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OpsLog - UP - 12/31/2010 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Administrator   
Saturday, 01 January 2011 10:43

Last session of the year, over at Docs. It was supposed to be a casual get together over hot dogs followed by a clean-n-stage, but Doc with his remarkable boyish enthusiasm had gotten everything ready beforehand. And so there we were, literally thrown into a session without a dispatcher, just running in look-ahead rules, casual fun.

Took the Sterling Turn out of North Platte (flipping industry waybills as I went). Lots of traffic on the line, people poking ahead to negotiate meets with each other. Strange moment - Doc dragooned my wife to run, so here she comes in control of the three-set of heavy pumpkins, running a careful downgrade. I blinked, nodded, then set her turnouts so she'd take the BNSF cutoff. After everything was lined, told her to check with Doc when she got to Holeridge ("right here, Dear") and off she went. The lady never ceases to amaze.

Brought the Turn home and took the Denver Turn up topside next, working the industries there. Must be the holidays, but the train was short so I could work the spurs without problem. Over the top of the waybills, watched my wife and a pal pull a neat rolling meet on the Denver mains while I held clear. Things were winding down, people drifting off home, but I wanted to finish the switching and get the train pointed in the right direction. Found myself with a newbie watching how I worked it, and also JB, who'd delivered her cut to North Platte and was done for the night. My switching ended up being an informal class with JB seeing her hubby's game and the newbie working the paperwork as we finished up at the bakery and arsenal.

Sometimes, with all the timetables and fast clocks, I forget how much fun casual ops can be. I just enjoyed the simple effort of running trains and spotting cars.

I'm sure there is a life lesson in that somewhere. smiley

Last Updated on Saturday, 01 January 2011 10:58
Model Railroading vs MSTS PDF Print E-mail
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Thursday, 30 December 2010 08:49


I wrote this bit ages ago, a rebuttal for some smarty who gave ten reasons while Microsoft Train Simulator was better than model railroading. Isn't it amazing what you can Google up on the slow work week between the holidays when the boss is on the other side of the world?


Why model railroading is better than MSTS.

1) I can buy engines or rolling stock, take them home, set them on the layout and run them in any way (and in any activity) I want. I don’t have to modify files to make them work.

2) When people come over and I show them my sceniced layout, they might think I’m a bit of a kook. This is preferable to me booting up my “game” and having them think I’m a geek.

3) I might not have 100 miles of simulated trackage on my railroad. But then again, I don’t grind on for miles and miles looking at trees going by. Most model railroads are the highlights of the run.

4) You shut down a model railroad throttle and the train instantly stops. While that’s in no way realistic braking, it doesn’t pretend to be (like MSTS).

5) Switching in model railroading involves car routing, waybills, car-identification, run arounds, and interesting complications. Switching in MSTS involves backing identical cars into a spur.

6) Operations in model railroading involves rulebook knowledge, understanding of the route and timetable, and a complete comprehension of how real transportation systems operate. Operations in MSTS involve watching the track monitor box and reading dialogs.

7) At the end of a model railroad ops session, you and up to thirty friends have played a grand co-operative game. At the end of a MSTS session, you can pat yourself on the back.

8) When a model engine stutters, I clean the tracks. When a MSTS engine stutters, I defrag the drive, reboot my computer, and back down on the scenery settings.

9) When something goes wrong with my model railroad, I can fix it. But when something goes wrong on MSTS, I’m left looking at the screen wondering what to do.

10) … And the top reason model railroading is better than MSTS… it doesn’t involve Microsoft!


Last Updated on Thursday, 30 December 2010 08:58
OpsLog - LM&O - 12/23/2010 PDF Print E-mail
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Thursday, 23 December 2010 08:33

Good session at the club tonight. One of our experienced dispatchers took a trainee (who is about to graduate it seems) to run the board. That put me out on the road. Good enough - I don't get to run enough trains.

First run was an unlikely lashup of old passenger E-8s (daylight colors) pulling modern TOFCs. Okay. Grabbed a newbie who was thinking of wallflowering and put him into the cab (I'd conduct). Picked up orders and off we went, east out of Martin Yard.

It looked like it was going to be one of those nights. The two dispatchers couldn't hear with each other talking and the club alarm was causing interference. Also, my coupler was high, the TOFC was low, and we broke away halfway up towards Redrock. This is fun?

