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Basements Have Walls, Trainz Virtual Model Railroading

Satisfying our Model Railroad Dreams
By John Keenan 

Originally published in Woodbridge's Train Simulation Craftsman Volume 1, Holiday Issue, Fourth Quarter 2002. --Ed 

I am your typical model railroader and railfan. I grew up in a small Central Illinois town where my boyhood home was located right across the street from the Wabash mainline that passed through our little town. I remember sitting on the front stoop of our house on warm summer days for hours on end, waiting for the Wabash trains to pass by.

I have a very vague memory of steam on the Wabash, but my fondest memories are of the beautiful blue, white, and grey F units roaring through town. The freight agent for the Wabash was a kindly old gentleman who allowed me to spend many happy hours at the station looking over his shoulder and bothering him with my many questions. 

As soon as it became possible, I began model railroading in HO scale. I went through the typical evolution of 4 by 8-foot plywood board layouts, very poorly done, through more and more sophisticated layouts as my skills and finances allowed. I now have a large basement HO scale layout depicting the Soo Line through Wisconsin in the transition era.

While I have always thoroughly enjoyed model railroading, I have always felt the frustration of not having the time, space, money, or some of the skills required to build a truly close-to-prototypical model railroad. We can certainly capture "scenes" from the prototype and build fairly close depictions of those scenes. We can capture the "feel" of a prototype by using the correct motive power and rolling stock, by carefully building our scenery to match that found on our favorite railroad, by using the correct colored ballast on our trackage, by scratch-building or kitbashing our structures to closely match those found on the prototype, and by using a myriad of other tricks to force viewers to see what we want them to see on our layouts.

But after having done all this, I still had the nagging desire to see 120-car freight trains travel the many miles between terminals, to have the rivers the trains cross be, in scale, as wide as they are in reality, and to have mountains tower over the scene as they should. I wanted to accomplish this without the trackage having to double back on itself, creating the toy-like appearance we must often use as a compromise to get length on our pikes. I, of course, realized that what I truly wanted to do was impossible in the model railroad realm due to lack of time, space, money, and skill. And then along came Trainz…….

Trainz virtual railroading software by Auran came to my rescue. I purchased this wonderful product a little less than a year ago and have been addicted to it ever since! I can now build the routes and layouts of my dreams! It is now possible for me to take a track plan out of a publication and duplicate it, and to modify it in any manner that I wish. I built a few of these to practice laying track and making scenery, but my goal was still to build my "dream layout."

After a few fun-filled weeks of "playing" with the software, I decided it was time to begin building "the dream." I have always admired the Clinchfield Railroad. This magnificent railroad overcame huge obstacles to build its route through Appalachia as it travels through some of the most beautiful country in the world. Because of my interest in the "Clinch", I had quite a bit of reference material on hand, and used the Internet to fill in some gaps of information I needed to do the project.

I will not go into detail as to how I built the Clinchfield Project, as that is not the point of this article, but in pursuing this project I finally realized my dream. I built a "layout" that takes over one hour and fifteen minutes to run from end to end. The project has several branches to coal fields, and has several large yards. To duplicate this project in HO scale would require a good sized high school gymnasium! I typically run coal trains of 100 to 120 cars! I can duplicate the Clinchfield operations quite accurately. I can run locals, through freights, passenger trains, carry out yard switching, all without leaving my comfortable computer chair!

Trainz fulfills my entire model railroading desires, and it does so without the time, skill, and cost of "hands-on" model railroading. I still enjoy my HO scale layout, and I do not think virtual model railroading will ever take the place of the hands-on approach to the hobby. But, virtual model railroading allows us to fulfill those grandiose dreams that most model railroaders have of building and operating the perfect layout!

As long as you have a fairly powerful personal computer, you can theoretically build a railroad of infinite size. Trainz is a wonderful addition to the hobby of model railroading in general, and virtual model railroading in particular.

I sum it all up like this, "Basements have walls, Trainz doesn't!"

© 2002 John Keenan All rights reserved. 






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