Tribute to Springfield Trackplan
One of the highlights of the model railroad year for many railroad enthusiasts in the northeastern United States is the annual pilgrimage to the Eastern States Exposition for the Railroad Hobby Show. Simply known as "Springfield", this show fills four buildings and attracts over 20,000 visitors over two days in late January. For as long as I can remember, I have been visiting the show - first as a visitor - but then as an exhibitor. Since 1996, I have built 168 modules which have reached the show floor inside the Young Building. With so much time spent at this event and much of my hobby time devoted to building exhibits for this show, this has become one of my favorite past times in the hobby.
In 2011, I wrote a book chronicling the history of the model railroad club where I call home - the Mohegan Pequot Model Railroad Club. The group was celebrating its 30th anniversary so we decided to collect as many stories of our past and gather them in a book. At the same time as we were working on the book, the club began thinking about building an anniversary module. We began to brainstorm what type of scenes we could put on this module to commemorate the occasion. As we reflected on the club's history, we realized one of our club's longest standing traditions has been displaying a modular railroad at Springfield. The first layout was in 1987 - back when the show was just one day and didn't fill up the Better Living Center. An idea was hatched to put a building flat representing the Young Building (our current home at the show) on the module. During the design process, the idea was eventually dismissed and we continued on building Pequot Yard. However, the idea was planted in the back of my head about building a model of Springfield.
The next year at the show, I decided to brave the cold and take a couple of photos of the exterior of the Young Building. As any good modeler does, I wanted to have some background photos just in case I ever decided to build a model of the Young Building. When I looked at the building, one of the features which stuck out was the loading dock on the south face of the building. I thought to myself - that would be perfect height for a railcar - maybe I can freelance something around this idea of siding serving the Young Building.
Research photo outside the Young Building during the 2012 Railroad Hobby Show.
As is usually the case, I was sidetracked with other projects and didn't think much about the idea for another two years. Then, about a month before the 2014 edition of the show, my club was in a panic because we were short a corner module for the show. One of our old modules had been retired and we needed a sixth outside corner to complete our U-shaped layout. Another club member quickly put together the benchwork and it would be my job to finish the module. As I thought about themes, I returned to the Young Building idea. So I made some sketches and quickly developed a design which would incorporate a siding serving the south side of the Young Building.
The module was completed in about three weeks - just in time for the show - and put into service. (See the module profile here). Overall, the module was well received but I kept hearing the same comment - "Where are the other three buildings?" This of course got me thinking, so I braved the cold again during the Sunday afternoon of the show and took photos of the other three buildings. At the time I wasn't sure how I might proceed, but I felt like I wanted to build the rest of the show.
Fast forward 10 months and the Young Building corner module has been repurposed for other club needs (see Centennial Modules II). The club was building new modules and I kept looking at one surplus Young Building model sitting on the shelf. I decided in December to take the plunge and build a much compressed version of the Eastern States Exposition on a 2'x4' module. The module was completed in two months just in time for the 2015 Railroad Hobby Show. Once again, the feedback overall was positive. However, I did learn some new information about my new found layout muse which would inspire a third attempt at modeling the Railroad Hobby Show.
During a conversation with the show director, he casually mentions that back when the Young Building was used as the cattle barn during The Big E fair, box cars of hay would be delivered to that loading dock on the south side of the building. This was a big revelation for me. In 25+ years attending the show, I had never even heard a rumor about a rail spur serving the property. Well throughout the course of the weekend, I had lots of people talk to me about how - yes - a rail spur served the building we were standing in and the New Haven Railroad would display equipment just outside the door. I was hooked.
After the show, I began doing more research about how the railroads used to serve the buildings where one of the largest train shows in the United States is held each year. The process has been fascinating and ongoing as there is new information which keeps surfacing. I have been collecting as much prototype data as possible and posting it on the Big E Railroad Spur page and would always like hear from people who have information about the spur. At this point, I was ready to go and start the track planning process.
Essence of the Railroad Hobby Show
A few years ago I wrote a model railroad design book titled Minimalist Model Railroading which discussed a different approach to track planning. In the art world, minimalism is generally defined as attempting to capture the essence of a subject by eliminating all non-essential elements. The central thesis of the book is that, as model railroaders, we are attempting to capture the essence of railroading in some way. Before beginning the design, we should decide what the essential elements are for our particular layout focus and design to them.
