Train Blog
OpsLog – FEC – 9/29/2018 PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 30 September 2018 10:37

’m washing my wife’s car the morning after (which was only fair since we rolled over to Palm Bay to run on Ken Farnham’s FEC and hit all sorts of bugs on the way). Even waxed the hood and roof for her – she earned it. She (and buddy Bruce) rolled over to run a railroad. It’s not what she chooses to do but she’s a good sport and, yes, she has fun after a fashion. So she was yardmaster again, and I was right next to her working the classification end, sorting cars off inbound trains. It’s fun and I like seeing her push out of her comfort zone. Once she gets rolling, she’s fine.

Fine was not the word our dispatcher would use for her first time on the panel. Yes, I can sympathize – right HERE in my first session at Ken’s panel back in 2010. Yes, I thought I was going to piss in my pants (and I’d been dispatching for years). Bonita is going for her NMRA qualification on this effort (and she sure picked a king-sized layout for her first attempt). Poor thing – she was hammered by the complexity of the massive sweep of toggles and buttons. I’ve done it many, many times and every so often, I start to slip (especially when Ken breaks a rail or dumps a hopper, those superintendent pranks). But she did fine for a first time. Trains got through (we’ve had sessions where the FEC actually locked up). In the yard, the departure tracks were filled and I’d broken up my trains (and tidied things up) so there wasn’t much to do.

However, there is a comradery on a layout like this – we’ve all run together for years and so if someone is learning a new position (be it the rocket-science DS panel or the Eau Gallie cement plant (first time I did that one, I also nearly peed in my pants)), we all understand. Everyone accommodates. In this instance, Ken shifted over to assist her on the panel and his wife Beverly took over the hostler job (along with doing the trim shift). On the outbound side, JB just called the crews and lined up the trains and passed the cards to the DS desk and didn’t comment about the stack up. We knew it was difficult work, just overwhelming, and so everyone cuts the slack for that.

Even with all this, we had a great time. Looking forward to the next session. Even if I have to wash the car again.


Last Updated on Sunday, 30 September 2018 10:42
OpsLog – LM&O – 9/26/2018 PDF Print E-mail
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Wednesday, 26 September 2018 22:37

here is a trick in writing, the foreshadowing of innocence. You want to hint at something terrible occurring, start it off with something happy and innocent. Examples: happy passengers at the rail of the Titanic or dutiful shopkeepers in the market of Pompei. Something like that.

So I was standing on the cinders of Martin Yard in the shadow of my idling GP-9s, feeling good. My original plan was to work the Weirton Coal Docks. But seeing my friend Craig lashing up a heavy intermodal cut behind his Espee cabforward filled me with doubt. There was no way he was going to get that cut to the summit at Harris with steam. So I told him I’d insert my units as mid-train helpers and boost him up the hill.

Under steam on a stiff grade (Photo Frank Z)

Fun ride. We rolled out into the main just as the Silver Bullet was slipping into Martin Station, dead on time. It was very fun doing operations and watching various trains do their various things. So up the hill we went, easing past one downhill freight, pushing through the Red Rock tunnel, growling through the wooded slope below Hidden Valley. Eventually we reached the summit and I dropped out of the string, easing over to the station track. Reached over, picked up a phone, and turned to look over the room.

Everyone was on phones. Silently. No trains were moving.

Uh oh.

Bad night for the dispatcher. He had a lot of extras and with Calypso yard not in service (because we were routing past it with our new experimental freight forwarding system) trains were bunching up. Eventually the staging yards emptied out and more trains came on division and no trains completed. The railroad was grinding to a halt. It was a total transport disaster.

Just has our unnamed (to protect the innocent) dispatcher was having a bad night, Cody (who took over) had a great one. Cody told me that when he asked if the guy wanted to clock out, there was a pop as air rushed into the hole in space he’d occupied. Cody threw himself at the panel, parading the trains over the summit. And finally, eleven hours after I’d arrived at Harris Glen, I was ordered onto the front of a homebound train (supposedly to provide additional braking but, really, we all know it was a paperwork dodge). So, in the end, we got the railroad put back away, mostly run. And better, we found that the new paperwork method worked really well, better then we could have expected.

