I guess it’s about pattern recognition.
When you first sit down in front of Ken Farnham’s FEC control panel, you are struck with the idea of just what sort of idiot you were for taking on this job. I always feel this way. After all, the panel wraps around you, something like four or five feet across, with a bewildering number of toggles and lights and this long, long layout. And once that clock goes hot, everyone wants to move, there are trains marked with secretive red lights (with no obvious indication of who they are) idling impatiently, all wanting a green signal, all wanting to highball.
My usual thought is Oh, Christ! Why did I say yes to dispatching?
But then you are busy, moving trains. Keeping notes on the trainsheet before you, you quickly (you’d better) pick up the mental positioning of the half-dozen trains you are keeping apart. And if you can, you can look ahead in time, seeing who is going to need what. Nothing is better than a siding-sitting crew just reaching for a phone as opposing traffic rolls by and the turnout before them aligns, the signal winking green.
I gotta say that I really enjoyed dispatching the September session. We ran light – Ken just wanted a quiet session with old hands – so we ran a Sunday trick, a couple of movements annulled, things running light and sharp.
Not without troubles, of course, The automatic defect detector was as perfectionist as Barney Fife, screaming at about every third train (it even bitched about a light engine movement, so Ken (the engineer in this case) dutifully set a unit out on a nearby siding). But even that made the session fun, with my sweet long plans crippled by so many defect flags that the sidings around Eau Gallie looked like the wreckage-strewn battlefield of Kirsk.
I will say this. When you run Ken’s session, the trick is to learn to read the panel and what it means. It shouldn’t be seen as a bunch of toggles and lights, but rather the pattern of the railroad. Near the end of the session, while leaning back in the chair watching the trains eat the little green signal block lights like munching pacmen, I realized that I was looking at it different then when I’d sat down four hours earlier. It’s all in the eye and in pattern recognition. In that, it’s like the Oriental game Go (which I am learning to lose quite well at). Beginners see white and black stones lain in randomness across a board. Skilled players see the flow of the game, the places where the board is in danger, where it is secured. And that’s Ken’s panel. It’s all in the eye.
The rapidly blinking, pupil-dilated eye of the start-up dispatch. But yeah, you just gotta hang in and see it, not for what it is, but what it means.
I’ve rambled on this one, all philosophy and such, but again, a great session. Thanks to Ken and Bev and the group for having me out. Great time!