Conflict is part of the drama of being human.
It runs through our lives and our literature. Even in model railroad ops, where we all work in a make-believe world, all working towards the same successful economic conclusion (efficient transportation), there is conflict. Crews have to vie for the dispatcher’s limited time. The dispatcher juggles scarce resources (sidings and time) to get trains over the road. Even in the operations arena, the players are trying to do the best job, if only for the cred it brings, the ego boost, the possibility of further invites.
It’s all about efficiency, which is the keystone of Darwinism.
The owner of this line had a (to his perception) horrible first run of his route and wanted to improve it. His idea, the abandonment of most of the prototypical operations that make up a railroad, the discarding of rules and uncertainty (i.e. the dispatcher). In other words, pure sequential style. Crews would pick up a card that told them what to do and where to go.
The trouble was that there was no conflict. No trains met. They were all separated by their scripts. My first train, a pulpwood run, was a complete crossing of the division and the servicing of a plant – I did not encounter a single train. Yes, the Omega Man railroad. After my run I went downstairs to watch a movie (The Emperor of the North – great railroad flick).
Eventually it became obvious why railroads have dispatchers. We were all downstairs watching the movie. One poor hogger was struggling with a job and none of the other trains could run until he was through. Finally the owner gave in and started manually telling us how to proceed, just so we could finish the session. While swapping out hoppers at Jackson Yard, another train when by. Never, not since Robinson Crusoe saw the footprint in the sand (fact: readers made much more of that scene than Defoe ever intended) has one man felt so much joy at encountering his fellow. It was such a moment of pure railroadism, holding the siding for another train.
Everyone talked with the owner after, making the case for dispatched operations. I can only hope he listens.
His line, his rules. Or lack there of.