Train Blog
ShowLog - Deland - 7/8/2017 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Administrator   
Sunday, 09 July 2017 09:33

3’s idling on the Waycross siding, brakeman out at the forward turnout, waiting for the dispatcher to confirm me out. I’ve got a long line of PFE reefers, empty, but why I’m here aboard Southern Pacific units heading south in Southern Georgia*, I can’t say. I’m way off my preserve.

I’ve got a fleet of traffic heading south coming down behind me. Cody, Jeff and John each walk by with a train, their controllers held in the hands of their little engineers (we let any kid who asks run with us and at 2pm at the Deland Train Show, we’ve got the high iron humming with traffic). I decide that rather going out and dropping a signal on a kid, I’ll wait. Finally the last one rolls past. Okay, I tell my brakeman to toss the turnout over – we can roll soon as that last southbound clears the block.

“Scuse me,” a little kid says, tapping my arm. “Can I run a train?” He’s so soft-spoken, I nearly don’t hear him. “Why sure.” I proceed to explain the throttle and how the signals work and off we go, our short-version setup filled with trains and kids, just a lot of fun and run. And over next to us, that floor-poaching club who sprawled all over our space this morning and forced us to squeak in, they don’t have so much as a single person looking things over.

“It’s us they’ve been coming to see,” as the song roughly goes. This is confirmed when I run down the show organizer after the club has struck the layout and gone. “You guys get a lot of great feedback. We get emails and letters with people asking if you’re going to be here.” And we do – we recognize some of the kids and have seen them grow over the years. And that’s nice to know – people love our layout and the way we run things. So, man, if they’d give us more space for the full monty, and not give it over to those lame floor-sprawlers, we’d really give them a show.

There’s always the big two-day January show.

For now, see you in October!


* I just used the word “south” three times in the same sentence. A no-no in literary terms, but I’m leaving it.

OpsLog - L&N - 6/17/2017 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Administrator   
Saturday, 17 June 2017 20:05

t’s been a while since I operated on John Wilkes’ L&N layout. It’s a double dispatcher delight – two DSers sitting shoulder to shoulder, one for the L&N, one for the Southern, working together to get trains over shared trackage across the dual division. Of course, as the Prince of Dispatching (let’s not think about that unfortunate event with two dozen dead passengers in a tunnel a few weeks back) I was expecting to be invited to dispatch. Walked into my usual place in the dining room – there was the magnetic board, the warrant pad, the train sheets. And…

A computer.

John sat down with Ken Farnham (my Southern counterpart) and me to go over it. Turns out that the heavy-use shared track through Goodbee, the Southern section with L&N Trackage rights, and two troublesome sidings had all been CTCed (meaning the turnouts were directly controlled by the dispatchers and not the crews on the ground).

Okay. So it’s a little weird – it’s like having to do certain things twice – some track is controlled by warrants AND CTC. Actually, as I write this, I now realize that I should handle those as if they have BEGIN/END CTC signs up and not worry about writing specific main/siding info for them. But hey, we found this new system in place so we were going to give it a try.

The first weird thing noticed was when one looked at the magnetic marker board, the two sections CTCed were in reverse order in their side-by-side presentation on the screen. In other words, the CTC piece on the left side of the magnetic board was on the right side of the monitor and vice-versa. This sounds like prima donna whining until you find yourself moving six trains from siding to siding, mentally keeping track of who has rights to what, who is going where, and there are three guys holding on the phone for you. Yeah, the L&N side can get pretty busy (wrote sixty-seven warrants and moved twenty-six trains over the road). Just looking at the wrong place is a momentary distraction that can mentally trip you.

But the real crazy thing was that the areas displayed were backwards in their presentation. On the board, left is north and right is south. In the CTC display, it is reversed. So that means that a train moving to the right on the board enters the CTC display on the right, moving left. Pat your head, rub your belly, you know? It turns out that the superintendent and chief programmer (railroad admin wonks) hadn’t looked at the magnetic board when laying this all out. I struggled with it for about five minutes and sent a train down the wrong line (weren’t those Southern stations surprised to see an L&N move rumbling down the line). After that, I averted my eyes from the magnetic panel and focused on the train sheets, running 100% off them. That seemed to help.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom, and certainly not worth three whiny paragraphs. On the plus side, we didn’t have ANY overruns in Ramsey this time. Nobody took the wrong track or cinder-chinned on a turnout. And did I ever get a warm and fuzzy when I managed to get two trains to lap-siding past each other (virtually on the roll) through Goodbee (even better, since they were throttled by the superintendent and the Software Designer). Yeah, that’s one of those moves you dream of – I even got to watch it unfold on the monitor.

