The Compound Yard Ladder to the Rescue!
Let me start this out bluntly: I'm a dummy. I made an incredibly elementary mistake in the design and construction of my layout that I'm shocked I did not pick up on until just this past week. While I've only been seriously involved in the hobby for the past two years, a rule of thumb I've heard used quite a bit is that any yard that is at 50% capacity is actually 100% full. For whatever reason I chose to completely ignore applying that rule to my layout design. And I did it at my own peril.
The importance of the "50% is full" concept has been explained and discussed in many places (for further reading see commandment 9 on Craig Bisegeier's Housatonic Page) but this is especially critical in my situation as one of my yards serves a very specialized purpose: it exists solely to load and unload carfloats. To better understand my problem it's good to understand the basics of carfloat operations on the prototype (again for more detail see the following). To put it simply, carfloat operations are unique due to the necessity to keep the carfloat upright the entire carfloat has to be loaded/unloaded at once to prevent an imbalance of weight distribution caused by the cars on the float.
To demonstrate how this all ties together I thought it would be good to include an image. Here is a picture from the late summer of my old Yard:
Note the separate tracks at left are stand ins for my carfloat and the four tracks at right are the yard itself. In the above image, the two strings of cars on the float would be unloaded to the vacant tracks in the yard followed by the carfloat being loaded with the waiting cars in the yard. On the surface all would appear fine and dandy until you note that the Walters carfloat that I will be using is a 3 track carfloat with a capacity of 13-15 cars versus the 8-10 on the two tracks that are the present stand ins. This means that the carfloat is inoperable in this configuration as there would not be sufficient space to both store cars due out on the next car float and have enough empty track to accept the cars that first need to come off the carfloat. How did I miss that one?!?!! A definite "Hello McFly" moment.
I came to this realization last week and I was feeling really low. I couldn't believe I had this problem staring me in the face for an entire year. It was such a bonehead mistake that would require a major rework of my track plan to try and fix. Quite frankly, I was crushed by my mistake.
I bought Andy Sperandeo's Kalmbach book on Yard design a few years ago and thought it might be wise to brush up on the basic concepts before I made any other blunders. During this process I discovered my saving grace was right under my nose: the compound yard ladder! It's a bit difficult to explain, but for the uninitiated it's a yard ladder in which extra turnouts are placed below the tracks that make up the basic ladder allowing for more tracks in a given length of yard ladder. This design gives you more space to place usable yard track and takes up less space with turnouts for a given number of yard tracks.
The image at left was taken at approximately the same location as the picture above from 6 months ago. The increased yard capacity is amazing. In my old yard using a straight ladder I had about 135" of track in the yard. With the new design (including that track not yet installed on the 3rd and 4th track) I will have approximately 250" of yard track; that's an 85% increase in capacity just by changing the lard ladder.
The moral of the story, if you're tight on space it's worth considering a compound ladder for your yard design. While you may not see the same increase in capacity I did (I shifted around the turnouts a bit along the top of the image to allow for a pinwheel entrance to the yard which helped me add capacity) it will definitely help with space constraints.
Finally, I wanted to ask for some honest feedback from the rest of you. The question is simple: does this look "too gimmicky" to you? My railroad is a proto-freelanced New York carfloat operation so tight spaces and creative trackwork would have been a must but has my creativity gone too far and left me with a spaghetti bowl that looks contrived? I appreciate any and all honest feedback, no feelings will be hurt.
Thanks for reading this far and I hope others can learn from a fellow modeler's elementary blunder! I look forward to any and all comments.
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