|Rick and Fillmore with relevant photos in the background that inspired the mise-en-scène|
|Who is the murderer? It depends on the narrative and |
how that narrative is shaped by each storyteller.
Each narrative is true according to that person's viewpoint and worldview, and the film explores the motivations, mechanisms of the characters and subjectivity versus objectivity in humans in general. Named after the film, the term Roshomon effect is used to describe selective memory and perception. In model railroading, I think about the storytelling of the modeler as a constructed narrative that is influenced by that person's history, relationship to the prototype, motivations for creating the layout, and ultimately their version of the truth of the railroad they are modeling. Who is 'right' when modeling a prototype or a freelance model railroad? It depends on which iteration of Roshomon preciseness you wish to believe in. In Rick's case, he has a clear narrative and motivation for Fillmore Avenue.
There are many instances on Rick's layout that embody his version of the New York Central's narrative, but Fillmore Ave is ultimately shaped by the idea of precisely framed operations. A layout can be about anything, but good layouts have a central organizing concept and sensibility that affect all other decisions on a layout. Like all design activities, the tighter the constraints on a layout, the better the result in the final product. Rick's layout is very tightly constrained to a very simple idea: it takes time to service a steam locomotive.
|A clean and organized work surface produces precise models.|
There is the business of the railroad, in this case moving passengers, which is represented by a coach servicing yard. I didn't get to operate this section, but Rick explained how the pullmans were moved around and his musings on redoing the operations to a pure yard so that he could make and break trains versus service them.
There is the also connection to the much bigger picture of trains coming and going all over the railroad through the computerized blackboard schedule for the servicing side of the layout. It dictates inbound traffic, stall assignments, and departure ready times. Rick continually updates the board as the session progresses, so you have to keep alert.
And even the locomotives themselves are indicators of activities that occur beyond the baseboards of the layout as they all come from specific trains and have their own origin story and particular uses on the prototype. All that information Rick has ready to share just for the asking. That narrative builds significance into the op session and really rounds out the experience. And all of this happens in a non-prototype layout.
Rick chose to freelance model a fictional New York Central roundhouse at Fillmore Avenue in Buffalo, NY. Created to fulfill an actual prototypical need, this facility services mostly passenger steam locomotives during stops at the NYC station without needing to perform the complex and time-consuming backing and run around maneuvers that the real railroad had to do. It would have been a pretty slick operation had the NYC followed Rick's version!
I admit I normally wouldn't get so excited about a freelance layout, but Rick's command and execution of prototype locomotive servicing is as good as I have ever seen in any layout, so this is a prototype operations layout in my book! On my visit I was the head hostler (he may have another name for it), and Rick was the assistant hostler and everything else. The task at hand on the layout is simple, but there is complexity in accomplishing it, which is my favorite type of operations.
The operations are governed by a 1-to-1 real time clock and set up as a revolving set of tasks taking a locomotive from off the main line through the facility back to the ready track.
|NYC 1740 creeps onto the inspection pit. The blackboard with schedule and stall assignments is beyond. This is run by a spread sheet that Rick continually updates during the session to keep things moving.|
|Coal and sand towers. Line up the spouts and chutes on your locomotive! Fantastic modeling on all of these structures.|
|The full ash car is ready to be swapped with an empty along with some other miscellaneous housekeeping switching.|
|Another housekeeping item, the snow plow was being repositioned in the off season to be ready for winter|
|A motorized turntable feeds and empties the stalls of a magnificent roundhouse.|
|Interior of the roundhouse. The buttons are deadman switches that must be depressed for track power inside of the roundhouse.|
|Ready for action. Stalls 4-6 are for lubrication work and the rest for more serious maintenance and repair needs|
|The ready tracks are right next to the ash pit and washing station. NYC 1740 is on Ready #2 just finishing taking on water.|
|Ready tracks 1 and 2 with the water spout in between|
The precision of Rick's narrative is what impresses me most, and that is the unexpected take away I have from my visit. I understood it immediately just by looking at the layout, and everything in Rick's explanation supported that understanding. It was then easy to move into actually operating the layout since every action fit precisely into Rick's constructed narrative. Soon I felt the flow of that narrative, and the operations became a mechanism that smoothly ticks along with the real time clock. That flow is what every layout should set as a goal for its operations.
It was easy to operate for the three or so hours of our session. I could have gone longer, which would have heightened the feeling of the flowing narrative, because it's the repetition of the operations that characterizes the activity of servicing locomotives. Its an endless cycle of maintenance and procedures with its own rhythm that results in Zen-like satisfaction.
Besides the excellent modeling and smooth running equipment, it is the modeling of the operations that makes this a great model railroad, and Rick's layout is truly a dream. He has very carefully situated and integrated a freelance facility into the NYC system and framed a very specific activity within the workings of that large system. The tight framing is what makes this layout special.
Usually model railroaders are looking for more gluttonous satisfaction from their layout with "long runs", lots of track, excessive locomotive and rolling stock fleets, and frenetic operations. But I find those empty caloric experiences compared to layouts with restraint and fidelity to an identifiable sensibility and core concept such as Fillmore Ave.
So pick your own narrative and be conscious of how you are reacting to your own Roshomon effect and use that to your advantage as Rick has done. It will provide focus, meaning, and ultimately result in a better layout that fits you and your particular interests. The "sacrifices" many modelers dread that you make along the way in service of a constrained narrative are not sacrifices at all. Shedding them strengthens your core concept and allows a depth of investigation and experience that otherwise would never be visible if clouded by those sacrifices not made.
Rick did an amazing job of precisely framing the operations of his layout, and my visit with him will have lasting effect on me and how I approach designing layouts and operations. Thanks, Rick!