On Sheet – Handle with Care

On Sheet – Handle with Care

e’ve all seen it on the highways. The person who looks down (at their phone) just as the light changes green. The person on a freeway exit lane who misses the big green signs (with the yellow EXIT ONLY markers) and slows everyone down with a panic-merge. The people who frenetically fly past, going down the right lane when there is clearly, obviously a truck chugging along, which boxes them in and makes them madder and drive even crazier.

People are terrible drivers. They don’t learn from their mistakes. They don’t put the attention into it that it requires. And they don’t plan ahead.

And, man, they don’t use signals.That one pisses me off.

I commuted by bicycle in the worst city for it in America – Orlando. In twenty-five years of riding, I was hit six times by cars. Only two motorists stopped (one because she was terrified of what she might have done to me, and one because he was pissed at the damage to his door). But, thankfully, cuts and scrapes on my part. And scratches and dents on theirs (serves them right).

Why do I mention all this? Well, have you noticed the way some operators drive trains? The signal goes green, they blast off. They lose their caboose (or half their train) and don’t notice until they get into staging. They blow their horn for the “cinema” of the thing, and not when required.

That’s the point of this piece – the next time you are at a session, pay a little attention to how you handle your train. Some things you should do…

  • Start off slow, and ease into a stop.
  • Keep an eye on your train, watching for breakaways and derailments.
  • Watch the turnouts coming up. Make sure someone didn’t leave a turnout open.
  • And yes, make sure you normalize all turnouts you use.
  • If you have sound, blow at crossings (long-long-short-long) with the final long occurring as you cross the road.
  • If passing through a station or along a stopped train, ring that bell.
  • If you are really into it, dim your headlight when waiting for another train in a siding (you might have to opt for “off”).
  • Don’t run fast!

And, some non-train-handling things you should also do…

  • Don’t set drinks on the layout
  • Don’t handle equipment after eating a handful of Cheetos.
  • Make sure you return all paperwork to the host. Don’t take his waybills home and wash them.
  • Listen intently in the briefing.
  • Stay for the debriefing and give good, concise reports.
  • Respect everything that belongs to the host, including not parking on  his lawn to not going though his medicine cabinet.
  • Run trains. No story-telling, please.
  • And for goodness sake, while in tight two-foot aisles, no discussion of religion, politics or best railroad scale.

Really, you should go into that layout room with the intent to run your trains like real trains. That’s all the host wants from you, and that’s how you repay his invite. But the other part of it is, if you run your trains like real trains, using the horn correctly, obeying the rules of physics and the railroad, and generally being an asset (and not just the first half), you’ll find yourself enjoying your runs more. You aren’t just slot-car-ing about; you are in the cab of a massive train, grinding its way out of the yard, not accelerating until the tail end is clear of the limit signs. You’ll enjoy your session better, as will all those around you, including the host. And that’s the point of all this, right? To have fun?

Otherwise, it’s just another day in rush hour.


Homework assignment: Fire up your layout and pick a train. Look at your watch – you depart in three minutes. In that time, imagine walking the train and pumping air. Check to make sure all couplers are engaged. When it’s time to depart, start a slow roll – you should see the coupler slack coming out of each car. Once the train is rolling, slow down briefly, just a touch. There, you’ve just brake-tested, venting five pounds off the lines and confirming the train slowing. So now you are rolling. Keep the speed down and enjoy the ride, imagining the sway of the cab. Blow the horn at the crosssings – that long-long-short-long pattern is tricking to do so that you hit it as you cross the road. You’re one your way!

Wasn’t that better?