itting in the lounge before the session, taking jobs handed out by Ken Farnham, host for today’s run of the Florida East Coast. 940, an out and back turn. Nothing hard, I figure.
“Remember,” Ken tells me. “You need to be back in twenty-nine minutes. I did the switching part in forty moves.”
Another guy chimes in. “Did it in twenty-seven, myself.”
What have I gotten myself into?
Turns out I’m heading out of the yard the moment the clock goes hot, a single FEC bluebox with four hoppers of limestone and a boxcar. Destination – The Rinker plant at Eau Gallie. When I got there, I realized the set up. Once I run around my train and clear the main, I need to stay off it (says so in BOLD , right there in the instructions). The trick is, there are two facing stubs I need to work, a receiving track and an unloading track. Both have four hoppers on them. My cut goes into the receiving track. Those cars go to the unloading track. The unloaded cars roll south with me, back to the yard. And that boxcar? It’s going to the far end of the unloading track (to an equipment shed). Yeah, this one is a bitch.
I think each stub will hold six cars, and that link between the siding and main, one, maybe two. I’m going to need my thinking cap for this one. And suddenly I realize I’ve got an audience. One of the other operators is vulching over my shoulder, giving me advice. Now, the story would go better if the advice was initially bad, but it was actually quite good. Yes, I can use the opposing spur as a long tail track, giving me good elbow room.
However, now I’m getting advice from everyone passing by, and things are getting confusing. I’m thinking maybe those two red FEC hoppers are shorter – maybe they’ll fit in that link track. I sort them out and move them in and dammit, I’m short by a half car length.
“No, it will fit,” a passer-by tells me. You just need to push it further out.”
“Further out? Then it’s fowling the main.”
“Yes, but you aren’t throwing the turnout.”
Now, this is bad advice and the guy is coaxing me to do it. I could get called on the carpet for termination if I gut an unexpected passing freight. Thankfully, before this game of “Truth or Dare” goes any further, his train is called. Now alone, I pull that dangerously-violating car back and ditch that idea.
And as I recoup my thoughts for how I’m going to do this, Ken (working as the dispatcher) announces that the National Weather Services had put out a severe weather alert for Melbourne and Eau Gallie. And I’m thinking “What the fu…” BOOM!
We’ve got a lightning storm (complements of speakers and flashing lights) right over Eau Gallie, hell, right over the Rinker Plant. Yeah, that will help you focus. Given that Ken has broad shoulders and long white hair, he’s playing Thor now. I’d expect no less.
But even with this, I see the trick. Half a cut on one of the tracks, pull everything out, swap them, and sort them from the front end. Yes, it’s a lot of moves, and I’m glad I wasn’t keeping count since my two false starts (and potentially murderous rules violation) ran up my score. But soon rainwater is shaking off the caboose’s coupler as we slap the train back together. The storm breaks, the skies clear and I’m calling the dispatcher for signals south, right on the money for getting in on time.
And that’s what I like about Ken’s session. Always something new.