Monday, May 9, 2011

The First Time. . . and The Last Time

The first chance to really operate a large model railway is an exciting moment. All the anticipation built up from planning to construction to testing and acquiring the equipment finally comes to a head.

The last time to operate a model railway before its dismantling is more a time of reflecting on all that came before it. . .the good times shared with friends operating it, and taking stock of what the ‘next’ layout will be like—how to correct the deficiencies of the prior layout, maybe, and how to avoid similar mistakes the next go-round. And imagining how to make the next layout that much better.

These two experiences—the first time and the last time—were rolled into one the other afternoon when a few of us gathered at Lance Lassen’s house for the first and last operating session of his Ardglen Bank model railway.

Lance and his wife have been planning to downsize to a smaller home (an on-going process, given the lethargic US housing and mortgage market), and that means his good-sized layout based on the Ardglen grade in NSW will be coming down. Unfortunately, it’ll be coming down before it really got a chance to come into its own. Those who follow Lance’s blog will note it’s been curiously quiet for the past X months, time spent working on fixing up the house to put it on the market instead of working on the layout.

The layout would probably have come down without a chance to fully operate had I not shamed him into running it ‘just once.’ So for the better part of a weekend, Lance staged trains, cleaned track, and put together a scenario that would keep four operators busy running grain shuttles in and out of Werris Creek yard, banking coal and grain trains over the hill at Ardglen, and moving container trains of cotton out of the North-West. Lance models the early 2000’s, so the mix of motive power is certainly interesting: Silverton C’s and 442’s; GWA’s orange CLF/CLP and 22 class; Freight Corp/Pac National 80/81 class; CFCLA 44’s and bulldogs and EL’s; and a mix of LVRF 44 class in Red Terror, Blood & Custer and Heritage tuscan paint. There’s even a pair of Freight Australia X class as well as a lone interloper green A class bulldog that somehow strayed from the broad gauge and strapped on 4’ 8 ½” gauge trucks.( I won’t tell if you won’t.)

PARENTAL ADVISORY: R-rated language! First and Last Operating at Lance Lassen's Liverpool Range layout: 1)Freight Australia A Class on "Tamworth Fuel Train"; 2) Sound-equipped 4483 on Narrabri cotton train; 3) Spot-hired CFCLA EL class on PN grain load, 2X80 class bankers on rear; 4) same train cutting off bankers on the fly at Ardglen; 5) PN grain empty led by Ghan-painted NR passes waiting bank engines at Willow Tree; 6) 18-wagon coal train 2X80 class front and rear approach Ardglen; 7) 2 X 80 bank engines downgrade lite; 8) 28 grain wagons on the s-curve below Ardglen, 2 X CLF up front, 2 X 80 class banking.

If planning and good intention would guarantee a smooth running session, Lance’s layout would have shined like a Supernova during its brief life. Unfortunately, model railroading is a complex undertaking, made even more daunting by a layout his size—probably 30’ X 25’ and triple-decked in places. Such an investment in time, space and money requires vigilance and maintenance to keep it in running order, and unfortunately the gremlins were out in force. We found out the hard way when reversing some points that not every turnout had the necessary electrical gaps cut in them. Scenery in places intruded where it shouldn’t, inhibiting points from fully throwing. Random nail heads were discovered in rather jarring fashion to be protruding above rail level. But the biggest bugaboos were related to wireless throttles: while the layout ran flawlessly while Lance staged the trains with a single throttle the night before, his CVP “Easy DCC” was unable to handle four wireless throttles sending signals through stud walls. Consisted locomotives unconsisted themselves. And signals to and from locomotives were slow in processing, creating the uneasy situation of trains not stopping when they needed to. At frustrating times like these, it’s always good to mock the old slogan of Model Railroader magazine: “Model Railroading Is Fun.”

Lance was understandably upset when a gathering meant to celebrate a newly operating layout became largely a trouble-shooting session. But we reminded him that no layout operates flawlessly without many uncomfortable shake-down sessions first. It’s easy to operate your railway alone with a single throttle at three in the morning; quite another thing to have a roomful of guests all running trains. The session wasn’t a total washout: we found that with three throttles, the layout still operated quite well, so we were able to bring a few big trains up the hill out of Willow Tree, a pair of 80 Class Alcos pushing on the rear. For a moment, it was possible to see the potential this layout had, if only it would have survived a few more years.

Not to worry. A St. Kilda-Geelong AFL match played in the background on the telly, and after operating we watched a DVD of prototype operations over Ardglen (i.e. “Aussie Train Porn”); Emily, meanwhile, had been busy on the Barbie grilling sausages, chicken and pork ribs.

While it wasn’t the operating session Lance had imagined it would be, well. . .few sessions really live up to our expectations. Model railways aren’t a turnkey proposition. Smoothness in operation is only achieved by constant running, tweaking, and correcting. Eventually, you get to a point of reasonable reliability, But at best, model railroading is a social hobby, and despite the problems and frustrations, it was still a good afternoon spent with friends sharing a common passion for our model railways.

As you read this, Lance is probably tearing down this railway putting behind the frustrations of this first and last running session and no doubt dreaming of the next layout. Enjoy this video for what it is: a model railway as a work in progress. Don't mind the profanity and inane banter. It's what we yanks call "reality teevee."


James McInerney said...

Nice video Blair! Fascinating to hear the American accents talking Aus trains! It is indeed a shame that Lance has to pull the layout down. I hope he will have enough space to create another version at the new place and that you will 'report' on it in due course.

Sarails said...

Great Video Blair! From what was shown it looks like you guys have a good group :) I too hope that Lance is able to get something going in his new place.

And I'm also looking forward to seeing more of your layout too "hint"

South Coast Rail said...

G'day Blair,
I see Lance has a 44 class in the blood and custer colour scheme.
Are they the models equipped with a two chime Little Bighorn at each end?
You could say this is their last stand, I mean last run.
It had the makings of a great layout, he certainly picked an interesting operational area.
May the next layout be as good

Ray P said...

Blair, this is for Lance who I am sure will read these comments.

Lance, It is a pity that your railway is to be no more but the best thing is that you get to plan another even if it may not be as large.

It looked impressive, particularly the S bend and the painted backscene was very good and could have been modified to suit the hills around Ardglen.

Looking forward to seeing some action from your new place in the future.

Hope to see you both next year.

Ray P

Brakevan said...

Boys, where was the invitation. Qantas has just released our version of the special fares to FTW at around $1700.It just means we will have to get our collective acts together and ensure they have trains running in the real Ardglen next visit.

Blair Kooistra said...

Why are your fares so much higher than ours? They had RT from DFW starting at $1100US. We bought ours for mid-Feb 2012 at $1250 RT. . . two years after our last trip, with higher fuel prices now, it's still cheaper than in 2009. Looking forward to seeing Ardglen again in the flesh!