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Everybody has some advice to give. Some of it is even welcomed by the recipients. These are my thoughts on the subject of model railroading. I've found them to be true in my own pursuit of the hobby. I make no claim to absolute correctness, awesome experience, or to perfect originality. But if you're looking for a little help, this might be a good place to start.

Thoughts on track planning
The best industries to use
"Humorous" industry names
How to show off your layout
Excuses for not "doing it right"


Before you even start planning a layout, I strongly recommend the best book ever on the subject, Track Planning for Realistic Operation by John Armstrong. It's not just about operation; his principles will yield the most railroad for the buck, and will keep you from designing a layout that frustrates or bores you.

Here are some general principles I've found valuable:

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The best industries to use

What are the best industries to include on your railroad?

Some basic principles:

To my way of thinking, the best industries are the ones with the greatest variety in car loadings, not necessarily the ones that generate the most traffic. The industries that allow the greatest variety, in rolling stock and in operation, are (in no particular order):
  1. Interchange track — the ultimate "industry," you can put any kind of car at all as an inbound or outbound, empty or load. A small layout can have no industries except two interchange tracks serving two other railroads, and be both busy and realistic, serving as a bridge line.
  2. Car float or car ferry — these take a little more modeling than an interchange track, but give the same variety in car loadings, plus the operating challenge of getting the cars on and off without messing up the boat's schedule.
  3. Car cleaning facility — almost every car needs to be cleaned out sometime. Boxcars get swept out outside; tank cars and covered hoppers get more elaborate treatment indoors. (And if you want to be sneaky, a busy car-cleaning shop is a good justification for those unweathered cars on your layout...)
  4. Car repair shop — the Class 1 roads maintain huge shops for their own cars. But small car-repair shops will take any private-owner car, from beercan tank cars to auto racks.
  5. Rip track — the yard track used for light car repairs will be busy every day. This is another "industry" where any car type will be appropriate, and it needs no more scenery than one track with tools and rusty parts scattered nearby.
  6. Team track — any boxcar or reefer can be spotted here. Add a loading dock and crane, and you can bring in flatcars and gondolas. A team track in California has an unloading ramp for auto racks; they drop off truck chassis to be driven to the motor-home factory a few blocks away.
  7. Brewery — grain cars (big covered hoppers or grain-loading boxcars) and tank cars in, reefers or food-loading boxcars out, plus loads of coal or oil for the boiler house, and occasional gondolas full of broken glass to the recycler.
  8. Chemical plant — covered hoppers, tank cars and boxcars in and/or out. Plastics factories and pharmaceutical plants have similar traffic.
  9. Meat packing plant — stock cars go in; reefers of meat, boxcars of hides, and tank cars of by-products come out.
  10. Flour mill — grain cars (hoppers or boxcars) in, Airslide hoppers and food-loading boxcars out.
  11. Steel mill — they bring in hoppers of coal, coke, iron ore and limestone, and ship out gons of coiled steel, flatcars of girders, and hoppers of slag. Not to mention the hot-metal cars and similar traffic within the mill.
  12. Auto factory — going in, you get boxcars of all sizes, gondolas of coiled steel, and tank cars of lubricants and gasoline. Going out, you get, well, cars. And the odd tank car full of waste oil.
  13. Paper mill — loads going in include bulkhead flats of pulpwood, wood-chip cars, assorted tank cars full of chemicals, and kaolin in tank cars, covered hoppers, or special boxcars. Boxcars of rolled paper go out.
  14. Every big industry, regardless of what it makes, will need an occasional flatcar of heavy machinery, to replace something that breaks or wears out.
  15. Engine facility — you probably already have a roundhouse or engine house, so get some more mileage out of them as industries. Bring in coal or fuel oil, and remove ashes, in the steam era. Diesels need diesel fuel. Sand for the sandhouse is always needed. And how about an occasional boxcar of paint cans, lubricants, or parts for the shop?
  16. If strict prototypicality isn't your thing, how about an industry whose product isn't inherently obvious? Call it something like Vaig Enterprises (Art Curren thought of that one) or Unser-10 Industries. If the name and building type don't specify a particular type of loads, you can spot anything there, inbound or outbound. The ultimate example would be Acme Industries — "Proudly supplying Wile E. Coyote since 1942!" That factory can take anything from iron ore to rocket fuel.
  17. Consider running a track behind some buildings (and behind your backdrop) to an "industrial park" that isn't there. You now have a sort of staging track, just for freight cars, that can justifiably ship and receive any car type.
Other things to keep in mind:

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"Humorous" industry names

Wise people will warn you not to use a pun or a "cutesy" name for your railroad, because the joke will wear thin after a while, and then you're stuck with it. But if you like that kind of humor, using it on an industry is no biggie. Changing a sign on a factory is a lot easier than relettering half your rolling stock.

