Sunday, December 11, 2011

What's in a Name?

You know what one of the toughest decisions I've had to make while designing this railroad has been? Not choosing a location or theme or choosing which industries to model.  The toughest decision has been coming up with a name for the railroad.

I haven't spoken with other freelance modelers about how they had come up with their own railroad's names but I imagine that, much like me, they take on the task pretty seriously. Does one name their railroad after the region?  A prominent town or a significant geological feature? Should one choose a name with a personal meaning? Perhaps after a grandfather or a favorite vacation spot?

When it came to naming my model railroad, I first sat down with a pen and paper and laid out a few ground rules to help focus me in my efforts:

1. The name must be easy to say, spell, and remember for the purposes of easy "googling" for people looking for information on my railroad.
2. The name must be plausible and consistant with the naming conventions of other regional short line railroads.
3. The name must reinforce the theme of the layout which is that of a small, modern short line working hard to thrive during a difficult economic downturn.

With those three rules in place, I set to compiling a list of items that could be potential fodder for naming my layout.

Cities and towns in the area:

Newport
Usk
Cusick
Ione
Metaline Falls

Prominent bodies of water and geological features:

North Western Washington State.
The Pend Oreille River Valley
Metaline Falls
Box Canyon
Sullivan Lake
Colville National Forrest
Cabinet Mountains

Famous residents, and other naming considerations:

Canadian trapper Dave Thompson
Steamboat Captain Elmer "Cap" Arnold
Entrepreneur Fredrick Blackwell
Panhandle Lumber
Diamond Match Co.
The Timber and Stone act of 1878
Vaagen Brothers
Lehigh Portland Cement Co.

Now, if you are familiar with the area, you will probably say that the most obvious name for my freelance model railroad would be the "Pend Oreille Valley Railroad."  And you would be right.  The only problem is that name is already taken by the REAL shortline railroad that exists in that region. (more on why I don't simply model that railroad in later posts)  Plus, It's hard to say, and spell and doesn't evoke a real sense of the area in and of itself so it kinda violates a few of the rules I laid out for myself.

The layout itself attempts to depict industries and operations between the towns of Usk, Ione and Metaline falls and the modeled portion exists solely in the town of Ione, so perhaps a name like "The Usk, Ione and Metaline Falls Railroad"  But that is kinda a mouthful, plus I dislike the name "Usk" and Ione is scary close to the name of the company I work for which weirds me out a bit.

I could name the layout after the Lehigh Cement Co. which is the most prominent industry on the layout, but... nah.

Ultimately I settled on the name "Metaline Falls Terminal Railroad."  This meets my desires on several levels.  First, it is simple and catchy which satisfies rule #1.  The name feels plausible and consistant when compared to other short lines in the region (Kettle Falls International Railroad, Mount Vernon Terminal Railway, etc.) And finally, "Metaline Falls" refers to not only an area town, but also a section of very heavy rapids that once existed on the Pend Orille River before the Boundary Dam was built, changing the water table and effectively burying the falls for good.  This idea of industrial progress and it's tendency to shape a region both physically and economically with both positive and negative outcomes is a central theme of the layout and satisfies rule #3.

The word "Terminal"  Also does well to both describe the type of railroad I'm modeling and evoke a sense of inevitability that seems to be so common with modern-era short lines.

Finally, after all of that, the first two letters in the MFTR's reporting marks are my initials! I take that as a sign of good luck, which I am very happy to have as I continue on my adventure in model railroading.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

4X8 Sucks!

The January 2012 issue of Model Railroader magazine is out now and the project railroad featured is once again a 4X8 foot layout.

I hate 4X8 foot layouts.

Ok, hate is a strong word. I don't hate them, but I do have some serious issues with pushing the idea that a 4X8 foot railroad is good option for a beginner. It is not and the reason for this has everything to do with size.

When we talk about the size of a layout, we should always take into consideration not only the foot print of the layout itself, but also the asile around the layout that are required for maintenance and operation. With this in mind, a 4X8 foot layout actually requires 8X10 feet of space.  That's the size of a spare bedroom! (for more on this, check out this awesome article by professional layout designer, Byron Henderson)

In my opinion, that kind of space requirement is just too much. Especially for a beginner who may be unsure of just how much long term enjoyment they will be getting from the hobby.  There are also many of us who just don't have a spare room to turn over completely to the trains and trying to squeeze a large table into a den or other room shared with the rest of the family is sure to foster more than a small amount of animosity towards the trains.

I think one of the reason the 4X8 foot sheet is still popular (besides the fact that MR pushes it so hard.) is because of the desire of a beginning hobbiest to watch trains run and run and run. If this is your desire (and it is a perfectly valid desire) and you are just starting out, consider building a small N-scale layout.  My second model railroad was an N-scale layout that I built on a small closet door.  It was small enough to easily slide under my twin sized bed when not in use, and it still offered a lot in terms of operation and modeling. Plus I learned a whole lot of tips and tricks along the way that I am now able to take advantage of on my new, slightly larger layout!

If the size and detail of HO scale models interests you, and continuous running is not a concern, then a small, space-saving point-to-point style shelf layout that can be placed against the wall may be your best bet!