MER Seeks Officers

Mid-Eastern Region

THE MER NEEDS YOU!

By Bob Charles, MMR

Yes, you! If you are a member in good standing and want to support your region with good ideas and real involvement, we need you to volunteer to serve as one of the four Officers for the Region. The MER Board of Directors meets 3 times per year; once at the MER convention. The deadline for nomination is May 30, 2020. The term of office is two years, with a limit of two terms for President and Vice President. The Treasurer and Secretary may server five consecutive terms. Any MER member in good standing can be nominated, either by him or herself or by another member with the candidate’s permission. The process is very simple.

Prepare a 200-word (max) statement outlining the nominee’s interest and qualifications for the position, and include a photo of the candidate. Send the nominations package – by May 30, 2020 – to all of the following nominations process officials…

Option – also by May 30, candidates may supply a 500-word statement suitable for placement on the MER Web site.

You can make a difference by giving something back to the hobby you thoroughly enjoy. This is your chance. Successful completion of three years in office fulfills most of the requirement for the Achievement Program “Association Official” certificate. Please respond in one email to all three committee members plus Director Morningstar to insure receipt of your nomination! That is all there is to it!

Deadlines and Schedules for 2020 Nominations and Balloting

Our Bylaws require the publication of deadlines and schedules for nominations and balloting for every year in the first issue of The Local of each year. The dates and schedule for nominations, ballot and election results are in Executive Handbook, Section 5, Policies, Article VI.

The dates for 2020 are:

May 30, 2020 — Deadline for receipt of self nominations sent to the Nominations Committee. Date for Nominations Committee to notify Board of Directors of slate of nominees validated by the Business Manager.

July 5, 2020 — You must be a member in good standing (paid up NMRA dues) based on the membership report supplied to the MER Business Manager from NMRA National as of 07/05 (the 5th of July) of every election year to be eligible to vote. If an individual is not a member or if membership has expired as indicated by the record supplied to the MER, and MER officials have not been informed by NMRA National of a valid renewal of membership by 07/05 (the 5th of July), that individual will not receive a ballot, nor be permitted to vote in that year’s election.

August 1, 2020 — Deadline for mailing paper ballots to members and for commencing electronic voting; could be mailed earlier depending on other deadline requirements.

September 8, 2020 — Deadline for electronic voting, also last day as shown by postmark for mailing paper ballots.

September 12, 2020 — Deadline for receipt by Balloting Committee of paper ballots sent by mail.

September 19, 2020 — Deadline for Ballot Committee to transmit results to President, the Director overseeing this committee, and the Business Manager.

September 26, 2020 — Deadline for The President to communicate the election results to candidates. The Business Manager also notifies the MER Web Master and the NMRA of the election results.

October 10, 2020 — Deadline for publishing election results on MER’s website.

Twice-Around instead of Two Decks

Harvey Heyser III, clerk (2017-2020), NMRA South Mountain Division.

By Harvey Heyser

If you have passed my layout design table at the Mainline Hobbies/South Mountain Division Mini-Con, you might have noticed several milk crates with binders in them. Those binders contain copies of track plans published over the years – quite a number of track plans. (Kalmbach claims they have more than 50,000 in their collection; sometimes I feel as if I have copied every last one.)

Why copy a bunch of track plans? First, I am of the opinion that studying published track plans helps us improve our design abilities. When we look at what someone else has done and evaluate it according to our own ideas and plans, we are using our powers of analysis, a very relevant skill for the design process.  Second, as the binders are sorted by type of layout, we can look at quite a few similar designs in a relatively short period of time. As each plan is at least a bit different, we get a chance to see numerous ways of attacking the same problem. Third, these plans contain quite a few good ideas. We may see one that addresses a problem we face but cannot solve.

Trends: The benefit of spending many hours at the copy machine is that I have noticed some trends manifested in the track plans of various eras of our hobby. For instance, around-the-wall (walk-around with the train) style layouts have become much more popular than island style (table-top) layouts. In recent years, we have also seen a large growth in double-deck layouts possibly because this approach allows much longer mainline runs (more towns modeled and much longer tracks between them).

One deck – twice around: Sixty or so years ago, published plans often featured a different approach:  twice around on a single-deck (separated by scenery).  An instructive example is Doug Smith’s Brook Valley RR (Model Railroader, Oct. 1957).

Doug Smith’s Brook Valley RR (Model Railroader, Oct. 1957).

(Doug, by the way, was one of the first proponents of the car card/waybill car forwarding system and was the first to earn a Master Model Railroader certificate.) The distance between Merlin and Brook Valley is half way around the layout, and that between Brook Valley and Smithburg is three quarters of the way around the layout. Those distances are significantly longer than the train lengths (as indicated by the length of passing sidings) and, thus, are somewhat unexpected on a moderate-sized 9 ft. by 15 ft. layout.