But the DSers got it figured - we boosted radios up to a different channel and the DS office combined to one board. For us, we called helpers down out of Harris Glen, not because we needed them but because it would keep our train from breaking and rolling all the way to the other side of the building. My cub engineer was working it out, smoothing his performance while I jotted out the warrants. Dropped the helpers at Harris and took the easy downgrade all the way to Hellerton. Down there, we got a good idea and put in a box car (which matched better with both coupler sets) and never had another break for our run. Got to Bound Brook, magiced over to Cincinnati, and ran it back home in two warrants. Good enough.

My second run was with steam (because I'm a masochist). Tried to run with two headend mikes (on the same address) and a new soundchipped mike (with a bum forward coupler) on the back. The idea was to push hard enough to stay attached. Very rocky start - the forward units hadn't been tuned so one was spinning and one was lugging (and nobody was pulling cars). The back unit decided that it would stall in every tunnel, so I'd have to dig under the layout and bump him forward. Finally it was so bad that I swapped engines about and finally hit on the idea of dropping one of the tuned pair off and running the sound unit on the front. Since they were different addresses, I could manually work both throttles to run together so we got the pulling down pretty good (I was still way overloaded). Into and out of Martin Yard slick enough, but hairpulled the DSer, yodelling for helpers at Pittsburgh (I couldn't even make Redrock - hell, I hardly got around the bowtie at Pitty). Some CP power ran down and got on back (yeah, that boner front coupler!) and we pushed our way up to Harris. Downhill was easy enough, but either I found dirty track or had a mechanical fault in the new sound unit because he was cutting nonstop through Calypso platform, all the way into Boundbrook. I was thankful to limp in after that. Back to the shop for my teakettles.

All in all, a good session to wrap up the year with.

Last Updated on Thursday, 23 December 2010 13:06
The Great Panel of China PDF Print E-mail
Written by Administrator   
Thursday, 16 December 2010 00:00

"You said you wanted to dispatch sometime," Ken said with his usual friendly demeanor. "How about today?"

"Sure," I smiled.

Holy crispy crap, I thought.

Ken's three-room layout represents sixty miles of Florida East Coast mainline - huge! He's also got a a half-dozen serious operators taking their starting positions, reviewing their train orders, checking out their paperwork, as serious as career engineers. This is not the place to screw up.

He walks me through the CTC board, essentially that big black 2001 monolith bristling with lights and toggles. I'll be the dispatcher today, setting switches and signals in to get the traffic over the line. My only contact to operations will be my panel lights and radio. There really isn't much chance of a collision - the signaling system will prevent that. However, there is a good chance of a stammering, sweating bio-lockup. Yes, I've been at sessions where the dispatcher melts down, where traffic grinds to a halt and the engineers quietly roll their eyes at each other. I did it myself 15 years ago - once in a lifetime is enough!

But, Christ, there are a lot of switches on this panel. To move a train from one siding to the next, you've got to align the turnouts with the toggles - klunk klunk - then switch the signals to the correct direction, north or south, - klunk kluckity klunk - then push the code buttons under each to light them up - click click click. On the board, the occupancy indicators mark the progress of the train. You gotta log where this guy is going, since the light doesn't tell you who is there, and with a half-dozen trains rolling you can get cross-wired quick.

Humans carry self-defeating fears with them - its a survival thing, I suppose. And mine are going off now. But there is no backing out. The clock's just gone hot, the first crew is calling from Cocoa, wanting to depart south. That last moment of apprehension - just WTF IS Cocoa? - but there it is on the board. These guys aren't a mother-may-I bunch - the request is clear and precise. I take the call with a nod, remember Ken's advice to set turnouts first, then work the signals back to the originating point. I line the route and signals, a final confirmation glance, then my finger punches down the line of code buttons. In the other room a constellation of emerald signal lamps come on. On my board, a block lights as the train advances. Another call comes in. I listen as I log the first, working the board, getting into the railroad's flow. And we're off...

Everything's fine...


For a nice video of Ken's layout, check out the two links (forming a two-parter) below. On the second one, you'll see your humble author trying to get out of Cocoa yard to pick up a limestone cut and run it down to the plant. You'll also get a good look at that big, big panel. Layouts don't come better than this...

File 1

File 2

Last Updated on Thursday, 16 December 2010 08:04

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