Talk about switching (the use of American railroad terminology seems more than appropriate when discussing the "Timesaver") and it won't be long before someone mentions the "Timesaver". This small layout was conceived and built by "the wizard of Monterey", famous US modeller John Whitby Allen (1913 - 1973) and introduced in the November 1972 issue of Model Railroader - in the last article John Allen wrote.

Model Railroader, October 1976
(click for larger image)


Although obviously best known for the various versions of his Gorre & Daphetid layout (pronounced, in a twist of humour typical of Allen, as "Gory and Defeated") his Timesaver is a truly classic switching puzzle - devised by Allen as a game to relax and divert fellow modellers who would join him in operating the G&D (you'll find detailed information and insights on the G&D at Peter T. Prunka's G&D Tribute Website). In the end, this little puzzle held a fascination by itself.

"Often one plans and builds something that later shows itself to be less interesting or of less value than originally anticipated. Occasionally the reverse is true: the product proves better than hoped for." (John Allen, Model Railroader, November 1972 issue) 

The layout's operating philosophy became even more of a household name in model railroading after Russ Cain, a member of John Allen's Gorre & Daphetid operating crew, published an article in the October 1976 issue of Model Railroader on building the "Timesaver" using easily available standard snap-track components and Kadee couplers.

Most people are introduced to switching puzzles by the "Timesaver", and the underlying ideas of how to create and sustain operating interest on a minimum-space layout have influenced innumerable layouts, even though Allen devised it as a separate puzzle and not a layout design element, which is why he - a master of model scenery- left it bare and completely unscenicked.

The original "Timesaver" layout was suuplemented by an identical twin layout built by Bill Corsa, a member of the G&D operating team, so that two contestants could try to beat the clock by working together.

When Allen's layout room caught fire only ten days after his fatal heart-attack, all except a very few smaller structures of the G&D were destroyed beyond recovery. The "Timesaver", however, miraculously survived.

Here's the original "Timesaver" layout built by John Allen and seen on working display at the NMRA Convention 2000 in San Jose with Allan Fenton (right; here is a youtube video showing Fenton explain the rules at that very same convention).

Fenton, one of the original Gorre & Daphetid operators, took the layout into his custody after rescuing it from Allen's kitchen after the fire, and visited conventions with it, accompanied by Glenn Joeston, another G&D regular operator.

Following Fenton's passing in 2001, the original layout was donated to the NMRA Howell Day Museum in Chattanooga TN for display, whilst the copy twin of the original is currently on display at the San Diego Model Railroad Museum (below).


Picture by Franz Reichl, used with kind permission


Whilst the "Timesaver" concept has certainly had its major impact on American prototype modelling, it ranks among the very small number of model railroading milestones which can be adapted to virtually any scale, prototype and era. It has stood the test of time without the slightest sign of becoming stale - the "Timesaver" continues to inspire modellers to build small layouts and provides as much fun as it did 40 years ago.





Page created: 24/JAN/2001
Last revised: 22/JUNE/2024