Train Blog
OpsLog – SPR – 9/30/2016 PDF Print E-mail
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Monday, 03 October 2016 17:43

dispatch a lot. And usually I have no problem taking this position. So when we were all loitering in our briefing for the Southwestern Pennsylvania Railroad and the super called for the DS, I was standing there doing my “Ah, shucks, sure, I can do it” modest number when someone snatched it right out from under me. Blink blink. Wait. What just happened?

It ended up biting me in the ass, too. I was a heavy coal job straining out of Pittsburgh, entering the main (in hidden staging, controlled by the dispatcher). I called. He cleared me and (supposedly) aligned my hidden turnouts. I advanced. And after a while, I realized I was stuck. Asked the superintendent for help. He looked in the dark staging yard. No, I wasn’t stuck. I was fully derailed.

And in the worst place – in a buried turnout throat under scenery. Fortunately I discovered that a line of building flats were removable, allowing me to fetch out each engine and car with my fingertips, one at a time. It took about fifteen minutes but eventually everything was out. Finally got underway. Met a train at the first siding I came to (who was impatiently waiting for me), rolled past him and went on the ground again. When the opposing traffic met me, he didn’t realign the siding turnout he’d used back to the main. And so thumpity-thump, I’m on the ground again.

Hey, these guys were supposed to be good operators but I was finding all sorts of turnouts left in wild position; into spurs, into sidings, into other dimensions. Eventually I was running in permanent restricted speed, walking ahead of my train and checking for mis-set turnouts and land mines.

So it was a long night with a couple of tie-ups with bottlenecks at Connelsville Yard (hey, that’s railroading). My over-and-back coal run took a long time, two hours of real time for an out-n-back. But that’s railroading, too. But dammit, I made it, regardless of the track alignments the dispatcher tossed at me.

But really, I’m just like Ernest Kessler in The Great Waldo Pepper – I keep track of talent. The owner can’t do much when a dispatcher or yardmaster falls down. But the owner did give us a wonderful layout to run on, one with a delightful mainline (two, actually) with a lot of interesting jobs all wrapped up in Pennsy brown. Great time and good running (if you watched for open turnouts). This layout is one I always point to when I talk about how N-scale can be used to fill a modest basement with a massive pike. Gorgious trains against some really neat scenery. Super session!


Last Updated on Monday, 03 October 2016 17:51
OpsLog - LM&O - 9/28/2016 PDF Print E-mail
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Wednesday, 28 September 2016 22:16

ou know it's going to be a bad ops night at the club when you get into the lot and there is one car sitting there, all by itself.

You really know it is when that one person tells you that Calypso Yard is dead. No power. No trains can move. Yikes.

Calypso is a collective yard on the eastern approaches to our steep mountain district. Cars from several different lines are gathered here, to be tacked onto westbounders boosted through the high pass. And descending trains do the opposite, dropping cuts to be parceled out to other roads. We form a bridge route through heavy country, and our trains are long. And Calypso is critical on the east slope.

So yeah, it's dead.

That's when the guy who has been working on it showed up - Bad Jonathan (we had two of them; you call out and they'd both turn their heads. On the spur of the moment I gave him this prefix to separate him from Good Jonathan, who doesn't break yards).

So Bad Jonathan worked feverishly as the rest of us cleaned and readied the layout for operations. And the very last moment (I mean, seconds from start) he got it running (so kudos to him for this). The careful instructions I'd prepped, to be given to all crews to bipass Martin-Calypso transfers, went into the trash. The clock went hot. The first train into Calypso reported no problems. Great.

Oh, it was a session like all the rest. The aging turnouts still devil us. At one point (and for no reason) the phones failed. Soon as we got our phone-guy to look at them they came back up. But we ran nearly everything, tried to maintain our schedules and pushed cargos all over the place, so I'll tip that into the success column. With that done, now I'm off to DixieRails for a weekend of enjoyable ops in Atlanta. Watch this space for details!


Last Updated on Wednesday, 28 September 2016 22:41
OpsLog - FEC - 9/27/2016 PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 18 September 2016 11:45

I guess it's about pattern recognition.

Bev Farnham on an earlier Panel - lots to do!When you first sit down in front of Ken Farnham's FEC control panel, you are struck with the idea of just what sort of idiot you were for taking on this job. I always feel this way. After all, the panel wraps around you, something like four or five feet across, with a bewildering number of toggles and lights and this long, long layout. And once that clock goes hot, everyone wants to move, there are trains marked with secretive red lights (with no obvious indication of who they are) idling impatiently, all wanting a green signal, all wanting to highball.

