Several years ago, noted model railroader Bill Darnaby of Maumee Route fame coined the phrase macro vs micro operations. In a nutshell, macro model railroad operations focus on the movement of complete trains against each other, while micro model railroad operations focus on the movement of individual cars to either their next or possibly final destination.
Most typical model railroads, in as much as we can define typical, feature some combination of the two. The Hills Line, however, is squarely set in the micro-operations camp. Crews only concern themselves with spotting or pulling cars to and from locations on the industrial spur. Once a car is no longer on the line, it’s someone else’s problem.
The challenge becomes how to identify locations when you’re moving not from town to town, but rather from block to block. Since The Hills Line traces it lineage to an electric interurban, it makes sense to use streets and grade crossings as the primary method of communicating locale and location.
To help pass this message along to operators and guests, I had a set of engraved plastic signs made up for every street, bridge, and other significant location on the layout. The signs feature the road or water name, plus the milepost, and are attached to the fascia using double-sided tape.
Operators then use a string-line diagram as part of their crew instruction packet to cross reference between locations on the layout and spotting instructions on their paperwork. The diagram lists every turnout, grade crossing, or other lineside item from north to south.
Need to deliver a car to the Maiden Lane interchange? It’s north of Highland Avenue. Where’s Highland Avenue? Refer to your paperwork.
The signs and paperwork have the added advantage of telling the story of The Hills Line to those that are unfamiliar with the prototype location, by helping reinforce the real-world replication present on the layout.