Single-deck twice-around layouts have been criticized for being “insincere,” using one scene to represent two different locations. It seems to me that we should reconsider. While two decks may be the best approach for an experienced modeler like Tony Koester, a modeler with less experience is likely to find the increased complexity of double deck bench work and the need for one or more helixes leads to construction bogging down and to the layout never getting finished.

Along these lines of thinking, Howard Zane’s recent discussion of his new layout (MR, Feb. 2020) using twice-around on a single-deck pointed out the following: “The Piermont Division is actually double-deck but with both levels on the same scenicked deck. [He] refers to the design as a ‘blended-deck’ layout.  Instead of a helix, the main line climbs a long 1.5 percent grade to reach the upper level.” The second track through his scenes is separated vertically from the first and frequently depicts a very different type of place such as rural versus urban.

In summary, the twice-around approach allows for longer runs between towns, does not require helixes, and is decidedly less demanding of complex carpentry (although such designs usually do require grades and a more vertical scenery configuration).  However, the approach can be applied to flatter areas, as demonstrated by John Armstrong’s Broadalbin, David City, and Pacific (“Railroad in Suspension,” MR, May 1957),

John Armstrong’s Broadalbin, David City, and Pacific (“Railroad in Suspension,” MR, May 1957).

an amazing example of multiple times-around set in relatively level mid-western scenery – two mainline railroads with a shortline bridge railroad between them. Staging for the mainline railroads can be hidden from view by low rises and/or rows of trees.

A fourth advantage of the twice-around approach is no upper deck blocking the view of the lower scenery.  Avoiding the viewing angle problems of double-deck layouts means that aisles do not have to be as wide because crews do not have to back up to see trains on the lower deck.

A fifth advantage comes into play when modeling dramatic mountain scenery. The twice-around track configuration paired with deeper scenery allows the more distant tracks to seem further away. Colorado narrow gauge layouts have taken advantage of this possibility quite frequently.

Issues: There are, however, some issues that need to be addressed with the twice around approach – things that are also common with double deck layouts.

  1. Avoid locating two operation-heavy places one above the other. Make one place more important than the other. Otherwise, crews working in those places will get in each other’s way. Locating a less interesting mainline run above (or below) a yard, for instance, would be a better approach.
  2. Be particularly aware of the need for aisle space. Two operating areas across from each other need a wider aisle to permit crews passing. In addition, you need to allow space for crews operating on the second tracks through those scenes. That need may only be for a place where an engineer can stand and watch the train from a distance, but it must be considered none-the-less. With two trains running on the mains (across from each other) and two switching, there is the potential for a total of four crews in a given space. Aisles four feet (or even wider) may be necessary. (These space requirements also apply to double deck layouts.)
  3. Make efforts to hide trains that are running on the mainline stretches. Obviously, tunnels (especially short ones) are one way to do that. For some railroads though, tunnels might not be appropriate. In that case, scenery (trees, hills, cuts, etc.) and structures can hide trains. Also remember intermittent hiding:  mainline crews do not have to see their entire train in order to monitor its progress. Behind a stand of spaced trees, for instance, that train is less likely to distract crews working at the other place in that same scene.
  4. Avoid complicated trackwork on the line furthest in; bring operational places to the foreground whenever possible. Reaching over scenery and structures has a tendency to be quite destructive. Deep scenery may be great to look at, but it makes access for derailments much more difficult.  Consequently, avoid turnouts and other complicated trackage that increase the need for access on rear tracks.

A good example of the application of these suggestions is Russell Decho’s Maywood Central (MR, Jan. 1962).

Russell Decho’s Maywood Central (MR, Jan. 1962).

On three sides of the room, two lines jockey for prominence and closeness to operators. The second line through a scene ducks into a tunnel or is vertically separated from the line with an operating focal point. (On the fourth side, there are two operating areas, but they are accessed from different sides of the layout.) The result is a layout with longer runs between towns and no need for operators to get in each other’s way.

So, if you want longer runs between your towns, less complicated benchwork, no helixes, no upper deck blocking views, and tracks surrounded by dramatic scenery, give the twice-around approach consideration.

And please feel free to stop, sit, rest, and look at the track plan binders during the Mini-Con next year even if you do not feel like discussing layout design.

Modeling With Uncertainty

Mid-Eastern Region

Dealing with Coronavirus (COVID-19)

By Kurt Thompson, MMR

President, Mid-Eastern Region

 

Folks:

As I write this note, we’ve all been put in a sort of “lock down” due to the Coronovirus (COVID-19). Each Division of the Region has already taken appropriate steps to comply with the various State of Emergency directives. I won’t list which events we have missed or are going to miss over the next four to eight weeks. It wouldn’t add anything positive.

