On Sheet – The Great P&LE Strike!

On Sheet – The Great P&LE Strike!

n our last blog posting, we talked about simulating things that aren’t really there (specifically facing-point locks and various assorted paperworks). The thing is, operations can be more than the trains and the waybills. They can be expanded to include anything you can imagine.

Like a violent labor altercation.

I mentioned at the end of that On Sheet how you could simulate union dues with your operators (by passing a coffee can around). That got me to thinking about an actual strike I was involved in on a friend’s railroad.

My buddy Ed (who passed away a few years back) had operations on two versions of his Pittsburgh & Lake Erie railroad. The thing about Ed, he was a nice guy and a great friend. But he was constantly changing his timetables and even sending out trains (as a supervisor) without telling the dispatcher. On one of his many timetables, he had a train leave one station at 3pm and arrive and the next one at 2:30pm. When we scratched our heads over this, Ed told us that he had to do this to make the timetable work. Really, Marty, get the DeLorean to eighty-eight miles per hour!

One of Ed’s crimes against humanity was his freight waybill system. He’d flood cars into his yards. He’d swamp his industrial complexes. His trains groaned at the weight. Pittsburgh Yard didn’t have any room at all – every inch had rolling stock in it. I’d run the New Castle job, and I’d struggle to get ten cars to the interchange, only to find fifteen waiting for me.

Anyway, the Pittsburgh yardmaster and I were griping over this state of affairs. We’d asked Ed to dial it back a bit to give us a chance but he’d just tell us the P&LE handled 10% of the nation’s freight and bury us. It got a bit frustrating, month after month.

But Ed had a pattern. The clock would start at 7pm, and at 7:20pm, he’d step out on his porch for a satisfying smoke while we shoveled out his spurs. And that’s when we agreed he was vulnerable. Before the next session, the yardmaster and I painted up a half-dozen strikers each (with signs and raised fists and all that). We carried them into the layout in our shirt pockets. So the session started and we got to work. At 7:20pm, Ed stepped out. The yardmaster and I nodded. Our throttles, we set down. Our strikers, we placed on the layout around our stilled engines. And then we grabbed up some of his snacks and sat on the sofa and said we were wildcatting.

The next thing we knew, nearly all the other operators came over with their own handfuls of snacks and joined us. Solidarity! One operator scabbed, running outside to tell “management” that his railroad was shut down from a strike. The two of them got to work, attempting to run a six-person railroad. Everyone got a laugh when the scab, trying to work the yard, muttered, “Ed, you do have too many cars in this yard”.

When Ed’s wife came in and saw us all lounging on the sofa, she asked if something was wrong. “We’re striking, Ma’am”. Then we pointed out our tiny modeled brotherhood. She looked at them for a moment, looked up at her husband and laughed long and loud.

That became a famous event in our little corner of the model railroad world. Everyone at the club heard about it the next week. We hoped that Ed would learn from this but really, he never did. Ops were still a tangled mess but we just endured it.

I will mentioned one thing. On the very next session, we came into the layout room to find tiny national guard tanks scattered about at key points.

I still miss Ed, even though his forwarding system was batshit crazy.