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Night Probe PDF Print E-mail
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Friday, 21 January 2011 22:19

This tale has a number of possible starting points.

It could possibly start years back when I read some Clive Cussle yarn about an old steam engine missing for years in a river. Where could it possibly be?

A more likely start was back in November when I dropped my own Mikado steam engine from my layout to the hard, hard floor. Unlike Cussler's story, my engine's location was obvious - it was all over the place!

Another start could be where Tiny, with his jewelers' fingers, rebuilt it from scratch. All it was missing was the forward truck set (the wheel housing) under the tender.

Could we start the tale where Kato, the manufacturer, told me they no longer made them? Or ebay, where they just weren't? Or the train bases, the membership moaning the unavailability of parts?

Or perhaps when my train-club pal Jerry who brought me a ruin of a mikado in a Ziploc bag, parts and all. To me it was the key to El Dorado, the City of Gold. Now I had that truck I needed! My steam engine would live to push freights up the Cuesta Grade once again!

I got home from the club that night and couldn't find it. Nowhere. Noplace. Looked at the club next week, asked around. Couldn't find it at all.

At what point I began looking suspiciously at club members, I can't tell you. That Ziploc contained a treasure trove of spare parts. Could one of my buddies not be the buddy I took them for? Was this a Poirot story, where lies and thievery lay just beneath the surface of civilization?

Then came Thanksgiving, the club holiday dinner, Christmas, the club break-in, our January train show, our corporate software load. Night followed day. The town crackled under three freezes. Life moved comeward as my Indigo crows say.

Then last week at the club. I was parked in the side lot where only I park. As usual I was in and out all night, fetching things from my car, putting things away. But one trip, in that dark grassy field, my foot brushed something. I fetched it up, a bag? A Ziploc bag? In Bithlo, odds were it had drugs in it. But no, it felt like hard... things. Confused, I returned to the club's porch and squinted at my find under the flicking light.

Of course it was Jerry's mikado parts bag. The only explanation was that I must have dropped it going out to my car so many weeks ago. And there it had lain.

It had suffered freezes, prowling burglars, tramping policemen, rain storms, trespassing youth, the passage of ages. It has lain under starry skies and a brilliant sun.

Until I'd found it.

And it was mine again.

Last Updated on Friday, 21 January 2011 23:00
OpsLog - UP - 1/17/2011 PDF Print E-mail
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Monday, 17 January 2011 22:20

Doc Andy's got a double garage of layout, a sprawling run of Union Pacific and Santa Fe from Council Bluffs to Denver. Half of it is shared trackage, half parallel mainlines. It's massive and fun and impressive. I'm there for the session but I won't see a single car move.

I'm in the main house, upstairs in the den. I've got a timetable in front of me, a repeater clock, the timetable and my computer. On its screen is a schematic of the railroad in Excel with colored cells containing train numbers. I've got a radio in my hand and fear in my heart. I'm the dispatcher.

"Clock is hot," the superintendent transmits.

Now the radio is crackling. Trains lining up for the eastward pull into Denver. Others advance on Council Bluffs. I'm picking up their calls, giving them clearance, moving their indicators on my screen.

UP 2440 at Gibson Yard.

Thumb the transmit: UP 2440, you are clear to Grand Banks, take the siding.

UP 2440 acknowledges, clear to Grand Banks siding.

Things are picking up. The clock is on fast time, twelve times faster, twenty-four hours of railroading in two. After cramming a local into a spur, I shave two passenger trains by at Columbus on the dot, earning a superintendent attaboy. Things pick up as the day rushes past. By 10am, the grade from North Platte up to Denver is packing with trains. I'm bailing them out as quick as I can. A couple of fast rollers, sharpies with radios, are ready for my call and run nose to tail east, breaking the log jam. Yet over in Counsel Bluffs where the lines come together for the run to Omaha, a new jam. I've got a local in and out of sidings. Busy busy.

I usually keep spare batteries handy - I can burn through three AA's in two hours. Now it's nonstop, a dozen trains moving, each with its own destinations. The host's wife brings me a coke and cookies. The coke I enjoy, the cookies are a pass - if I'm chewing them, I might miss a call. One train clears, another enters.

And suddenly, like storm clouds clearing, I'm seeing vast holes on the panel. I can long-bomb trains to their destinations now, non-stop. Down in the bull-pen listings, there isn't anything left. We've run it all. I give the last order, sign off (even while the trains are running). This puts me outside the train room as the crews come out. Handshakes all around. A great session.

I smile driving home.

Last Updated on Monday, 17 January 2011 22:44
ShowLog - Deland - 1/9/2011 PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 09 January 2011 20:30

We had a disaster of train show a year back. We have an aging set of interchangeable modules which formed a looped three-track mainline. The scenery ranged from beaten to aged. The wiring looked like something on a telephone pole in post-war Italy. The trackwork was rocky. And it get into the crew area, you had to get on your knees on a cold concrete floor and crawl in.

So, that disaster of a show - for setup nothing worked right; non-stop repairs, fixing this, grunting with that. It took us something like 12 hours to build the basic layout. By the time we were done, everyone was cranky. The next day, as crews ran their way through the tired, roach-eaten scenery, they groused about what sorts of traveling layout they would like to someday have. Well, gripes became ideas, ideas became plans, and plans became real.

Photo: Nancy RaymondWe now have a folded-dogbone L-shaped layout (when done, it will be U-shaped so no duckunder). The mainline is signaled, meaning you don't watch for cabooses, you read your signal like a real engineer as you follow your train. The turnouts all throw with little magnetic brakemen (put them on a special spot and the turnout throws automatically. Take it away and it centers back). And best of all, its constructed with aluminum framework, pin-aligned, with tracks carefully placed to butt up with no connecting-track fussage.

The scenery for Jacksonville is becoming real now, the famous lift bridge, the CSX building, the Jacksonville terminal, the I-95 bridge and the slums. How nice to set up in just over an hour (most of that because of an electrical board burning out). How nice to see trains meandering through scenes, passing each other on a double-tracked main. How enjoyable to see the club having fun again.

How great it all worked!

My club has something to be proud of. 

Last Updated on Tuesday, 11 January 2011 10:01
OpsLog - UP - 12/31/2010 PDF Print E-mail
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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

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