I would like to echo some encouraging words I heard from Marty McGuirk on his blog a couple of days ago. First, our involvement in the hobby is just that, a hobby. Yes, we’ll be missing out on some of the social aspects of Division meetings and train shows and sales. Second, if I miss out on going to a show to buy something, it’s not a loss as I probably don’t have a real need for more stuff.

On Monday 3/16, I spent some additional time in my train room, working on the layout. With the new “standard” of not going out in the evenings, I’m hoping to get a lot of work done on my layout. It’s in the “some track work is done and some not done” stage. Today I pushed forward on that timeline.

Since my crystal ball is broken (and I haven’t found a reputable repair shop), I can only say: be careful with yourself and your health; get some modeling done, and maybe have something ready for judging or showing off at the first Division meet or MER convention in the Fall.

Now’s it time for me to head back to the train room and get some more track installed.

<https://mailchi.mp/ad78dc80c524/modeling-with-uncertainty?e=8d5e4e9309>

Blame the Brass

Alex Polimeni, superintendent (2017-2020), NMRA South Mountain Division. (Tom Fedor)

Clutter from the Super’s desk

By Alex Polimeni

They say time flies when you’re having fun… and while I’m of the opinion time flies no matter what, I can say with certainty that I have had fun.

Looking ahead, I remain both excited and optimistic about the Division’s future. While the officer positions are vital to SMDs structure as an organization, it’s *you*, the membership, who keep this train under steam (or maybe pantograph, if you’re one of those electric guys.)

You are the folks who open your homes to the membership, who make our unflaggingly robust attendance happen, and who come together to put on the best model train show (not swap meet!) in the area every single year. Believe me, I try to keep the meetings short- but you guys just *care* about SMD so darn much, you won’t stop talking business!

Although I’m not running for re-election, I won’t be going anywhere, either. I will be available to help the next Super learn the ropes, and would be happy to serve on the advisory committee if asked to. Regardless, for those of you considering running, I just want to say: the Division and I have your back. You’ve all certainly had mine.

Set Up an Informal Operating System

Harvey Heyser III, clerk (2017-2020), NMRA South Mountain Division. (Tom Fedor)

by Harvey Heyser

Re-Inventing the Wheel?

Part one.

For this article, I have used the term “informal operating systems” to differentiate less structured approaches from prototype-based operating systems. Steve King has used the term “fun run,” but I feel that term, while easily understandable, does an injustice to both approaches to operations. Those interested in prototype-based operations would not participate if they were not having “fun,” and those, who prefer a more relaxed experience, still want to learn about how the prototype does things. Consequently, I find the term “informal operating systems” more useful and less pejorative. (At the recent NMRA National Convention in Salt Lake City, there was a clinic titled “Operations without the Aggravation.” I find that also an effective way to label less formal approaches.)

Over the years, we have all been harangued by articles and clinics touting the benefits of prototype-based operating systems (TT/TO, track warrants, etc.). The main reason given is that prototype railroads have developed, tested, and refined these systems for many years in the real world, addressing the many situations that come up when operating a railroad. Why would anyone want to re-invent that wheel? Clearly, developing an operating system is not a simple task. Why not use a system already developed and tested?

While this argument is very convincing, it ignores an important fact – prototype operations are very different from model railroad operations. First, prototype railroads are businesses; model railroads are part of our hobby. Second, prototype railroading can be deadly serious; model railroading is supposed to be fun. Third, prototype railroaders are trained professionals; model railroaders are, for the most part, interested, sometimes informed amateurs. Whatever system of operations we choose, whether prototype-based or other, must address these differences.

The goals for prototype-based versus informal model railroad operating systems:

Prototype-based operating systems:

  1. To experience operating the model railroad as closely as possible to the way we might experience operating the prototype,
  2. To have an enjoyable and challenging experience with people knowledgeable about railroads,
  3. To meet the session’s challenges with the tools developed by prototype railroads, and
  4. To replicate the work prototype railroads do.  (Creativity is not OK.)

Informal operating systems:

  1. To experience the model railroad in a railroad-like fashion,
  2. To have an enjoyable and relaxing experience with other people interested in railroads,
  3. To pretend we are professional railroaders (somewhat like re-enactors) and, from that effort, to learn things about prototype railroading, and
  4. To find solutions to the situations that come up without having to make efforts that are too much like work. (Creativity is fine.)

While these two sets of goals are not completely different, the emphasis certainly is different between them. Those differences greatly affect the operating system appropriate for a given model railroad. It may have been designed for prototype-based operations, and then again, it may not have been. Crew members may be interested in the challenges of prototype-based operations, or they may be more interested in a relaxing, enjoyable time spent with friends and acquaintances. The prototype being modeled may be a heavily trafficked mainline, or it could be a backwoods branch with two trains a day. Each of these sets of circumstances warrants a “custom” approach.

