John's Jottings

134. Strictly Not Entertaining - August 2017

Posted on July 31, 2017 at 2:40 PM

It’s not often that dance and model railways appear in the same sentence, but it happened last week. We’d been discussing Plonkton’s new layout – a beautifully-modelled grand terminus set in a county town. But it didn’t hold an audience for long.

At first we couldn’t work out why. But then it dawned. A passenger train came in, the loco was changed, and the train left. A freight would arrive, shunt and depart. The full potential of the track plan was never exploited. There was seldom more than one active loco at a time, even though there was the potential for at least three, perhaps four, or even five.

“It was rather like the excitement generated by a football match where only one player is allowed onto the field at a time,” Bill suggested with a smile.

Next door there was a simple single-line rural terminus. Again it was worked one train at a time. But the next train arrived before the previous one departed, so there was always something happening, or obviously about to happen.

“It’s a matter of choreography,” Jane explained.

“Choreography!” Peter exploded. “Running a model railway’s got nothing to do with dancing.”

“It’s all a matter of movements,” she calmly went on, “linking them together to form a flowing storyline, to create patterns that are logical, aesthetically pleasing to the eye, and satisfying to the intellect.”

Now ‘intellect’ or ‘aesthetics’ are not something that we associate with Peter, and he duly showed his philistine side. “Model railways are only there to represent the real thing.”

“But having the next train arrive before the previous one has departed is representing the real thing,” Graham pointed out. “The arriving driver has to surrender the single-line token to the signalman, who insert it into his token instrument and exchanges ‘Train out of section’ bell codes with the other box. Then he has to offer the train that’s ready to depart to that box, and when accepted, withdraw the token and give it to the driver.”

“What a palaver,” Paul commented. “Surely the arriving driver has just to hand over the token to the driver of the departing train.”

“But that’s not the procedure adopted by most railways to ensure safe working,” Fred admonished him. “If you’re insisting on prototype practice, then surely you should mimic full-size practice, even if only in your imagination.”

“The thing is,” Graham added. “The operator held the attention of visitors by explaining all this to his audience. Would you have done that?”

“Of course not,” Paul replied. “That’s just showmanship. I’d stick with one train at a time.”

“There should be a very long wait while one train goes all the way to the next box, before the next train comes all the way back,” our chairman commented. “So would be long periods with nothing moving for the audience to see. How boring.” And most of us agreed. But it remains to be seen if we can actually implement multi-train choreography when we operate our layouts at shows.

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