Model Railroading — Blog Post #2
I enjoyed going to Berkeley Hardware which sold model trains on the lower floor. I remember going there to look at the entire Marklin product line, all the locomotives and cars on glass shelves along the wall. At that time, they had a Marklin layout suspended from the ceiling of the main floor of the hardware store. This ‘layout’ was a narrow strip of plywood with red wire mesh on the sides to keep the trains from falling. The track was about seven feet above the floor and ran along the front windows and the back wall of the store. There was a very long bridge connecting the front and back sections of the layout that ran above the middle of the store. There were stairs at the back of store that led up to offices so you could go up and look at the suspended model train tracks from above.
I loved all of this of course. The track plan was a single track for the main suspended bridge with a wye at each end that connected to a single track running to each corner of the store. In each corner was a reversing loop. The layout had a set of signals and contact tracks such that one train would cross the bridge and trigger another train to run from one of the corners to the bridge. I was fascinated by how all this worked, in a simpler age before computers.
There was a logic to it as well. The turnouts on the layout were setup to guide the trains around the layout without needing to be changed for each train. Railroad turnouts work by moving a set of points, and as the train comes to the points, the wheels follow the points to take one of two tracks. This all works assuming the train is approaching from the direction that faces the points. If the train approaches from the other direction, the points need to be lined up for the route the train is already on, or the train will derail as it tries to cross the points that are lined up for the other route. At that time, Marklin was selling their metal M-track and the turnouts were all spring switches. Each turnout was setup to send the train straight through the turnout or divert the train to the divergent track. If a train came at the turnout from the other direction, the spring in the turnout would allow the train to pass through without derailing. I had to watch the layout in the hardware store for a long time and draw some diagrams to see how the turnouts were set so that the trains would circulate and no one had to change the turnouts as the trains went through them. It was a logic diagram or a flowchart. I would see all of this again later in programming class.
It took the trains a long time to make a full circuit of the layout, running from one corner to the other at the front of the store above the display windows that looked out on University Avenue, turning around in the reverse loop, heading back to the wye that sent them onto the long suspension bridge above the store, then to the corners of the back wall. I read the Marklin book about signals and how to wire them and figured out how the layout at the hardware store worked. I wanted to have my own version of this at home with trains controlling other trains.