Today, at about ten past seven in the morning, I ran my first train , if it qualifies for the name. And I solved my last basic design problem. The mockup loco' "Pop", still minus smokebox and funnel, towed two flat-wagons on jury- rigged chassis, from the cutting, across what will be the bridge but is currently a cut-out in the baseboard with cardboard showing a drawing of the trestle taped to the side. The tubs were sections of a cardboard tube of sweets andthe couplers were blu-tack(tm). From the trestle it proceeded through the retort house, stopping by the waste pit. I then reversed it up, to check the clearance against two more tubs I'd placed inside the cutting .
Thankfully I'd photographed it a few times before reversing, for the train is no more. The wagons derailed, destroying one chassis and pulling the end off one piece of decking. But within ten minutes I'd solved the last problem with the basic design. Here's how I got from there to here.
The approach of having the test track on the windowsill behind my workstations has its disadvantages, not least accessibility. Whilst cutting the stream section out of the baseboard, standing on the desk, I dislodged my desk lamp which in turn knocked my favourite mug to the floor. Fortunately, the fact that I'd actually cleaned the place to the point where freshly vacuumed carpet was visible prevented the mug's demise.
But the advantage, apart from being able to run the locomotive up and down the track when I need cheering up, is that the remaining problems are right there in front of me. As a result I think I'm actually going to finish this layout . It took three days for it to dawn on me what was wrong with the engine-house, but when I saw the solution I fixed it in about five minutes and went back to doing my invoices with a lightened heart.
At this early point the layout had already started to suffer from bloat and feature creep and I was glad I'd gone for a full-sized working mockup before starting on the real thing .
Bloat is well-known in my end of the IT industry. It's why you need seventy meg of free disk space to re-install the tiniest Microsoft(tm) product. A project starts off quite happily, but a 1% overage in one area has knock-on effects elsewhere, adding 2% to the next bit and so on. Another element of the IT world is feature creep , where the temptation is to add more and more bits into something just because you can. There's an industry standard joke that a mechanical engineer says 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' whereas a software engineer says 'if it ain't broke, it doesn't have enough features yet.
I know that both these problems also apply when you're designing a layout from scratch.
Here, I'd started off with, I boasted to Carl Arendt about ten feet spare . But that was before I started on the engine-house. It wasn't in the original plan but it just felt right, a scenic break - and really, what I'm designing here is a stage set, as much as a layout. By the time I'd got the engine-house looking all right, and in the process learned not too catastrophically that this really is the scale in which I used to make dolls-house furniture for my sister, I'd used four of that ten spare feet.
The shell of the retort-house was built in half an hour one morning when I couldn't sleep and then later, whilst I was checking my email, adding bits of card, trying to keep it in scale with the engine-house, but looking massive enough to represent the one in my picture. When I put in place between the boat and engine-house, though, I discovered that (a) the rubbish tip was now much shorter than anticipated and (b) I was so tight on space in the loading area, that all there was space for in the way of a scenic break was a cutting . At least it solved the problem of what sort of building it should be: there wasn't room for a building at all.
The cutting posed problem in itself. I'd anticipated having a little bit of shingle behind the engine-house area, next to the tailings, with some lobster-pots stacked against the wall. I just couldn't make that work with the stream giving onto a cutting. I think I was halfway to Waterloo on the train when it occurred to me that I could assume we were looking from the cliff area out to sea. Suddenly everything made sense. The boat was now moored somewhere sensible, and I could replace the lobster pots with the kind of collection of rubbish that's always stacked up behind a building where no-one will see it. Voila, my missing five feet or so magically re-appeared. Best of all, I don't need to model the cliff. I can simply nip down to Kimmeridge and photograph the sea blending into the sky, perhaps at early dusk. If I model a spritsail on the boat, the retort house and other elements will break up the backdrop so that no one piece is longer than a piece of inkjet photo-paper. I just love it when a plan comes together. If, of course it had been a plan.
The thing isn't photogenic enough at this stage to warrant proper pictures, but above is a sketch over a digital picture, with the locations for the shunting game marked up. All that remained was to build the flat wagons and check the clearances. Clearances were a problem. I knew clearances were a problem. When I first started I read that every mil. counted, which was why I started with thin card pre-mockups and rubber solution glue before even making proper mockups. Hmm. . . well almost. I'd faired the angle of the test track by eye and only later discovered that I was about three mil out on the tub loading area. I had intended to correct this on the real baseboard, but once I built the flats, I realised that I either needed a smaller loco or the tubs needed to be forty mil rather than thirty-six. Now, Pop doesn't look like a Guinness loco any more, but I've sort of fallen in love with the shape, which is getting more and more Lewin-like as I progress. And if I stuck with forty-mil tubs, I was seven mil out on the track, making the retort-house kind of interesting .
I figured that I'd put the tubs into the loading area and see if I could load one truck at a time. Answer, no. As proved by two flat-wagons that were much the worse for wear. The whole thing was just not going to fit. When Sue gets back from her course, I thought, she'll find yet another failed project and I'll never live it down. I poured a cup of mint tea for consolation, wrote a couple of company cheques. As I walked back from the post-box, I figured it out. If you load the tubs from the _back_, there's plenty of room. I always intended modelling the boat almost full, with most of the cargo stacked and already sheeted. Make that into just a scenic break, and I can shove the tubs through from the back, the operating side in the finished layout. You know you've got it just about right when the solution just makes everything simpler. Best of all, the tightest clearance problem just vanished, and I can make the tubs maybe forty-four mil, using the sweet tube as a former for pretty near scale balsa.
Now, this solution won't work for the longer Cuddle, where the boat is at the front. But it doesn't have to, because in the longer Cuddle there's plenty of room in Adit Level Four for loading the stuff any way you want.