We often hear modellers refer to their "fiddle yard", but unless you already know what one is, the name doesn't really give away any clues as to what it is or what it is used for.
A fiddle yard is the bit of a model railway layout that is off scene. It is a cluster of sidings where the trains end up after they have passed through the scenic bit of the layout. Usually, a fiddle yard is hidden away behind a backscene, or off to the side where it is not in the direct vision of any spectators.
Fiddle yards got their name because it is where the layout operator will fiddle with the trains. By this, we mean change engines, alter rolling stock formations, substitute one train for another etc. The reason for doing this is to provide realism and interest for anyone viewing the layout from the scenic side, much more pleasing than watching the same train get dizzy going around and around the layout in never-ending circles, which of course would never happen in real life.
This way from a spectators perspective, a freight train could be followed by an express passenger, followed by a local stopping service and so on. Operators can even run their layouts to a timetable if they wish.
Fiddle yards are typically separated from the main layout by something called a scene break. This is a partition between two sections of a layout to negate the need for scenes to gradually change which would be very space consuming. The scene break would most likely be camouflaged by hills, tunnel or a backscene.
There is no need for any scenery in the fiddle yard itself, as it is purely a functional area of a layout. In fact, the scenery would only get in the way of an operators goal of rearranging and dispatching trains quickly and efficiently.
If you are thinking of incorporating a fiddle yard into your layout we do have a few tips to help you along the way.
The natural urge would be to fill the allocated space for your fiddle yard with as many sidings as possible. After all, more sidings equals more trains ready to go. However, unless you are in the fortunate position to have enough sidings for ALL of your trains, then at some point you are going to want to substitute rolling stock, and if your sidings are too tightly packed then this will be a fiddly job and your fiddle yard will become a fiddly yard. So tip number one is to leave enough space between your sidings to get fingers in.
Tip number two is: give thought to the point work in your fiddle yard. You should lay the contributory track that enters the yard from the scenic area straight down the middle of the yard. The reason for this is so you can have your point work fanning out simultaneously on each side of the track, therefore the point work takes up less space and your sidings will be longer, whereas, if the contributing track into your fiddle yard ran down an outer edge of the yard, then you would have no alternative but to lay point after point after point. By the time your last point had turned into a viable parking place for a train, the siding would be half the length as it would otherwise be using the previous method.
The final natural urge when creating a fiddle yard would be to dig out all of those tight turnouts that we have yet to use from those long-forgotten stater sets. Although it is a shame not to use them somewhere, and true enough, aesthetics do not have a role to play in a fiddle yard, it would be a shame if all your efforts creating realism on the layout was marred by the back of a train coming to an abrupt stop halfway through the exiting scene break because you guessed it, your loco has dramatically derailed on the points further down the track in the fiddle yard.