For many prototype and proto-freelance modellers, their layout is set in a specific month of a specific year, or perhaps even a specific day. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, but I’m not that guy. The CR&NW will take more of the approach that Eric Brooman took with his Utah Belt – time on the layout marches forward with reality. Given that the basic reason for the line’s existence – copper ore hauling – won’t change substantially year-over-year, neither will my dedicated freight car fleet or motive power. It does, however, allow me to adjust the interchange traffic and an occasional lease unit that will show up online, and vary the mix a little bit. Rather than being in perfect lock-step with real time, I do think I’ll set it about three years in the past. So, for example, 2014 in real life will be 2011 on the layout. That allows me as an otherwise busy modeller time to ponder how the railroad would respond to real life FRA mandates, economic conditions, etc., and adjust things accordingly.
The one catch is that it will always be mid-September on my Copper River. That’s because for years, it seemed as if I was always in Alaska in late August or September. Alaska to me was always in the fall, and just jumped forward a year at a time between visits. I love the colors of the trees that time of year, and the light is beautiful. The rivers will still be running with a fair flow, but not raging full of sediment and debris and looking for all the world like a torrent of liquid concrete. There’s no hint of snow yet at the elevations and regions modelled – only at worst maybe a heavy frost – though there may be some far up on the mountainsides. The weather is still pleasant, but the menace of winter is looming.
I think how we’ll handle it is that we’ll start operating sessions in January with the model date being about September 7, and just let scale time march forward as it does. I’m going to aim for getting a full 24-hour day in each op session, running the FC around 4:1, but I won’t know if that’s actually going to work out until I have a layout that can be operated and a few guys to try it out. It may be that 4:1 is the right ratio, but we only run 12-18 scale hours at a time because everyone tires out after that. In that case, we’ll just stop the clock when we get done and pick up from there at the next session.
It’s all very exciting to ponder, and quite frankly I really wish I could just snap my fingers and get all of the trackwork, scenery, and equipment ready to go, but there’s at least a year or two of work ahead of me before we’re even close.