Train Blog
OpsLog – WBRR – 12/2/2017 PDF Print E-mail
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Saturday, 02 December 2017 20:45

inally got a return trip on the Western Bay. And this found me on a chilly December morning sitting in that ice-cold cab of Train #2 in Denver, boots up on the boiler to warm my feet. Slid open the window and shivered in the icy mountain air to spot Conductor Vin.  His job was done for him – no passengers dawdled on the platform – all of them quickly tipped porters to stow their bags and scurried up the steps into the stove-heated coaches. At exactly 10:40am, Vin checked his watch and gave me the nod. With two whistle blasts and with our ice cold bell about to break in the chilly temperatures, we rattled over the final points, rolled through a tunnel and began out trip to Alpine.

What can be said? We met Train 1 on the roll past the clapboard station, the operator wiping his window clear to catch our numberboards, his signal dropping. At Dulce we found 123 just clearing the main. A bundled operator came out as the few passengers scrambled in and out of our coaches, clearing us out. And then it was through the long tunnel to Ute (on this cold day, you can bet that Vin was more than happy that this critical turnout between the first and second divisions of the WBRR now had a dedicated switchman there, huddled in his shack with his phone. He just stayed in the coaches and watched the dark snowsheds pass.) And then we were across the bridge and into Navajo, finding 391 loitering for us. We picked up a single passenger from the board that passes for the station “platform” and then, to Vin’s annoyance, I told him I wasn’t going to make the long run to Alamosa on a low tank. 391, eager to spot cars, watched in disgust as I watered up, the spray icing my tender.  And then we were stepping up the spin, riding the icy rails out of town, on our way to our final stop.

Yes, it was a great run – it was like I was reading the timetable and watching it magically appear before me. Once #2 was put away, I went to do my second job of the day, assistant dispatcher (a combination of timetable checker, crew caller and yard ass-kicker). Al, the layout owner, was doing a great job. Everything was under control (or so I thought).

Inside the cramped dispatcher office – bedlam. Al was cursing a crew that hadn’t OSed through a station. Then he told me to go find a crew that was missing, their train ready to roll. After that, I was over to Denver to work an issue there.  

“Uh, I had a good run, Al.”

“Whatever. Go over to Durango and kick their asses – why isn’t 35 out and running yet?”

I thought he was doing a great job. Everything seemed to be going good (in trying times). I think he finally needed some time away from the desk – he went off to find something out (possibly with a wrench in his hand) and I just stood in the office. “So. I’ll just stay here, right?” Hung for a few minutes and then an OS light came on. I looked at his magnetic board and figured out who it was. Cleared them through. Then helped to get the Goose past 243 in the confusion of Placerville. The next thing I knew, I was running the panel and having a great time. Yeah, I can look all clever and competent but truthfully, Al had shouldered the difficult part of the session. I just sat back and ran things, and even got pulled into an investigation concerning a smashed caboose (the crew fingered me, and I figured them right back*). But it was a great session (for me!) with some high-stepping running and some fast dispatching. So thanks to Al’s crew for letting Bruce and I come and play!


* It was the crew’s fault. Just saying.

OpsLog – LM&O – 11/22/2017 PDF Print E-mail
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Wednesday, 22 November 2017 23:39

kay, this blog was mentally pre-written. We were holding our session the day before Thanksgiving because our college guys were back in town. Matthew wanted to dispatch. I already had most of the blog written in my head, about how he screwed up, how trains stacked, how we were running things twelve hours late.

Actually, Matthew ran perhaps the best session we’ve ever had with a guest dispatcher. I didn’t hear phone delays. I didn’t hear horseplay. Nobody died. What I did see was a railroad that went through its paces. Good for our division. Bad for this blog. But good job, Tide.

 So I was going to run Mingo Turn. I’d tinkered with my freight program and ended up with an imbalance – five cars to the other two locals and 20+ to Mingo. It was a nightmare. And since it was my fault, I’d run it, horrorshow or not.

Not. Actually, most of the cars went to the interchange. With those out of the way, the rest of it was indexing into City Oil and Hender Paper. And when I put it back together, I ended up with cars correctly indexed for outbound tracks. This was just random dumb luck. Actually, it was an easy run, nothing to write home about. And nothing to blog.

Craig reaching Carbon Hill (Photo Frank Z)After the turn was back in the engine house, I looked at the crew call. All the freights were out – nothing was left. Up at Harris, the two helper sets were idling. Bruce was going to run one set down the western slope to Martin. I figured I’d take the other set down the eastern side to Calypso Yard and put them away. Matthew cut me a warrant sharp and I glided down the hill on restriction, following the final eastbound freight. Got into Calypso in time to find young Craig (steamhead and recovering hockey fan) coupling onto every hopper car in the world with double ended steam (so pretty). I didn’t think he’d make Hellertown with that load, much less the Summit at Harris Glen. So we agreed I’d cut in. This evening we were trying to run helpers at mid-train to see how they handled. So I dropped in about, I dunno, twenty cars back. He blew twice to move, I advanced my throttle and felt the train buck. Shit. No way we were getting these up the hill, not with steam on the head and a pair of willed-to-the-club C&NW diesels. So a quick call to the dispatcher and now Bruce had paper to bring his heavier LM&O monsters down to Hellertown to meet up. We rumbled in to find him a quarter mile out. After some discussion, we decided to slap him onto the front of our steam.

