|Erie no.B25, a slug, photographed probably sometime in 1968. Collection of author.
The photo and the transformation of a boxcab to a yard slug suggest a way of operating a model railroad. Instead of trying to create a layout that is a snapshot of a railroad at a particular time and place, how about creating a layout that is maybe more like a film or a book about the railroad?
This photo suggests to me that a different understanding of a railroad can be had from including the time element in the presentation of a railroad during one operating session or over the course of an extended amount of time. Taking the extended time frame first, a series of operating sessions could start in one year, move to another year the next session, and so on at each significant point in the railroad's history. Choose early and late in history for a stark contrast between steam and diesels and types of cargo and amount of traffic, or present it in a slowly evolving narrative picking up on nuances of logo changes, yard track arrangements, evolution of weathered structures, and to our photo above, the transformation of a locomotive from a rather elegant boxcab one session to an unglamorous yard slug the next.
Doing this in a short time frame like one evening's operating session would be akin to watching a documentary on the railroad, and it would lead to a much different presentation, obviously, but more importantly, to a much different understanding of the railroad by its operators. I think this idea has some legs - or at least some traction motors.