I wonder, what sorts of hare brained ideas are we dismissing today, that we’ll take for granted tomorrow? What sacred cows are we clinging to that will soon be as antiquated as outside third rail power distribution?
Naturally, he has us all thinking in terms of control just by the examples he gives. Chris Mears responded enthusiastically with a whole series of interesting posts about finding space for layouts.
In the interest of joining the conversation, and at the risk of upsetting a whole lot of people, I’m going to suggest we look again at our standard throttle design: the knob. Every throttle I’ve ever used (save one on my friend Tom Hood’s original layout) has had some sort of variation on this theme.
Throughout model railroading, you have one input – either a knob or a pair of buttons. Twisting the knob or pressing the button makes the train go faster or slower. End of story. People love it!
But of course, real trains don’t work that way. Even cars don’t work that way! In trains, as in cars, you have at least two inputs: a brake and a throttle. In steam engines you have what amounts to a gear as well: the cutoff (reversing lever, Johnson bar).
Why in this age of increasing realism in everything to do with operations do we cling to a control method so fundamentally tied to the toy train set?
In my dream scenario, Pembroke supports two-person crews. However, both members of the crew control the train. The engineer has a throttle, brake, and reversing lever. The fireman controls the injectors, the blower and feeds the fire. If the fireman doesn’t do their job, the train doesn’t move. If the engineer behaves badly, the engine runs out of coal or water, and doesn’t move. (I suppose we could have a get out of jail free card)
While we’re saying goodbye to the knob, we can also cast function buttons on the scrap heap of history. Many of the sound functions should be related instead to the controls of the engine. If the engineer uses the brake a lot, then the air pump should cut in. If the fireman is supplying too much steam, the safety valve should pop.
I can see how to build this system using JMRI and smart phones or tablets. I can also imagine how to create a case for the smart phone that interacts with the user interface, offering a more tactile, no look experience (although in my limited experience driving steam engines, I spent a lot of time looking at the controls).
Maybe by the time I’m ready for it, someone else will have already built it. Wouldn’t that be nice.