n this edition of On Sheet, I’d like to list some of the best quotes I’ve heard during my years of operating on model railroads across the United States. While putting together this collection, I found myself smiling. Let’s see if I can give you a smile with some of these…
“That’s why they put windows on the front of engines.” – At the club years ago, I remember an engineer running over an incorrect turnout, derailing, and complaining he hadn’t noticed the alignment. This was an overheard response.
“Did you even read the orders you issued?” – In the recent operation of Tusk Hill (i.e. Tuscarora in an English setting) the signal tower operator cleared two trains into his plant, and they met on the double track siding in front of TUSK tower. One train was a local, doing work. The other was a coal train that had to pick up orders (the station board was red and the orders hung by the operator) to drop off a couple of hopper cars AND run around his train for the final push into the power plant. This turned into a total deadlock. “How was I to know this would happen?” the towerman wailed. The engineer of the coal train looked at him and gave that reply.
“Stop sending me trains!” – Years back on the V&SW, I picked up the L&N dispatcher job. Another operator (who was good, but not very cozy with me) was given the Norton yardmaster post. The briefing ended and I mentioned to the yardmaster, “Hey, ring me if you want me to hold trains back.” On the V&SW, it’s easy for the yard to get swamped and the L&N dispatcher is focused on moving traffic. “I don’t need your help,” was the cold reply. Honest, I wasn’t implying anything. So I got down to dispatching and it was a busy day. I was moving coal north and south, just keeping things on schedule and working with the Southern Dispatcher to expedite trains through our shared trackage. At one point I realized I was missing a train out of Norton – it should have been out two hours ago. Rang on the overhead for Norton yard. Got the buzz and picked up the phone. And that’s what was shouted down the line at me.
“Get out of my yard!” – On my Cuesta Grade, San Luis Obispo yard is used to reclassify and tidy up trains moving between San Fransisco and Los Angeles. The yard crew builds the train from the back end, adding blocks of cars, the local drops and then the caboose. The yardmaster on duty had just coupled the caboose on and was going through the waybills for a train that had just arrived. The crew of the just assembled train tacked onto the front end. There was a moment of silence. Then they asked what they should be doing. Of course, the above comment was brusquely spat at them by the yardmaster, focused on his new powerwork. “Okay,” the engineer replied. With two toots of the horn, they rolled out of San Luis Obsipo and started through the pocket tunnels, enroute to Serrano. Meanwhile, back at the yard, the yardmaster nodded to himself, set the waybills down, picked up his throttle and blinked. Where was his yard engine? He looked up and down the yard, in the drill tracks, even in the engine house. Everyone in the room was giggling. Finally he looked down the line at Serrano. There was his switch engine, which he’d left coupled to the caboose to be dragged down the line by the rebuffed crew, left on the siding. Of course, he had to hop into a taxi and spend a scale hour driving down to that siding in the middle of nowhere, then use a callbox to get orders as an extra to move back onto the mainline and sheepishly return to the yard. I still smile when I remember it.
“I’m color blind” – My simple Donner Pass Division had a long double-track main and a short single track section. Most of the sessions had trains running opposite of each other, waiting for the single track part to clear. Rather than have the crews unrealistically call back and forth that they were clear, I added two single-target signals where the line went to single track. A train would clear, he’d toss the turnout which would set the target from red to green, allowing the opposing train to move. So cool. The first guy I had over to run with me took one look at the signal and told me this.
“I didn’t foul limits ahead of him. I passed him clean while he was at a station.” – At the club’s LM&O railroad, I usually dispatch the pike with warrants. One night had passenger 97 coming west down the hill, followed by freight 247. I’d given 247 a specific checkbox to not foul limits ahead of 97 (meaning stay behind him). West of them at Red Rock sat opposing freight 244, with orders to proceed up the line with a checkbox for “not in effect until arrival of 247”. This meant he could not proceed until the freight following 97 was by. So time passes and then I get a call that 244 and 97 have just suffered a horrifying crash in the tunnel above Red Rock. Baffled (and shamed) I called the crews in and demanded what happened. Found out that 244 had met 247 and (as instructed) proceeded, only to crash into 97. When I pointed out that 247 had orders to not foul limits in front of the deceased 97, this was the answer I got. Lesson learned for me – now when I checkbox eight, I always list all trains someone is to meet, not the last one.
“Sure, checkbox eight. Not in effect until the arrival of… oh” – Closely related to the proceeding, this is generally the cause of all cornfield meets on all railroads I dispatch. In the accident hearing afterwards, this is usually what is said by the surviving crew members who had an order to wait for a train and forgot to do so.
“Give me a break!” – This quote is mine. We were running on a layout outside of Asheville, one with many levels of track threading along high cliffs. I was happily running a train when two intermodals clipped each other on a curve and derailed several cars. The two operators were kinda short and intermodals are a pain to rerail. I offered to help. So I’m standing on tiptoes, leaning out over the railroad, a terrible place to rerail. And of course those tippy stacks won’t seat onto the tracks and the tight clearance doesn’t give a lot of room for fingers. I’m grunting and cursing and sweating but I’ve got about half the cars on. Then a tank train going over a high bridge above us derails and suddenly there are tank cars raining down, knocking both intermodals off the track again. And that’s what I said what I said. Possible it was followed by an expletive. Very likely.
“Sure, you’re clear” – Last one. Was operating on the WVN, running a huge articulated steam engine with a long line of empty hoppers down a stiff grade. I’m supposed to go into the siding at Elkview. In the helper pocket is a shay – even with 200 feet of pocket, he’s tucked his teakettle way down near the turnout’s fouling point. As it is, the trains have a lot of momentum and a braking system. I blew a little off the lines and frowned at the shay’s driver as I rumbled closer, asking if I was clear. Of course, this was his answer. Of course, I wasn’t. And of course, the layout owner came around the corner as I knocked the shay about 40 feet down the spur. Happily he’d heard the exchange but I’d rather not risk equipment with a bad parking job.
That’s all, folks!