well. If it is of an area or era you're not familiar with, it provides a firm starting ground for research you have to do on which to base any plans you provide him with.
 

jbaakko

Diesel Detail Freak
Now see if either of you can prototypicaly catch the essence of Cajon Pass, from Riverside (just RR south of the Metrolink station) to Barstow yard, in a fairly sane amount of room (I'm going to attempt to build the room to suit the layout!). At all times up the hill, I want at LEAST 2 of the 3 mainlines showing, with the ablity to add the 3rd BNSF main as they climb the hill. This means in some places, where one main is just TO far away, it can be hidden, in the backdrop or something. When the UP line splits at the top of the hill, that line should venture into the backdrop/benchwork to end up at the north terminus of the BNSF line @ Barstow (albeit hidden, so that when it enters the separate staging room, it'll be on the lower level staging, for UP trains, on the UP main. The staging room should have the capactiy to hold at least 45 built trains. 25-30 being the upper level, BNSF main staging, lower being 15-20, for UP main staging.
 

SpaceMouse

Fun Lover
jbaakko said:
Now see if either of you can prototypicaly catch the essence of Cajon Pass, from Riverside (just RR south of the Metrolink station) to Barstow yard, in a fairly sane amount of room (I'm going to attempt to build the room to suit the layout!). At all times up the hill, I want at LEAST 2 of the 3 mainlines showing, with the ablity to add the 3rd BNSF main as they climb the hill. This means in some places, where one main is just TO far away, it can be hidden, in the backdrop or something. When the UP line splits at the top of the hill, that line should venture into the backdrop/benchwork to end up at the north terminus of the BNSF line @ Barstow (albeit hidden, so that when it enters the separate staging room, it'll be on the lower level staging, for UP trains, on the UP main. The staging room should have the capactiy to hold at least 45 built trains. 25-30 being the upper level, BNSF main staging, lower being 15-20, for UP main staging.
I suppose that I could come up with a plan that would suit me for that area, but it would be my choices not yours. I don't know the route and therefore I don't know what the key features I would want to keep and which to eliminate. I would have to research it. The route is what, about 150 miles? You say you can build the room to suit, but is that 12x12? 20x20? 40x40?

What I'm saying is either you need to hire a pro, or you have to research the route, decide what you want to model, and decide how much layout you want to support with time and money. I can't design you perfect layout for you. You are the only one qualified.
 

SpaceMouse

Fun Lover
Carey,

I am not a professional design consultant. I am referring to people who post on here or on the MR site looking for help. The above rantings distinguish between the people who don't do their homework either out of ignorance or because they want people to "tell them a good plan." If I was a professional and I was hired to come up with their plan, that would be one thing. However, my idea of a #4 is a person who has done nothing and wants someone to hand them a plan on a platter. Certainly if they are willing to determine their givens and druthers, I'll try to ask them the questions to help them take the next step. But more often than not, when I ask for givens and druthers, that is that last I hear from them.
 

Cjcrescent

Master Mechanic
Chip;
I'm not a "professional design consultant" either. But when various people get to talking among themselves and they find that you have designed for friends, clubmembers etc.. They assume that you are. Since it doesn't happen often enough to require me to classify as a "pro" all of this was just opinion from someone who has designed not just for myself, but a few others as well. That's the operative word here, few. The only "pro" thing I have done as a model railroader is custom painting, which I no longer do. Thirty years is long enough.

The point I was trying to make was without a written guideline most folks are really wishy-washy trying to really settle on concrete parameters to give them a solid "push" toward a layout that they can live with. I think they are afraid to commit to what could be a real long term project.

Even with a plan drawn, benchwork drawn etc. I have never considered a trackplan etched in stone. Its just a plan, something to be used as a guide for building. No trackplan is ever followed exactly "to the inch". There are always changes. Some occur just as it starts being built, others happen halfway more or less through, and others occur several years down the line.
 
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jbaakko

Diesel Detail Freak
I'm going to spend next spring photographing everything i can... Then plan out what i need in the layout to make it look ok, and what i'd like to see after that. Something like 200 route miles...
 

SpaceMouse

Fun Lover
jbaakko said:
I'm going to spend next spring photographing everything i can... Then plan out what i need in the layout to make it look ok, and what i'd like to see after that. Something like 200 route miles...
There are lots of good books about that route. Do a little looking then go to your local library. If they don't have it you can get it in about a week through inter library loan. Satelite photos are a big help too.
 

jbaakko

Diesel Detail Freak
Yeah, but I want to get angles that I'd plan on viewing the layout from too, I'm going to buy a few of the books, and dvd's and I have a resourse map from socalrailfan.com that'll help me peice the layout together, the main focus is the hill & pass its self, but I'll continue onto Barstow selectively compessing to model a yard, and the UP lines in Barstow.
 

SpaceMouse

Fun Lover
I use the interlibrary loan here a lot. I get recommendations from a lot of people about the area I am modeling, but I only purchased two after seeing them--and those two were out of print. Part of what you get from the books is details abvout the motive power, etc. I found a 27 minute clip of the NOrthwestern Pacific shot in 1914. Since I am modeling 1917, I thought it was a great find.

I envy you're ability to walk the line. I wanted to go out and visit my brother who has a cabin in the redwoods up north last August, but couldn't work it out.
 

jbaakko

Diesel Detail Freak
Yeah well motive power is quite simple, as I intend to keeo it modern, so I'll kinda be doing the Utah Belt thing, cept on a larger scale, and with prototype railroads. I know I'll eventually be retiring units, so they go into forever storage, or, maybe make them a lease unit if one exists, or just sell them. But buying the book will allow me to use a wall of the staging room / crew lounge as an entertainment center, stocked with the books and all...
 




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