OpsLog – La Mesa – 10/(12-13)/2023

OpsLog – La Mesa – 10/(12-13)/2023

ot the invite for an operations session over at La Mesa, one of the largest and more realistic operations sessions anywhere. For those who don’t know it, the La Mesa club sprawls across a significant amount of the Balboa Park Railroad Museum in San Diego (also filling two floors – yes, you climb 2% from one floor to the one above). The HO railroad is twenty-five scale miles long, modelling the run between Mojave to Bakersfield (including the famous Tehachapi Loop). The area is faithfully modelling the scenery from 1950s.

And that is appropriate because the session simulates operations in the 1950s. Everything is TimeTable & Train Order. There are five manned stations, a dispatcher, God knows how many yardlettes (I think Bakersfiield has five or six on duty) and the full session is usually crewed with thirty to fifty railroad enthusiasts. A run without interruption at track speed will take you an hour. A run as an extra, moving on flimsies, can take maybe that long. Or two hours. Or three. Or five or more. And these are real 1:1 hours. The weekend takes up two 12-hour days, and the railroad doesn’t stop (plan your bathroom breaks accordingly).

So that’s where I was going. This blog is about the two days prior, about how I got there. The ops will follow in the next two postings.

So, Steve H and I were traveling out together. Steve is a real railroader, all the way from the throttle to the superintendent’s desk. I figure that Steve has faced many morning of stepping up on a running board, kit in hand, as the train waits to depart.

Which is why it was pretty damn weird when he showed up at the airport, very much last minute, very much gasping and sweating from his airport run (was there something on the airport intercom about a security violation?). Lugging two bags. Me, I’m standing there with my railroad kit, one small carry-on.

The flight over went well enough (though five hours on my can was an ordeal). We got into San Diego, and Ubered to the hotel using Steve’s Dick Tracy picto-phone. And there in the hotel lobby (true to trainman form, it was a real flea-bag joint), Steve discovers that his wallet is gone.

I’m standing next to him at this revelation, the hotel clerk giving us that who’s-going-to-pay look while reaching for the hotel dick alarm button. But no, I pull my flip phone out of my pocket, get out my wallet and credit card, and cover the bill. Then, with him musing about leaving his wallet in his truck, we set out into Little Italy to find food because now it’s midnight on our internal clocks and we’re starving.

Enroute, I mention that maybe he should call the airline to see if maybe they have it. Steve shrugs, not really buying that but calling them on his plastic phone-friend. We walk a couple of blocks with him on hold at the airline and just as we get to our pizza place, they say “Yes, it was on the plane, left on the seat”. That gave me a blink – since I’d been sitting well back of him on the flight, so by the time I moved down the aisle the cleaning crew was hard at work. And I remember a trio of them hunched over something in his section, murmuring in Castilian to one another. That was probably his wallet being discovered. Small world.

Things to come. My long cut drifts down the valley below Caliente, bound for Bakersfield. Down grade so no back-seat drivers on this one.

So after dinner, Steve showed me the further wonders of Uber by ubering back over to the airport to get his wallet (yes, cash was intact – kudos to Alaska Airlines for this). And me, I walked around for a bit, enjoying a strawberry shake and wondering about the throngs of young people in the expensive San Diego streets. How do these “children” afford this sort of outing? Even as a flush retiree, I had to blink at the costs.

So, the next day…

After a relaxing morning of reading on the sun-deck while Steve drudged at his job in the room (a note on the hotel – that’s the only place I COULD read. There were NO bedside lights at all in our room. The only light at all was a dim little thing that glowed like a wet campfire on the far end of the room. What at dump). After that, we drifted over to the museum to help with setup.

It takes a lot to get this massive layout ready for ops. While the home team fussed with paperwork, Steve and I cleaned all the tracks on the second floor, him gliding about with a track cleaner, me scrubbing with a bright boy like Cinderella. Then we went downstairs and started moving engines from long-term storage to their ready tracks. I think we must have moved forty sets or more out, some to the SP yards, some of the ATSF.

Interesting thing – at one point, something started to buzz like a furious Honeynut Cheerio bee under the layout. There were three of us there and nobody knew what it was. Finally I located the rough location of the noise by putting my ear to the railhead. There. Right there. Dropped down and wiggled under the layout on my back. Probed around. One of the turnout motors was running amuck inter there, hotter than hell. Fortunately all their turnouts have plug connectors which I could yank. That’s something I forgot to bring on out trip, the little orange “Robert! Robert!” button (Sorry. Orlando N-Trak in-joke).

The rest of the evening, Steve gave me his phone with a wifi throttle and a long advertising pitch to run the cleaner car around some more. I was really impressed with its ability of fail and cut off at the most inaccessible locations on the layout, and to run-away so smoothly. Yes, the advantages were clear.

Anyway, so that was Thursday and Friday. Tomorrow was the AM session of the Tehachapi. Eagle Day!