On Sheet – Advice (Part 1)

On Sheet – Advice (Part 1)

kay, I’m a firm sixty-five years old. Been in the hobby since I was five. Been in the club for thirty-five years and running ops on the layout (the original dispatcher) for twenty-five years. Yeah, I’m a fixture.

We just picked up a new kid, looks like mid-twenties. He knows it all and makes comments about the other members openly (pretty ballsy, given that he’s been in the club for three weeks). But the real ass-chapper came last week during ops.

Was at the panel (as I usually am). This railroad now runs on high volume – in this evening, I’d write 101 warrants to get twenty-five trains across the division. Busy night. You can’t look away or even hit the bathroom (unless you can pee quick and all the warrants are extended long). But I’m handling the night’s first disaster.

From Pittsburgh going east, you have a long hard grade. The only siding (a long one) is Red Rock. After that, it’s two rails to the summit. This means that under heavy traffic, it is best to parade trains nose to tail up the hill. Now, I’ve already got two trains on the Red Rock main coming west, holding. I have four trains going east. One’s just cleared Red Rock, heading up the hill. Two are using the siding, both advancing up the siding but the second is fouling the lower (west) RedRock switch. One train is holding in Pittsburgh to come up and Martin Yard is thinking of adding another to the mix.

A busy day at Red Rock (Photo: John DV)

Warrant wise, everyone uphill out of Red Rock are supposed to parade up the hill – should be clearing shortly. Then the two in Red Rock going west have orders to run down to Pittsburgh. Then the one in Pittsburgh has a warrant to come straight up through empty Red Rock, highballing up the main to catch the parade and roll collectively down to Lehigh where three trains are waiting. Every train between Pittsburgh and Red Rock are holding warrants. All the warrants are latched together like dominoes using those “Not in Effect Until the Arrival of ____” check boxes.

And that’s when the disaster happened.

The lead freight up is having power problems – three units with one of them dragging. What the engineer should have done is bite the bullet, pull the dead engine off and then request helpers off the summit to come down protected by this authority (we’re a bit loose on this bit) and tug him up the hill. But he hates helpers so I’ve got the entire railroad boxed neatly up while he’s walking the length of the building to get his train box and get another engine. When he put that engine on, it was running the wrong direction and he managed to knock about ten cars off the track. Fortunately, one of my friends with long arms was helping him, but tick tick went the clock.

Not much I could do except sit and chew down my fingernails.

And that’s when the kid came in.

He started telling me his own idea. Void all the lower Red Rock orders (that’s five). Write a warrant to back on tail-end eastbound down the hill and around the one holding in Pittsburgh. Then write new orders to run everyone down. Then run new orders to run everything up. Yes, void five, write a circus order to back down around the Pittsburgh train. Then write new orders for everyone.

Meanwhile, I’ve trains in and out of Calypso, locals requesting track in Mingo and Zanesville. The railroad goes on.

A headset crackled, a local looking for a quick run to Shelfton. I held up my finger (my index, but I was really tempted on the middle one) to tell the kid I was focused on the radio. Who doesn’t get what my scrunched up eyes and scribbling pencil mean? But no, he had that ground breaking (warrant breaking) idea. While I was reading the warrant, he kept yammering. That’s when I did it.

“Look, you little punk, I’ve been dispatching this layout since before you were born. I need to you shut up, go back to your train, and wait until everything gets rolling. And don’t tell me my job. It’s distracting and insulting.”

That was in my mind. What I actually did was give him the brush off/leave now gesture.

He walked out, probably pissed that old people don’t listen to him. Meanwhile on the radio, 202 was rolling again and the other trains, with front-end room, were coming off their brakes to rejoin the climb. From the room, I could hear one of the downhills calling for his following train, whose crew was sitting in the lounge area “Hey man, we’re getting ready to roll!”.

In the space of five minutes, the rails around Red Rock were humming from the streaking wheels. But that delay would put the summit in chaos for the rest of the session as trains bunched up to go over in twos and threes.

You want a point to take away from all this? Well, it doesn’t matter who is focused on a job – dispatcher, yardmaster, local operator or road crew. Maybe you could offer advice. But don’t pontificate it. Especially not when this is your first ops session with us and the chief dispatcher is hard at work.

Then again, Part 2 follows next week.