Model Railroading

Model Railroading Blog Post #17

ETE, ETE Bay Area, Small Layout, Playing cards for switch lists
Posted: September 10, 2017 at 4:00 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

ETE_BayArea_Newsletter_September_2017, Brian Hitchcock

Playing cards for switch lists

My first presentation at EuroWest 2017 was about a small layout that doesn’t take much time or space. To make a small layout more interesting, you want to do as much switching as possible, and to do this, you want to have some form of list of which cars need to be switched to which siding or industry. As part of my presentation and demo I showed the customized playing cards I use to generate switch lists on my layout. My presentation is available here: where you can review the background on my current small layout.

When you make a presentation, you wonder which part or parts of what you present will be the most interesting to the persons that attend. In this case it was the playing cards I used to generate which cars and the order of those cars I need to create the next train on my layout. I didn’t think the cards themselves would be so interesting.

ETE, ETE Bay Area, Small Layout, Playing cards for switch lists

Photo 1 – Customized playing cards.

I wanted to go back and check if these were still available because I had these cards made several years ago. You can find the vendor online, Printer Studio and you can use this link to see the specific product I ordered: From this page we see that a deck of cards costs $13.80 and there is a discount for ordering more than five decks. When you click on the ‘Personalize it’ button, you see the page where you can choose how many of the cards you will customize, and selecting ‘54 images’ takes you to the page where you setup a different photo for each of the cards. There are 54 cards because you get two Joker cards in addition to the standard 52 cards. Photo 2 shows both sets I had printed several years ago. I decided to use different images for the back of the cards of each set. The two images are the front and back cover art of the 1965/66 Märklin catalog.

ETE, ETE Bay Area, Small Layout, Playing cards for switch lists

Photo 2 – Marklin catalog artwork for the back of the playing cards.

Also note that the images do not have to be anything special and you do not have to make a big project out of taking them. All of the images I used were taken with my iPhone. I just put each car on my layout, took a photo of the car with my iPhone and uploaded them to the Printer Studio website. I didn’t have to setup any special lighting, I didn’t use a complicated camera and I didn’t need to edit or manipulate any of the images before I uploaded them. Setting up an order for a deck of cards like this doesn’t take much longer than the time it takes to set your cars out on your layout and take the photos.

One question about using these cards was what happens when you get a new car after you have the deck of cards printed. Photo 3 shows how I handle this situation. When I had my two decks printed, I had more than 54 cars but less than 108. I got two decks and that was more cards than I had cars which meant I had some extra cards. For these cards I used the same catalog cover art that I used for the back of the cards. Whenever I get a new car I use a Sharpie to simply write the name of the car on one of these extra cards. You can see several of these cards in Photo 3.

ETE, ETE Bay Area, Small Layout, Playing cards for switch lists

Photo 3 – Cards for cars you get after the deck of cards are printed.

As I described last month, presenting is rewarding because you learn things from the audience. After this presentation I was asked how I decided which car to put on which playing card. The simple answer is that I didn’t even think about it. Now that the question has been raised, what would make sense? Would a hand of three tank cars beat a hand of two high-capacity covered hoppers? Would cards of the Northlander cars and power car make up a winning hand? Something to ponder during the next ETE meeting.

In addition to using these cards as part of my switching layout, as I described in my presentation, I’ve found they are useful in other ways. When I am operating (really it’s playing, but I’m told I can’t say that…) my layout and I realize a car needs maintenance or repair I can take the associated card and put it aside on my workbench. The car itself goes back in the display case (or wherever you store your rolling stock when not in use) where it is safe while it waits for repair. It isn’t out on my layout or on the work bench where could get damaged. Another use just came up recently. I always have difficulty remembering which DCC function activates which sound for each of my locomotives. For example, on my Roco class 85 function 2 (F2) activates the smoke generator, while on my Roco class 44 F2 is the long whistle. When you setup the customized cards on the Printers Studio website you can add text to each card. You can also add text to your photos of your cars before you upload them if you prefer. I would use Photoshop Elements but you can use many other software utilities. I plan to get a new set of cards where each card for my locomotives and for any cars that have DCC lighting functions have text on top of the image showing which function does what.

It’s important to me that I’m clear that I have no connection with this vendor; I’m not trying to sell you anything. I have a lot of fun with the cards I have and I think you will as well. By the way, the new Roco class 85 is wonderful, but the Newsletter Editor is cutting me off now, so I can’t get into that this month!

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