I've been brooding over this question for weeks, how does one model the Rapid City Pierre and Eastern?
The fact is that this railroad is quite unique, running from the low and fertile prairies of Minnesota through the high plains of South Dakota all the way to the Black Hills. it's a diverse geography to be sure. Fertilizer, grain, bentonite clay, cement, corn, ethonal, lumber, and a few local industries makes for an impressive diversity of rolling stock.
Then there's the scenery! Most people think of South Dakota as being a flat moonscape, but it's not. While it might appear flat, South Dakota is actually a series of large, rolling hills. The Rapid City Pierre and Eastern is built on the old CNW line through South Dakota, taking trains along the banks of the Missouri River, Wall Hill, some of the Badlands, Cheyenne River, and the Black Hills. Basically, this train is everything from a Midwestern to a mountain railroad in less than 600 miles?
So with the incredible vistas, the sheer variety of industries, and the vast geography of the railroad, how does one effectively model this railroad? I think I've figured out the answer.
Rather than trying to model everything, a model railroad of this line should model the "feeling" of the line. Most people use selective compression, but I'd rather not. In fact, I'd rather have fewer switches, a single mainline, and a more selective region than to try and compress everything at once. I'd much rather have the big curves and the rolling hills that to make something that obviously looks like a model in some guy's basement. What I need to do is model the atmosphere, to make a person think they are in South Dakota, watching trains. Imagine a train running up Wall Hill as a thunderstorm rolls overhead, or switching cars in Rapid City on a 100 degree day. How about getting stuck in a late Winter blizzard as a grain train departs from an elevator? Or maybe the train is rolling along the banks of the Missouri River on a warm spring day?
To model this railroad effectively, I can't just build a 4x8, throw some orange and black engines on it, and call the railroad complete. No, I need to appeal to all the senses, sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste.
Okay, now I'm not going to go around licking rocks to get the "taste" and I can't recreate flowing fields of grass in a bedroom for people to touch, but I can get a "feel" of the railroad by recreating the prairie, burning sage or sweet grass for a "smell" o the prairie, recreate the ever-changing skies, and create a realistic looking scene that draws people in. Lastly, a good sound system for the trains and for the prairies is a must.
Granted, this isn't a plan, it's the mere start of a plan, but it's better than I had a few paragraphs ago.