een listening to a lot of old radio serials while drilling though audits at work. Some of them are pretty stupid but there are a couple I really like, amongst them Gunsmoke and Frontier Gentleman. However, I really like this new one, Night Beat, where an intrepid night-shift newsguy digs up stories in 1930’s Chicago. Usually it involves gangsters leaning on him, generally beating the shit out of him while sneering things like, “So, going to write about that, Newsie?”
Yeah, well, I know what it’s like.
So we ran Ken Farnham’s Florida East Coast, and I was once again in my beloved hot seat, the dispatcher’s slot. Little bit of a rocky start but now things were smoothing down. We were just over the halfway point and I was all settled in, knocking the toggles on the CTC board, lighting the lights across the division. Then a freight going through Buenaventura calls with a bit of a smirk in his voice. “We just went on the ground, Dispatcher. And it looks like we took out a piece of rail.”
At first, I thought we were talking about something that actually happened, like a switchpoint coming off or something. “Call the superintendent,” I told him. I’d let Ken deal with it.
But no, Ken came into my office with a Grinchy-grin smile on his face and some event cards (something distrubingly new) in his hand. Yes, in the simulation of the session, a boxcar had hit the ground and rail had come up, we’d need to get a wreck train there and the line was blocked. We’d even need another engine to pull the back end of the train off and move it around so the front end could couple to it.
I was still trying to figure out what happened. Suddenly, the board was just a lot of lights (sorta like when I’m out with my telescope looking for Pegasus and everything is just stars). Which train was which? What was going on? I had a half-dozen trains rolling tight with meets planned out a quarter hour in advance.
Reset the board, dropped all signals and directed them all into sidings until I could make sense out of it. Okay, so that’s done. Then I had a train at Bowden blocking the yard exit, so I ran him out and dumped him somewhere – anywhere. While the yard crew built the work extra, I got a local in Cocoa to drop his cut and run down the line to effect to pull-off. I probably should have run the freight that had broken south then and there but I didn’t – I still wasn’t sure of the setup. That was a big mistake.
Fortunately the Super showed up at the accident site and directed things. I moved trains as best I could, reacting to events rather than planning them. Finally we got the freight out of there. The wreck train continued its work, plugging my line and stacking trains.
And here’s where we loop back to the front of this story. Remember our intrepid newsman? Well, now all the engineers were stopping by while I did everything I could to move lights along a bulb at a time, doing what I could to keep the railroad alive. And they were all smiling – “So, you got something for your blog now, doncha, Newsie?” Man, I felt like I’d been beaten in an alley. My head throbbed like the lights of that distant marque…
Anyway, eventually I pulled my shit together and got the wreck train out on the tail of 107, running south nose to tail. We had a bunch of locals out working and a train turning, but I finally got them out of the way so we could catch the freights up. We ran about twenty minutes behind for the rest of the session (I’d get close, then a seemingly simple switch move would jam the line again). But by the end, we were within ten minutes of schedule. Not bad.
So, yes, here I am, hammering my copy out, wrenching it out of my typewriter and tossing it to the copyboy. Never mind the bruises. We got it done.
Because I work the City Beat!
A special thanks to Ken – that was really a curve ball, and it was fun – in retrospect. And thanks to all those crews who quietly cooled on sidings while we worked this out.