“Take over,” the Caliente operator asked me. “I need to get lunch.”
I’d been hanging over the operator’s shoulder for the last hour, watching how he worked the board, wrote train orders, dictated them back. Essentially, he’s the contact between the remote dispatcher and the train crews, setting his station signals, passing orders up, OSing train times.
And he needed lunch. So I took the seat, slipped on the head phones, eased closer to the mike.
There should be a foot pedal to activate the mike-
Over the earpiece: “This is dispatcher.”
Shit. Ummmm…. “Caliente. Radio check.”
“Got it Caliente.”
Okay, so I’m sitting there, looking up and down the line. Its just gone midnight (session time) and things should be quiet. And then, down the hill from Bealville, I see a sweep of a headlight. I check my timetable and figure it to be Train 59, a westbound passenger, due at 12:02am. I look through the pre-written train orders and don’t see anything set up for him. Still, I gotta let the dispatcher know.
“Dispatcher, Caliente. We have a westbound.”
“Affirmative, Caliente, no orders for him.”
I put a finger on the train order signal switch (westbound) but delay dropping the board until the train is actually curling around the tight turn just east, its headlight swinging down the rails before the station. Gotta make sure he sees the stop semaphore, then watches it clear. I click the switch. In the scale model of the actual Caliente station, the semaphore arm droops in the “proceed” position. Train 59 rattles by, illuminated windows scrolling past at 25mph. I hadn’t seen any flags or lights on the engine’s nose as it went past. I find the train book, log his information. Then I place the call.
“Go ahead, Caliente.”
“Train 59 though Caliente at 12:05am, no signals.”
“Roger, Caliente. Thank you.”
As the marker lights slide down the long valley towards Ilmon, I raise the station signals back to STOP in both directions, standard Southern Pacific operating procedures.
Distantly, in the hills above Cliff, I see another train moving through the mountains.
This is actually getting to be fun…