Funny industry names have been around at least as long as Frank Ellison's Delta Lines. (Who remembers Carter's Little River Mills?) The ackowledged master of these names was Art Curren, who published a list that included gems like Pasture-Prime Beef and the Justin Case Hand Tool Co. (See the June 1976 Railroad Model Craftsman.) I've come up with my own list, which is published in the hope that someone will use a few of these names on his/her own layout, or at least get a chuckle.

Al Kemmie Scientific ProductsAnson DePance Industries
April Fuel Co.Belgo Dinghy Co.
Blankety BlanketsBoyle-Dinn Oil Co.
Brakel EggsBud Wiser Funeral Home ("The King of Biers")
Chapter 11 PublishersCinderella Shipping
("When it has to be there by midnight!")
Dan D. Lyons HerbicidesDon Treedis Sign Co.
Don Trustom Used CarsDon Zerly Lights
Doolittle Mfg.Ducko Cement ("We fix the quacks in your patio.")
Eyther Ore Mining Co.Goie-Nunder Mfg.
Green Bay PackingHart-Bernend Gas
Hoowuttan WarehouseKahn Fuses
Katz Mousetraps"Kav" Yatemptor's Kosher Bakery
Know-Grow SeedsL. Eagle Pharmaceuticals (makers of Sydifex)
Lefton Finished FurnitureLoston Foundry
Loudon-Noyes Mfg.Luser Sweepers & Brooms
Major Prophets Religious BookstoreMangold Office Supplies
Matt Rover MineMel O. Durris Chemicals
N. Onnimus, Inc.N. Sahl Vents & Ductworks
N. Veetro Fertilizers (makers of Fly-Bye Nitrogen)Noah Daltrey, Marriage Counselor
O'Lang-Zyne Corp.Old Factory Smelting
Pillidge, Ranszak & Steele InsuranceR. Senn Fire Extinguishers
Reddink IndustriesSaia-Lyttle-Praire Shipping Co.
Salton Battery Co.Shutcher Traps & Snares
Sic-Spheet UnderwearTalksic Chemical Works
Thries Co.Ticky-Tacky Box Co.
Toscanini SemiconductorsTruck-Me-In, Inc.
Tunza-Vurman WarehouseUnser-10 Industries
Volla Tile & FlooringWarren T. Voyd, Inc.
Wellen-Dowd Ladies' UndergarmentsYanke-Gohoam Travel Agency

And a few grain elevators:

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How to show off your layout

The original text for this article was published in the November 2001 issue of Model Railroader magazine, in the "One Reader's Opinion" column. Kalmbach has refused me permission to reprint the article here, but they said it was okay if I "posted a piece on your site discussing the same themes in a slightly different way." So here goes...

How do you get people to appreciate your layout? Other model railroaders may notice your kitbashed factory or your skill at pulling off a saw-by meet. But what about the non-railroaders, the visiting family members, the guests who want to see your trains? How do you get them interested? Here are a few tested crowd-pleasers, which can also apply to open-house night at club layouts:

  1. This should go without saying, but make sure the rails and engine wheels are clean, and don't use any brand-new equipment when you're putting on a show. Double-check your track for loose ballast, out-of-gauge switch points, scenery too close to the rails, and anything else that gives Murphy's Law an advantage.
  2. Give them what they want. When Joe Public thinks of a train, he probably imagines a steam engine pulling mixed freight cars, with a red caboose on the end. So run a steam engine with a mixed freight behind it, even if your layout is set in the 80's and runs mostly unit trains. If you don't have a steamer, then borrow one. Make the train colorful, too.
  3. Keep the trains running. If you have double track, run two trains, preferably in opposite directions. With single track, keep one train running continuously and keep a second one moving from siding to siding. And change which trains are running every 5-10 minutes, so the public doesn't get bored. Rotate your turntable; do some switching; do anything, as long as it moves.
  4. Make your layout accessible. That means sturdy footstools for kids and vertically-challenged adults. That means people can get close enough to the layout to see some details. That means you don't get so wrapped up in running trains that you can't answer questions from people. And if you can provide some junk freight cars for the small kids to get their hands on, so much the better.
  5. Don't be afraid to use attention-getters. Run a Tootsie-roll tank car or a bobbing-giraffe stock car if you have one. Pass out copies of a "Where's Waldo"-style set of questions about details on your layout, thus drawing attention where you want it.
  6. Remember, the average layout-viewer can't tell the difference between a C-420 and a C30-7, and doesn't care to learn. Don't expect them to appreciate the fine points of the hobby. Just put on a good show, and they'll think nice thoughts about model railroading when they leave.
These ideas are neither expensive nor time-consuming. But they can make the difference between a yawn and a "Wow!" from your audience.

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Strict adherence to prototype?

Some people thrive on making a perfect scale model of their chosen era, right down to the width of the neckties on their figures. If you like that kind of thing, go for it! You'll never run out of things to do on your layout. But if that doesn't appeal to you, don't do it. It's your hobby; don't be intimidated by other people's way of doing things. If you feel you need an excuse for "breaking the rules," here are a few useful ones:

"Remember, it's only a hobby."

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