The dispatcher’s panel showing the west slope, hot time!


One thing about last night’s ops – there comes a point in any game/situation/reality where the human mind simply cannot clock any faster, when you’ve hit that wall and know that every synapse is firing.

That session was one of those events. I was working the radio with one hand, mousing and order-writing with the other. I’d knock out warrants and more calls would come in. I always had a train or two on the line, waiting for clearance.

The problem (engineered to be just that) is Harris Glen, the summit of our line. It’s a long run up the hill on either side, with helpers working each train on the upgrade. At the top, there is a small siding that can’t handle the longer coal trains without a saw-by. Add to the fact that the crack passenger trains MEET at Harris at 7:40 in the morning (right when the railroad is at peak load) and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. Or dispatcher melt-down.

In an effort to keep the boys moving, I was issuing orders fearfully, sorta-kinda sure that I wasn’t directing trains into collisions. I’d double-check my standing orders, give it a second’s thought then push them into the mix. Everything was turning into a blur. I was kicking warrants out like a copier. I knew that if I broke away for a moment, went outside to look at the rain roaring off the roof, went to the can, anything, I’d never hit that momentum again.

Funny thing: from the room it didn’t see that bad (I was later told). A train would ease into the sidings at the mountain’s base (Red Rock and Hellertown), get a shaky order to proceed to Harris Glen after the arrival a train or two. The helpers would drop off a downhill movement, cross-over and couple on. After the awaited train passed, the engineer would crack the throttle and up he’d go, blue smoke through the boreholes as he pushed his load upgrade. At the top, he’d meet a train or two and then get a fast warrant to run down the far side. Once clear, he’d pick up a curt Hail-Mary clearance to get him off the division. Not that bad.

On the layout, quiet movements of trains, all doing their assigned tasks.

In the dispatcher’s room, pure pulse-pounding, grin-cracking chaos. Loved it.