Sunday, April 28, 2013

What does Omnivagant mean for trackplans?

[The magazine's logo letters seem to match pieces of an omnivagant trackplan :-) ]
I’ve started to wonder about this question. Looking for some answers I searched the Model Railroader 75th Anniversary collection again and found that ‘omnivagant’ was used only once: in Linn Westcott’s Decatur, Jackson & Newton Layout of the Month I posted about last December. He never goes much into what he meant by that layout-wise other than stating, “wandering anywhere and everywhere”. 
I decided to look for ‘omnivagant’ in dictionaries to see if I might unearth more information. It turns out it’s a rather old-fashioned word and isn’t listed in modern dictionaries – well, at least the ones I checked. I couldn’t even find it in my father’s old Oxford Universal Dictionary (On Historical Principles), but I did finally find it in Sheridan Improved: A General Pronouncing and Explanatory Dictionary of the English Language courtesy of Google Books. But, its definition, “wandering every where, or in all places”, only confirmed Mr. Westcott’s statement.
[The definition of omnivagant from Sheridan Improved]
While I was searching in MR’s collection for ‘omnivagant’, I came across another trackplan called the Frogville, Punkin Center & Western Electric RR. It’s an electrified interurban layout designed by R. H. Wagner that appeared in the October 1946 issue’s Layout of the Month feature. I rather liked that plan and wondered if it was omnivagant?

After thinking about this awhile, I’d say a definite, “sort of” :-)
[A snippet of the Frogville, Punkin Center & Western Electric RR]
I’m guessing here, but I figured omnivagant was meant to mean that all tracks went down all streets and roads, and accessed all industries, which they do in the Decatur, Jackson & Newton; with the most important aspect being that, since ‘omnivagant’ applied mainly to ‘traction’ or ‘streetcar’ layouts, there wasn’t a significant road or street or avenue or alley that a streetcar or trolley, or maybe even a small, light locomotive, couldn’t drive down in the urban parts of the layout. In Mr. Wagner’s trackplan, the only deficiency omnivagancy-wise, is that even though all the industries are connected, not all the main roads are tracked. The road into Frogville is only partially tracked, although it could easily be extended to go through to Mosquito Hollow, and switch down to Juniper. However, for the most part, the tracks run adjacent to the roads; hence, my wishy-washy “sort of”. Even though, it’s still a very interesting little layout. I like Mr. Wagner’s assessment of it, “A plain railroad that runs is better than an elaborate one that doesn’t.”

So, that’s why I classified Mr. Westcott’s Union Bay Railway layout as ’omnivagant’, but not Art Curren’s Break The Rules RR.  I’d also say that the Gypsy Trolley Line that appears in the May 2013 issue of MR is omnivagant even though it’s highly linear unlike those other examples. 

I don’t think omnivagant is just the much derided ‘spaghetti-bowl’ trackplan dressed up with a fancy word. It’s true that they both pack a lot of track into a relatively small area, but where the spaghetti-bowl has lots of track for the sake of having lots of track, the omnivagant trackplan is densely tracked because it needs to connect together lots of different places that are relatively close together since they are in an urban or quasi-urban setting.

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