My usual thought is Oh, Christ! Why did I say yes to dispatching?

But then you are busy, moving trains. Keeping notes on the trainsheet before you, you quickly (you'd better) pick up the mental positioning of the half-dozen trains you are keeping apart. And if you can, you can look ahead in time, seeing who is going to need what. Nothing is better than a siding-sitting crew just reaching for a phone as opposing traffic rolls by and the turnout before them aligns, the signal winking green.

I gotta say that I really enjoyed dispatching the September session. We ran light - Ken just wanted a quiet session with old hands - so we ran a Sunday trick, a couple of movements annulled, things running light and sharp.

Not without troubles, of course, The automatic defect detector was as perfectionist as Barney Fife, screaming at about every third train (it even bitched about a light engine movement, so Ken (the engineer in this case) dutifully set a unit out on a nearby siding). But even that made the session fun, with my sweet long plans crippled by so many defect flags that the sidings around Eau Gallie looked like the wreckage-strewn battlefield of Kirsk.

I will say this. When you run Ken's session, the trick is to learn to read the panel and what it means. It shouldn't be seen as a bunch of toggles and lights, but rather the pattern of the railroad. Near the end of the session, while leaning back in the chair watching the trains eat the little green signal block lights like munching pacmen, I realized that I was looking at it different then when I'd sat down four hours earlier. It's all in the eye and in pattern recognition. In that, it's like the Oriental game Go (which I am learning to lose quite well at). Beginners see white and black stones lain in randomness across a board. Skilled players see the flow of the game, the places where the board is in danger, where it is secured. And that's Ken's panel. It's all in the eye.

The rapidly blinking, pupil-dilated eye of the start-up dispatch. But yeah, you just gotta hang in and see it, not for what it is, but what it means.

I've rambled on this one, all philosophy and such, but again, a great session. Thanks to Ken and Bev and the group for having me out. Great time!


Last Updated on Sunday, 18 September 2016 12:23
OpsLog - FEC - 8/27/2016 PDF Print E-mail
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Saturday, 27 August 2016 20:52

e all can't have good days.

Well, I had a great day. First, I tugged out a cut of rock cars out of City Point. Ran them down to Frontenac, ran around the train then cruised the layout on greens, a neat run.

Also got to brief a first-timer in the Eau Gallie shuffle, explaining the trick of it. And he did just fine. Smiles all around.

But then I was on the Buenaventura Turn, a clean run down without any interruptions. Since I've done this job before I had no problem sorting out the cuts and putting everything where it went. When I was done, the dispatcher gave me immediate run-around privileges on the main and then a green board to Cocoa. Had to rearrange things in the yard to make it fit but it was no wizz.

And then I ran a fast freight through. Interestingly, I had to pick up some of the hopper cars my Buenaventura Turn had spotted out. As I eased down the setout track to couple them on (ringing the bell as I snaked between the sheds to either side) I thought that if I'd run a little faster, I might have actually had the paradox of seeing myself switching. After all, I'd had no delays - Ken was running the layout very hot.

My fourth run of the day was a job out of Cocoa for City point. Getting ready for that was something to see - we laughingly called it the Cocoa Ballet. We had a long freight holding the main and two locals trying to build for departure. And we managed it, with everyone saying, "If you'd do this...". Working together, we the first local out and the freight standing by, with me holding off the main, ready to draft him on yellows to City Point, but then the session ended.

I'm not sure what happened in the place we road crews call "the other shed" (hey, we had plenty of lightning going on, real and simulated, to make this as dramatic as possible). All we know was that Ken called the session. There were rumors of issues, and perhaps a head on collision in the yard, but whenever someone started to explain, the others involved would flash that shut up look. And so we're not sure why we stopped, just that we did.

I can understand Ken's obvious disapointment fully. I knew I didn't just want to stop on that one club session where half the layout went down - I wanted to blow my brains out. Hosting is extremely difficult and Ken's layout is huge and fully involving, meaning there is a lot of effort that goes into hosting (and dispatching) the line. I know that when I dispatch, driving home is a hard haul, tired as I usually am. So sadly, it was a DNF, but it was sure a lot of Damn Nonstop Fun while it lasted.

Count me in for next session, Ken!


Last Updated on Saturday, 27 August 2016 21:17

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