kay, now that I got your attention with this beautiful shot by Jim Mathis of D&RGW #475 steaming through the miniature (but not as miniature as I’m used to) world of his Western Bay Railroad, let’s get into the details. Four members of the club got invites to head down to Port St. Lucie to run on his O-scale narrow gauge layout that captures railroad action in the Rockies in 1932. As usual, I was station agent at Dulce, Dolores and that shack of a place, Placerville Jct (located way outside of Placerville proper – it’s a long cold walk from the boarding house and all I do is stand in my shed telegraphing trains through all day). But I love the job and do it every chance I get.
So that was the set up, me and Jim and John and newbie Robert (who we got in under the wire) and about a million cold germs that I’d carpet-bombed with a cocktail of pharmaceutical suppressants after Jim doused me with his over our last Tuscarora. We had a nice holiday lunch (the lunches at sessions between Thanksgiving and Christmas are always the best) and then retired to the train room to get things rolling.
So the new schedule is pretty easy paced – I’m of mixed mind on this. Sometimes I’d rather see a bunch of people crammed in the room, fighting like Black Friday shoppers to run their trains. Other times (like today) the lighter schedule makes for more realistic mountain railroading. It isn’t the Horseshoe Curve, after all. It’s narrow gauge Rockies railroading, so I’m mostly fine by that. (though hint-hint Al, maybe we can start running some extras through to liven things up).
I kept an eye on things in my three stations, checking and (tsk-tsk) realigning the occasional turnout back to the main. A couple of trains had passed – we’d had the usual tank cars left on Dulce siding by an eastbound train, to be spotted correctly at Gramps’ Fuel by a passing Westbound. The problem was that the westbound’s paper clearly showed that they would not be picking up the two tanks out of Gramps and slipping the earlier empties back in place. No, it just said pick up the just-spotted drops. An argument ensued between myself (as station operator representing dear old Gramps) and the conductor (representing officious railroad bureaucracy). Eventually Superintendent Al tapped in a message from Alpine, confirming my utter defeat. So the passing train carried the empties west, back where they came from. And over in Gramps, fuel sloshed about in the tank cars, abandoned in place by the paper-pushing D&RGW (standing for “Draconian & Rule-following Government Workers”). Sheesh.
You heard that CSX commercial? CSX hauls so-many tons of freight a thousand miles for a gallon of fuel? Well, here, it was that the D&RGW hauls zero tons of empty tank car a thousand miles for a ton of coal, only to turn them around and send them back. But that’s my shame for you – I got chewed out by the conductor, the superintendent and Gramps. Just a day on the railroad.
Otherwise, the day continued on and action on the railroad built. We had a train working Placerville shuffling efficiently while down in Dulce another train died a confused, bewildering death-by-switching-puzzle. Actually, it was really cool that the Placerville train worked with me to clear the line as mail trains came and went from the first division to the second. In the twilight of the session, we actually used the Ute signals as train control devices, holding the turnouts against them while other trains occupied Navajo. This way, the dispatcher (who controlled the turnout) could clear trains in without bothering communicating through the stations. I’ve never seen trains on the Western Bay controlled this way, and it was pretty cool.
One problem the Placerville switcher caused was when he got to Dolores. Yes, he had to use a little kettle-engine off the mine spur to work the rear of his train. However, a waybill problem had no cars getting picked up in Dolores but another stock car getting crammed in. So that little engine was think-I-canning up the slope, trying to get the cars into Dolores. The conductor was trying to keep at least one road crossing clear. And the station operator (that would be me) was hopping from foot to foot, pocket watch out, whining about the westbound mail train. So we got the eastbound freight put back together and onto the main in Dolores. As the crew cleared, I walked the line, checking turnouts and lining for the mail. I glanced at the end stock car (now loaded with cattle desperate for their eventual oblivion in eastern abattoirs) and it looked clear – after all, a Class One LM&O railroad trick – if the ties are clear, you aren’t fouled. So the Goose (a motorized bus) galloped in, made a station stop at Dolores, and galloped out. But as it passed the nearest beef-hotel, I saw the car tremble (I’d not realized that the overhang on narrow-gauge engines and rolling-stock overhangs the tie tips (proof of that – study the train picture above)). And suddenly the car shifted off the rail (to the sound of splintering frames and a dozen cows getting ground into hamburger). The Goose shivered and then, like a shot ten-point buck, tipped over onto its side. By the time Al stormed around the corner, both engineers and conductors and the operator all were taking emergency actions – namely pointing at each other. Al probably would have killed us all but the session was nearly over and so he spared our measly lives.
By the way, come to the Dolores cookout tomorrow. Short notice, yes, but the burgers will be fresh! See ya’ll there.
We had a great session but in the final hour all my medications wore off and I had an Ebola-like melt down in the aisle. No, folks, I don’t have Covid (tested last night) but I do have the Mathis strain of this head cold. Address any complaints accordingly.
So that was the session. We look forward to running again but that’s going to be June, so watch this space for reports of the next thrilling Saga of the Western Bay Railroad!
And now, the Al Sohl collection of railroad moments…