the fear of all sums

It's easy to envision a basement filling, model railway empire. One that spans the limits of your imagination, with hundreds of turnouts, and hundreds (or more) of pieces of equipment rolling over the rails.

It's also easy to overlook the work involved in building such an empire, and maintaining the behemoth once it's brought to life.

An example is the eight (only eight?) turnout controls for the Port Rowan project. Admittedly, it's a little more complicated than some methods, but it's still small potatoes, right?
Let's add up a few points:

several hundred wooden ties to layout, glue, sand and stain
8 complete turnouts worth of parts to cut, solder, test fit and hand spike (no small job!)
8 slots to cut through the roadbed to pass the throw rod
8 pieces of brass tube to cut to length, cross-drill and lap
8 pieces of larger brass tube to cut, deburr, lap, and press fit
8 lever arms to cut, file, solder and drill
16 headblock ties to cut, glue and pre-drill 2 holes in each
8 shelves to cut, shape, and drill
8 machine screws to install at an awkward angle
32 very tiny wood screws to install
8 Bullfrogs to punch-out, trim, glue and modify 
16 screws & washers to install upside down to hold the Bullfrogs
8 outer R/C tubes to cut to length
8 inner R/C rods to cut to length
8 throw rods (hardened music wire) to test for length, remove, cut, and reinstall
16 threaded rods to cut to length
16 clevises to thread on to the R/C rods
16 oversized mounting holes to drill for shelves
16 screws and washers to install the shelves
8 holes to precisely locate and drill for the R/C tubes
8 switch stand targets to adjust

This does not include the addition of a lock for each switch stand (more on this later).

Does this list appear daunting? Well, it is and it isn't. Each bite-sized task can be done and set aside until final assembly. There's no complete sequence that you have to start and finish all in one go. These sorts of sub-tasks can be done when you've got 15 minutes or 1/2 hour to spare.

But, if you had 20 or 50 or 100 turnouts, the amount of time required goes through the roof. And this is just the turnouts. Never mind the rails that links them all together, the roadbed, the ties, the benchwork and all the scenery and buildings to flesh out this miniature world. Dream wisely.

Now I'm not trying to dissuade people from building large layouts; just trying to encourage some critical thought and planning before taking the big plunge. If you have the time and attention to devote to a large project, by all means undertake it and reap the long-term rewards of your efforts.

"Wait!" You say "I'm building my layout using Kato Unitrack with built-in turnout motors! I don't need to worry about all this stuff!". And, of course, you are (mostly) correct. Using pre-made items greatly speeds the process and reduces (modelling) labour. But you are trading time for money. If this is acceptable to you and suits your plans and budget, then go for it. There's a massive appeal to getting the trains running TODAY instead of trudging through the slough of despond to reach each milestone.

And now, back to the fettling and fitting.


Trevor said...

Hi Chris:
Very good points (and thank you for undertaking this task!)
Your trade-off of "money" for "time" is two-thirds correct, I think. The third third is "quality".
- If one has enough money, one can buy quality items.
- If one has enough time, one can make quality items.
- If one designs a modest layout (such as the eight-turnout layout we're building), it's likely one can create a high-quality layout in a reasonable amount of time, with a reasonable amount of money. It's not prohibitive. A small, well done layout will cost as much, and take as much time to build, as a larger, poorly-done layout. But the small, high-quality layout will be more impressive and, I believe, more satisfying for the builder(s).

bobcatt said...

There is the famous image of a triangle with each apex labelled (in turn) "Good, Fast, Cheap" with the caption "pick any two". I believe this cliché to be true in almost all cases.

There is another triangle (more corporate-minded) labelled "Money, Time, Manpower" which illustrates the interdependency of resources. To reduce one factor you must increase at least one of the other two.

For the Port Rowan project, one of the most important statements made at the outset was "less is more". Building a high-quality, well thought out plan whict is firmly anchored in reality will no doubt prove just as satisfying as the much vaunted, pit-filling racetrack where mediocrity is King.

Steve said...

I couldn't agree with you more.
Even what I thought would be a simple 4x8 reconstruction project has taken a huge amount of energy and time to keep the project moving forward. I think I have eight turnouts alone in the little 2x4 extension addition. Throw a turn around triangle in there and your in way over your head.
Great thoughts!
Steve J.