t’s a lazy afternoon in Easton Depot. I’m fanning myself with a timetable, pushing away the humid heat that hangs over Western Pennsylvania. Distantly, a dispatcher who sounds a lot like me tells me that a coal extra is inbound, heading west to Tuscarora and the mines beyond. No orders. Nodding, I kick at the desk-mounted train order lever with my foot, setting the signal to green. Of course he’ll stop anyway, regardless if the signal was green, red or purple. There’s the westbound Easton Turn just airing up at Tuscarora, number 612 on the timetable. So I figure the coal will wait here until it’s by.
With a whoosh of steam and a strident whistle, one of the last steam engines on the Tuscarora Branch Line blurs past, making time with his string of lightweight empties. Startled, I scramble to reach the lever to drop the train order signal but the caboose is by the moment it goes red. I doubt they saw it.
Picking up the phone, I ring down the line to Ben in Tuscarora. “Hey, did 612 leave Tusk yet? No? Drop your signals and hold him. I know that westbound extra can’t come up the line to you without a meet order but he’s on his way. Yeah, like a rocket. Signals down? Thanks.”
With that, I collapse into my chair, my fanning of my face having nothing to do with the heat. That was a close one.
Actually, this was the first session of the Tuscarora with live TT&TO orders (and not those strange things we originally used). It worked well – I had twice when locals had to run down on a scheduled train’s time (I cut orders to both trains, granting the extra the right to run ahead). Cool to watch him use that authority to get to Tusk where these rights ended, getting pulled into the siding by the interlocking crew so the timetabled train could pass. And yes, the trickiest move was when a string of scheduled trains (westbound) met a string of coal extras (eastbound). I employed my special continuing meet order, which reads ISSUED TRAIN MEET ARRIVING TRAIN AT TUSCARORA AND THEN PROCEED. Yeah, purists will scream but this means that if you hold this paper, you have to meet the next train that physically arrives and then you can continue. It permits two trains to run in opposite directions with one passing siding – the order continues until the dispatcher sets up another order that annuls it. Worked like a charm.
What made this session special is we broke our previous record, with seven people working on a 2×4 foot N-scale layout (which is just less than an operator per square foot). We filled the positions of scheduled engineer, conductor, extra engineer, mineral freight agent, tower station operator, tower leverman and dispatcher. It was an amazing effort, and we ran full out (with a five-minute break) for three-and-a-half hours.
So the session ran well and most of our derailments happened suspiciously after uncouplings. We had a random event (dragging equipment) – everyone was disappointed that it wasn’t something more sexy, like a rhinoceros attack or something. I added in an extra pre-spotted freight car, which the switchlist generator left at the team track (where it originally showed up). Why you’d get coal at a team track, I can’t tell you. Looks like someone’s got a long day of shovel-work ahead of him. But the car ended up in the local’s way more often then not which is why I love that placement.
Overall, a lot of people picked up more experience on the railroad. My FEC-buddy Jack came over from the coast – long drive – and got a chance to run throttle on the locals with Zach as his conductor. He was a little out-to-sea at the start, just trying to understand our crowd of Tuskites. But at the midpoint job-swap, he fully understood the railroad now, standing up to get a better view. When he worked the PeeDee local (the final switch-out job) he nailed it. I was thinking of a lot of run around moves but he pulled a slick pickup and tied the bow in it. Nice work.
As I noted, crews picked up a lot of OJT today. Sean did a stand-up performance as the mineral freight agent, working the mine tallies and keeping John on the extra board fully employed. And Ben did great on the levels (as last time). I’m going to put him to work training a new generation of interlockers.
And, of course, we had Zach defining time and space when Tusk Tower threw a turnout under his engine. He demanded that it would take twenty minutes on the flip clock to get back on the rails. Of course, now that I’ve had time to think it through, there’s no way a lever-thrown turnout (at the end of a quarter mile of rod) is going to drop an engine onto the cinders. One hopes that whichever leverman did this knew to stop straining when he felt fifty tons of engine sitting on his points.
About the only complaint I heard from the crew was my choice of snacks. I bought two bags of cookies (Oreos and Chips-Ahoy) for these ingrates. Everyone pointed out that other railroads feed them better. Doc Andy: Pizza. Kyle: Actual English soda and biscuits for his Tusk Hill run. And Rob Gross: an actual BBQ lunch with sides and drinks. Fer Christ Sakes, guys, this is railroading, not the food network!
Regardless of that carping, the crews seemed to have a great time on one of the smallest operational layouts in existence. It just shows what you can do when you have a good group of friends willing to run on a very unconventional layout, to share good times, do some great railroading, and spit cookie crumbs on me while whining about the refreshments.
P.S. And yes, I got a lot of pictures from this. More operators=more pictures. Used what I could. Thanks to the submitters.