So, on the head end, two big motors coupled to two heavy steam engines. Then about twenty-five coal hoppers. Then my units. Then another twenty-five or more hoppers. Two helper sets – this was a first. We all looked to each other and advanced our throttles. Slowly train 415 picked up speed, edging up the long slope.

It’s a twisty route up the grade to Harris and the crews were watching their couplers, trying to balance the loads of this very heavy train. Good so far, not so much as a wheel drop, but we still had the spiral tunnel just before the summit. And here’s where it got tricky – you could only set your throttle as you went into the 300 degree round-the-loop tunnel, sight unseen. We held out breaths (particularly me, jammed well back on the consist with steam and diesel fumes filling the bore hole). Anyway, happily we popped out into the bright florescence of daylight, all together. Rounded the high turn at Harris where I dropped off. Got paperwork down (and passed the Harris Glen local just coming in to work – man, we ran everything tonight). Heard that Bruce dropped off with his power at Martin and now on the river route, Craig ran smartly back to the mines at Carbon Hill where he put everything away nice and neat.

Good session. Good work. Good fellowship. Good operations. Happy Thanksgiving!


Last Updated on Thursday, 23 November 2017 19:21
ShowOffLog – LM&O - 11/21/2017 PDF Print E-mail
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Tuesday, 21 November 2017 21:48

buddy is in town for Thanksgiving. I originally thought that maybe we could get a little time to hang out (like we do frequently, once every other year). With five kids, time is certainly a luxury for him (to me, it’s a requirement). But then he caught me by surprise – “Show us your club!” What a cool idea.

So in our Monday night crew set, a couple of guys helped me clean tracks – that was really nice of them, to take time to help me with this. And my buddy Bill agreed to come out and run a train with me so the kids would have something to run. But then the group grew as another friend (and his wife and two kids) showed up. So now we had seven kids, two trains, and a lot going on.

But the kids were all cool – they listened attentively, they had fun with the trains and said nice things about us (always an egomaniac boost for me). Bill and I ran opposite directions for two hours, and with the kids running slow, it was funny – we met ONLY at Bethlehem station and Weirton, nowhere else (and this was like a dozen times around). We even had the kids setting turnouts at the end. And everyone had a great time.

You know, sometimes we can get a little jaded about the amazing thing we’ve created at the club. And sometimes we can see it afresh through the eyes of someone seeing it for the first time. And looking around the large room with the ranges of mountains marching into the distance, it stunned me about the amount of time and treasure we’ve put into this.

But a great time for everyone. BTW, Harris Glen was working much better. But that dead section at Weirton is still a pain in the ass!

 Thanks again, Bill, for hosting with me.


OpsLog – Wazu RR – 11/19/2017 PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 19 November 2017 19:25

nlike Doc’s last session where we piddled trains around and figured out where everything was, this time we had the dispatcher program on line, a train timetable, a fast clock and committed operators.

Usual interplay on the railroad hierarchy – Train 999, grinding west with a long heavy string of coal hoppers, was ordered into the siding at Aver Siding*. Opposing him was 156, an oil can train sloshing his way east. The meet was supposed to take place at Hinkle Yard but with 156 oozing along late, I moved the meet eastward to Aver to get some rails under the wheels and get us back on time. Of course, only after everyone got to Aver did we realize that both cuts were too long to fit. What to do?

Classic dispatcher move – a saw by. So 999 dropped his over-length cut off on the main just short of Aver, and eastbound 156 nosed it down the line until he got to the next siding (Wallula) where he shoved it into the clear. Then 999 backed up (as 156 bubbled east) and reclaimed his train. It was actually one of those cool railroad moves where the dispatcher leaves his office to see it go down.

But of course, the WAZU isn’t interested in actually running efficiently. There was a lot of screaming about environmental groups hounding the railroad for our “dangerous practice” of shifting coal back and forth. Well, maybe this sort of scardy-cat response is what the BNSF does. On my SP, we just tell people like that to go to the blazes. So I had to move trains and argue with the superintendent about trivial stuff. Just another day railroading.

Seriously, the railroad ran well and the ops group ran it hot. People rolled off one train and took the next. We probably need a little more tuning on the time table – I had sidings to spare (short sidings, but still) and we can probably move a denser load of trains through. But it was fun. So Doc, thanks for having us out!


*And why call a town “Aver Siding”? So what if I want someone to hold the main. “Hold the main at Aver Siding”? What could possibly go wrong here?

Last Updated on Sunday, 19 November 2017 19:28

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