East of the Blue Ridge

Chronicles of an On30 quarry railroad

February 2008

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Dan George's Spring Creek Lumber Company HO scale layout | April 2005

Tom Sullivan came by today to see the state of the Dry Fork & Greenbrier, bring some models off his dismantled Williams River layout, and to say goodbye as a Richmond resident, planning on moving back to Va Beach on June 25, 2004.

Telling him I had pretty much decided to tear out the Dry Fork brought out some candid comments:
– I was trying to cram too much operation into the Dry Fork, especially in the Osceola area.
– The track and turnouts had proven marginal at best.

We discussed how, without the steady input of ideas from others, and separated from the layout by extra hours at work for long periods of time, I had begun to sense a new ideal for a layout. An ideal that was very simple. Simpler than the Dry Fork. Asked to summarize my biggest gripes about the Dry Fork, I listed:
– Tight radius curves
– Steep grades
– Narrow aisles

Lurking just below the surface was an additional, BIG reason why I was losing my enchantment with the Dry Fork:
– It did not run well.

At first Tom was open to discussing new trackplans and the ideas that went into them. He thought my space too small for a multi level layout, and that the rail height of the Dry Fork was fine, even though I thought it was too low. We talked about using the soapstone shortlines of Virginia as a theme for a layout. He wondered if I had enough space to do the operation justice. He also wondered if I was really willing to focus on such a specialized subject. Would I be serious enough about depicting the soapstone railroads to limit equipment to what they actually ran? Would the theme provide enough operational interest?

Osceola on the Dry Fork & Greenbrier layout | April 2004

Interesting conclusions drawn out by the discussion:
– I was not so concerned with fidelity to the prototype that I would restrict myself in the manor of Jack Burgess' Yosemite Valley layout to only what actually was used on the soapstone railroads.
– I had not been so interested in the soapstone theme for a layout that I had even tried to contact Garth Groth, or contact someone to get permission to photograph the remaining soapstone properties
– My approach would be to use the soapstone industry as a prop, with decisions regarding motive power and rolling stock being based on what was commercially available and ran well.

Building track in Winterburn | January 2003

To this Tom suggested that a common characteristic of all "next layouts" is that they run well. That almost everything else is justifiable, negotiable, flexible ... but it
has to run reliably. The same loose attitude I had toward possibly modeling a soapstone railroad was most likely what I would adopt modeling any theme. Compromises and trade-offs may be necessary in order to have a high priority on reliable running.

Tom's priorities:
– Must accommodate DCC
– Must accommodate a sound unit
– Must run reliably

If models are available that fit these criteria, Tom will use them, whether they fit strictly into his operational theme or not. A lot of small, industrial locomotives would be eliminated from consideration by sticking strictly to these priorities, but Tom thinks they deserve to be eliminated. Avoiding them will increase the enjoyment of the layout.

All this talk about reliable operation was prompted by a fact Tom and I both knew. The Dry Fork did not run reliably. Taking this into account, and seeing my progress on construction and how close the trackwork was to completion, Tom thought that right now would be a particularly
bad time to stop work on the Dry Fork. He estimated the layout could serve well for another 3 years or so.

DF&G local crossing Gandy Creek | April 2004

His reasoning went along these lines:
– If I had not figured out how lay track and build turnouts, this ignorance would hurt the next layout. These issues need to be rectified, or the worst of the Dry Fork could get transferred to the new layout.
– Considering the plans I showed him for a new layout, Tom did not think there was much to be gained by having that layout rather than this one. There was nothing great about the new plans. Mostly they were just different track configurations in the same space.
– None of the gripes either he or I had about the Dry Fork were insurmountable. Nothing about the curves, grades, or aisle widths was totally outlandish. Since the layout suffered operationally from including too much, then some track and turnouts could be removed, and those areas rebuilt to run better.
– Moving forward into scenery and structure building on the Dry Fork will benefit the next layout even more. Bringing the Dry Fork closer to completion would help me define what the theme of the next layout really should be.