As an example, for this layout, the idea is to capture the essence of railroading at the Eastern States Exposition. There are two parts to this. The first is obviously the history with the railroad siding which used to serve the property and the second is the Railroad Hobby Show. Before starting to track plan, the essential elements need to be identified. These include:
Show Buildings – The Railroad Hobby Show has been held in five buildings at the fairgrounds but is probably best known for the four which it is currently housed: the Better Living Center, Young Building, Stroh Building, and Mallary Complex.
Siding Layout - Since we do have a prototype to work from, the track plan should attempt to follow the general arrangement of the prototype. This means keeping the curve going towards the Young Building, having a siding in the middle, and connecting up to the West Springfield yard with a crossing of Memorial Avenue.
Memorial Avenue and Gate 9 – This is another signature scene as the majority of visitors to the show enter through Gate 9 and drive over the Memorial Avenue Grade Crossing. This will help identify the location of the layout and help visualize the connection to the rest of world at the West Springfield yard.
Beyond these items, anything else should be considered non-essential. This doesn't mean extra items shouldn't be included, but during the early drafts of a layout design, items not on the essential list can be left off until those essential items are figured into the plan. Then, we can go back and add in other items as desired. As you will see in the finished trackplan, an item which is non-essential, but will help add to the scene, a railroad headquarters building on Memorial Avenue, was included. If I didn't have room, it wouldn't have made the cut.
Now that we have the essential elements in hand, the next recommendation I have in the book is to start the design process by defining your constraints of space, time, money, and skills. These design constraints are personal to your particular situation and revolve around the main resources you need to build a layout (and they change over time). Every single person is different so these need to be defined for yourself. As an example, these happen to be my constraints for this layout:
Time – At the moment, I have a somewhat flexible schedule beyond work responsibilities and could spend a fair amount of time on building a railroad. However, I expect this could change in the future dramatically. While I will still have some time, I don’t expect to have more than a few hours a week to work on a railroad. Therefore, any layout should be reasonable enough in scope which could be completed without needing to spend every free moment I have on it.
Space – This layout is clearly designed to be shown at the train show for which it is designed after. This means I have three space constraints. The first is the space where the layout will be set up at my home. The second space is in a vehicle to transport the railroad from place to place. Finally, I have space available at the show itself.
At home, I have up to a 10′ x 20′ space to set up the layout during its construction. This isn't bad and in theory, with a modular type design, I could build something bigger than this space - I just wouldn't be able to setup everything all at the same time. However, the vehicle constraint is a little more difficult. Since my car is too small to move anything but a small module or two, I would expect to have to rent another vehicle to move the layout. My ultimate goal is to build an O scale layout, which means it will probably be on the larger side. I’ve driven a couple of UHaul style trucks which have plenty of room but from a practical perspective, a minivan will be easier to deal with. A typical minivan has a capacity in the neighborhood of 7' L x 4' W x 3' H. The final space constraint is a space at the show. The layout will be setup within the Mohegan Pequot Model Railroad Club's HO layout. While Amherst generously provides the club with a 42'x72' space, I can't take it all. We have 19 other module owners in the club which all like to bring their works to the show. After looking at the club's layout, I can find a space about 8' x 12' to fit a layout. Of all three spaces, this is the one that is the constraint.
Money – I’m putting a fairly strict budget in place for the layout in the near term. This means I will build some temporary structures and replace those with final models as funds become available.
Skills – I have built lots of railroads so I have few concerns about the skills needed to construct any model railroad. However, I would like to spend time improving the finer modeling skills like scratchbuilding, painting, weathering, and detailing. With this layout, these opportunities should be plenty.
With the essential elements and design constraints identified, the next step was to put mouse clicks to CAD drawing to develop a track plan. The final plan is the one at the start of the article. It took about six or seven attempts to arrange things the way I wanted. The overall plan includes all of the essential elements onto a five section 6'x12' portable layout. The layout is in O scale and four sections are a standard 24"x48" with one 36"x48" module to hold the Young Building. The sections are also small enough where I can handle moving them by myself and stack nicely for long term storage or when transporting in a minivan. I tried some more free flowing designs but the sections became awkward when attempting to figure out how to move them.
I am fairly excited to get to work. Now it's time to build some benchwork...you can check out the construction progress on the blog each week during Layout Update Mondays.