Prototype railroads understand that fact and address different situations with rules customized for each region and each operating district. “One size fits all” does not work for the prototype; unsurprisingly, that approach does not work for all model railroads either.

Problems with prototype based operating systems: Crews not interested in prototype-based operating systems have voiced numerous complaints. The following are some of the characteristics of prototype-based operations that superintendents might want to avoid:

  • Too much paperwork: During the often hectic flow of the session, it is often impossible to find time to read, much less deal with, a sheaf of papers, especially when the piece of information needed is buried where it cannot be found easily.
  • Hard-to read paperwork: The effort to make keep instructions and information easy to handle, often results in making them unreadable except with a magnifying glass. Also handwritten entries on forms are often illegible.
  • Rule books – too much to remember.
  • Clearances: Written clearances are an example of excess paperwork.
  • In-depth pre-session introductory material and long verbal orientations – again too much to remember.
  • Timetables, clocks and fast time: Crews want to watch their trains, not the clock (too much like work). Besides, a timetable is not easy to read while trying to run a train.
  • Reporting requirements: Having to pick up the phone or radio every few minutes can be quite distracting.
  • Complicated train instructions: Brevity and simplicity should be the main goal. Crews should be able to find what they need to do easily.
  • Train orders written in “railroad English:” Prototype railroaders would understand; model railroad crews might not.
  • Car forwarding information: Whether car cards, switch lists, or other systems are used, there is often much more information than needed. Also, carrying a large stack of cards around is always a challenge.

Undoubtedly, there are other problems crews might have with prototype-based operating systems, but the above list will suffice for now. (As will be discussed below, some of these items are essential for running a railroad.)

Problems with informal operating systems: After considering the numerous problems common to prototype operating systems, it is tempting to conclude that, by adopting an informal operating system, we can address all those issues and eliminate the things to which crews might object.

However, informal systems come with their own set of problems – a couple of them major. 1) By adopting informal procedures, we have essentially discarded the administrative organization that works so well for managing prototype traffic.

2) Crews may not have the information and directions they need to do their jobs. Between these two problems, it is almost certain that difficulties will arise. The following are some of the potentially maddening situations that develop when using informal operating systems:

  1. Sessions degenerate into confusion: This is perhaps the most serious criticism of the Mother, may I? operating system. Crews (sometimes behaving like spoiled children) all cry out for the host’s attention at the same time. As the number of problems encountered multiplies, the volume of cries increases. The host has far too much to deal with; the session becomes a confused mess.
  2. Situations get resolved without taking into account the railroad’s overall objectives: This problem arises when crews take it upon themselves to resolve a conflict by gentlemen’s agreement – such as the problem of too many trains in one location. The resolution may be quite creative; it may be quite satisfying. But, if the through freight gets held up by the local, that resolution is not the right one.

Worst of all, the crews involved miss an opportunity to experience how the prototype might resolve a similar problem.

  1. Crews blithely unaware of anything but their own train: That might work on a backwoods branch or a one-train-a-day shortline, but when more than one train is running, crews need to be aware of other trains and to coordinate their efforts with those of other crews. (This issue also comes into play when crews have to share aisle space.)
  2. Operating systems that do not address all aspects of operating the railroad: For instance, some layout owners consider having a car card system to be the same as having an operating system. That approach does not consider traffic management, and the car cards lack much of the information crews need to do their jobs. Crews have no sense of time, no information about other trains, no understanding of the superiority of trains, and no authority to use a specific track (in fact, no instructions about which track their train should be on). Confusion reigns. Of necessity, figuring out how to do a given job becomes the primary effort for the session. Enjoyment comes in a distant second.

The result of these situations can be an atmosphere of “chaos,” an atmosphere not conducive to having a relaxing, enjoyable time. Because crews do not have the information they need to do their jobs, they feel uncomfortable. They cannot enjoy themselves – the main reason for adopting informal operations in the first place.

What have we learned? Prototype-based operating systems come with quite a few rules and procedures: things that crews looking for a relaxed operating experience might object to.  Adopting an informal operating system seems like a good way to avoid those objections. But informal systems often cast aside the organization needed to run a model railroad and often fail to give crews information needed to do their jobs. The result can be chaotic, quite the opposite of the relaxing, enjoyable experience desired.

Adopting an informal operating system does not have to degenerate into chaos if some effort is put in place to establish basic organizing principles and to give crews the information they need to do their jobs.

Part two of this article will endeavor to discover ways to correct the deficiencies of informal operating systems and will open discussion of the enjoyment possible when adopting such informal systems.