And what can I end this with? Next time, I’ll know how to use the remote monitors to clear turnouts behind trains (I wasn’t sure what I was looking at with that big bank of views). And I’ll have a better understanding of the panel (which, I have been assured, will be turned right-way-round by then).

But that’s the L&N for you – better and better, every session.


OpsLog - LM&O - 5/31/2017 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Administrator   
Wednesday, 31 May 2017 22:27

poiler alert!

I occasionally screw up while dispatching.

If you weren’t there or don't like bloodshed, you might not want to read further.

I burned twenty-five people alive in a fiery tangled holocaust inside a tunnel.

If you don't like unhappy endings, you might not want to continue.

I'm very sad.

Yeah, so it was a busy night on the LM&O. We've redone large sections of our layouts, some turnouts aren’t powered, others aren’t hooked up. Lots of work over the last month so everything was filthy (even with John L. paradropping in to soften the beach and pre-clean). It was a rainy night, the parking lot at the pizza place was being tarred, I'm tired from the audit. And I took a stupid chance.

All along the waterlevel section of the layout, from Carbon Hill to Weirton, everything was packed. I think I had a half-dozen trains through there (which is funny, because generally the bottleneck is up at the summit). I was writing orders in a flat heat but people were still stacking up on the phones. I hardly ever get people to try to cut over each other on the phones yet tonight there were lines.

And then I cut a corner. I took a chance.

95 was holding at Mingo Junction, picking up some passengers who evidently hadn't checked their horoscopes that morning. The line had just cleared, all locals were out of the way and I could let him rip. Cut a warrant for him to head down to Cincinnati, cutting into the station tracks for brief stops. Almost immediately after cutting time and authority, young Shawn on 244 calls in Cincinnati to come out.

"Make him wait," the little angel on one shoulder told me.

"Roll him," the little fireball demon on my other shoulder coaxed. I looked at the board. 95 was still a ways away. It should be do-able.

So I cut him paper, just out the portal, around the long curve to hold the main at Carbon Hill for his meet.

"Attaboy," the devil told me.

"Shawn, make sure you expedite. If anything goes wrong, call me. I need you in that next town."

Plenty of room.

What could go wrong?

Kids always run fast.

Rated PG for graphic content, violence and disturbing images.

Five minutes go by and I'm two warrants further along in the eighty-two I would write that night. And suddenly the window panes rattled. I looked out to see a mushroom cloud climbing over Der Sturnwald Ridge. The rumbling boom rolled over my dispatcher's office.

I don't know why Shawn dallied - it was just out the throat, six feet of unimpeded running, and right down the main to meet the passenger train. But they crashed in the yard throat.

Yeah, nice story but it was my fault. I should know never to lap authority like that and depend on a train to clippity-clop out of the way of another. I know better. So does that angel who should have made his damn case stronger.

Damn. I hate screwing up like that.

But it did give me something to write about, no?


Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 May 2017 22:53
OpsLog - FEC - 5/21/2017 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Administrator   
Sunday, 21 May 2017 14:40

here is a bit of universal irony here. I'm idling in the heated gravel desert of Cocoa Yard on the Florida East Coast, writing car numbers on lading slips and jotting in pick-up dates on the swaps. This, following a weeklong, daylong, every-damn-second long audit I've only just survived at work. Yes, more paperwork! Yahoo!

But seriously, it's a well-thought-out system, it slows the ops down to a more realistic pace, and I rather like it. Owner Ken Farnham has come up with an even-better way of getting cars to sidings where the trains are assembled in a completely different room and passing paperwork back and forth is frankly impossible. So, yes, I'm jotting down info on the cars going out, the cars coming in, making everything nice and tidy.

It was a good session (even though I got buzzed for a hotbox at the detector and had to set a reefer out in McPhalt's 20 miles away (every available siding was packed or being worked)). I'm not sure what the boys of Buenaventura will make of sixty tons of thawing orange pulp on their rock siding - hey, I'd limped the car there and dumped it. Let management deal with it.

But otherwise, good session. Dispatcher Bev got all the way through and nobody died (nobody was too delayed, either, except a couple of empty rock trains and who cares about them anyway?). The only cheese in the ointment was that two of the crew left early. I don't know what the reasons were for that - it just meant the remaining crews were picking up the slack, leaping from cab to cab to get everything run. On the ride home, Bruce (my copilot) and I discussed this - twenty years ago, you never saw this happen. If you commit to being at a session, you commit to the entire session. You know, the owner doesn’t only arrange half the paperwork or clean half his engines. He puts a lot of effort into this - outside of an emergency, you shouldn't leave until the debrief is done. Hell, bring a book, okay?

But a great session packed with extra runs, so a lot of fun for the guys who stuck it out. Thanks to the Farnhams for a great day on the rails.


Last Updated on Sunday, 21 May 2017 14:58

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