For me, it was a great session. I got to watch some cool rail action (like three trains climbing east up the long grade to Harris). I’m hoping everyone had a great time. I know I did. And – whew – the new paperwork was just perfect.


Last Updated on Thursday, 27 September 2018 19:02
OpsLog – WBRR – 09/22/2019 PDF Print E-mail
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Saturday, 22 September 2018 19:43

here was that time I took my programming team out for a status meeting/walk around Lake Eola. When the boss found out about that, I was told to “keep my Berkley ideas to myself.”

And there were those huge pointless meetings every day in corporate testing, where everyone had to listen about everyone’s status. I tried to explain that railroads don’t run with everyone knowing everything. Through scheduling and rules, railroads start different shifts in different places and everyone is instantly on the same page. I was told “this isn’t railroading.”

The thing is, corporations are very disinterested in changing the way they do things, even when they are wasteful and stupid. There are a lot of embedded people who make their livelihoods off those wasteful, stupid processes.

Which is why I’m so happy to be a part of the Western Bay Railroad. This gem of a line is at the limit of commuting to but still worth the trip. When Buddy Bruce and I hooked up with these guys it was Mother-May-I and crummy phones. Now they’ve gone to station operators and radios, with crews focused on their trains and the dispatcher communicating things through his SO intermediaries (with the Superintendent running about the place, castigating off-script engineers).

Photo Credit: Eric Menger

So this is where I spent my day – Dolores. Little town up in the Rockies that grew up supporting the local pocket mines and interacting with the narrow gauge. And me, I’m sitting right in that forward bay window, telling the dispatcher when his trains highball through and passing his demands to the crews (I’m actually in Placerville Junction and Dulcie too, but that’s a metaphysical thing that’s hard to explain). But yes, it’s a good job, one if you like doing things other than cranking your knob. But the best thing is I’m part of a railroad that is really coming together and working, session by session, more like a 1930’s transportation system and less like toy trains on spectacular scenery.

What could be better than that?


Last Updated on Saturday, 22 September 2018 19:49
OpsLog – TY&E – 9/16/2018 PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 16 September 2018 21:20

ne thing that’s fun with ops is where people learn skills and improve. I’ve seen it when people who would hardly budge off passenger trains run a freight, then move to locals or yards. But it’s not only operations where I see it – it’s also in layout designs.

Two railroads have been rebuilt in our area: the WAZU and the TY&E. And both have had significant improvements to their… presentations, for lack of a better word. Better workspaces, better runs, better location of critical turnouts. On the TY&E, specifically, we’ve seen the elimination the duckunders, reaches and that difficult to understand junction. Now it’s true point-to-point, with reasons for industries to be where they are. It feels like a railroad and runs decent, and hey, that’s the stage we need for ops.

Ran my usual, the sand and log train, bringing produce down the hinterlands to Staffordtown Industrial Yard. And even through the start of the session was a lot of tinkering and instruction, eventually the superintendent breathed into a paper bag and settled down and the crews could get down to the brass tacks of running trains. I found it interesting that a socialist like me would actually, in this imaginary world, seize a monopoly on the entire lumber production down the entire supply chain (there is a Raymond logging plant and a Raymond sawmill). But everyone had a blast, there was beer at the end, and everyone went away happy. And that’s what a model railroad is all about. Sure, everyone says its about modeling a transportation network, but it’s also about to have fun, too. And we had lots of fun.

Now, if this cheap-ass company would put a caboose on the tail of my train. Imagine, the crews having to hang onto flat cars across a half a division. Dangerous.


credit: Frank Z

Last Updated on Sunday, 16 September 2018 21:34

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