OpsLog – WBRR – 6/8/2023

OpsLog – WBRR – 6/8/2023

itting in my muggy dispatcher’s office in Denver, the windows open and a fan chattering on the desk, I can only imagine what it’s like in flat, faraway, hellish Navajo in June as the telegraph slowly confesses that 391 has puffed into town an hour the hot side of noon. Easy to imagine the dozen or so passengers stumbling out of their hellishly hot combine, to stagger over the mainline rails to the little cantina while the steamer uncouples off the front end and idles over to the tank to fill its empty boiler. The passengers drink their warm beer on the cantina porch, reluctant to return to their hot-to-the-touch coach which is tacked onto the back to a string of tank cars, fuming and venting under the merciless sun. I’m sure that the engine crew, once they top off their boiler to sloshing, fill up their own bucket as well, lading the bitter water down their throats lest they pass out in the hot cab.

Finally they couple back up. The station operator’s heat fatigue is obvious in his slow keying: 391 is ready to go. I imagine the blazing sun, the heat-weary passengers, and the desire of all to get aboard, to seek succor in the wind stream of passage, to enjoy the comfort of the Ute Interlocking snowsheds and the climb to cooler Placerville and Dolores. I check the clock. 1:58. Two minutes short of the advertised.

“Clear 391 out.” I key.

In the mind’s eye, the crew gives two quick toots. The passengers set down their mismatched steins and trot back to their coach and the train is away, leaving the hot little town in its smoky wake.

Hardly have I performed this act of mercy when I hear old man Sohl over in Alpine, on a different division entirely, cool in his high station in the mountains, madly keying the Denver home office that their dispatcher has released a train two minutes early. What is he, some old woman? Two minutes early with no opposing traffic on a narrow-gauge shoestring line where the crews give an amused glance to their timetables and use their train orders to wipe with when they pause in their runs to shit?

I instituted a new train sheet, clearance cards and train orders to the Western Bay and this is what I get? I should have stuck with the Virginia Southwestern or the West Virginia Northern. Not only are these railroads that get things done, they get it done in Virginia, which is a damn sight cooler than this rocky hellhole I find myself in.

Anyway, yes, we were running the Western Bay today, with four N-Trakers (myself, Kyle S, Jim M and Chauffeur John L). The crews did very well, especially Jim, who jumped into the station seats at Dolores, Placerville Jct and Dulce. He did a great job and kept me UTD on all train passages – including a tricky move we had to do at Placerville. That’s when Chip P decided that since I’d issued him a single train order to save his life from a timetable omission, now I was responsible for it entirely. No, Chip, that’s what the timetable is for. Anyway, Jim kept him from killing anyone or, far worse, denting equipment.

243 (and shifter) meets 392 at Placerville Junction with station operator Jim keeping the damage to a minimum.

As for myself, I was pretty pleased all-together. We used our check-box train orders that have worked well on the LM&O last year. Finally Al’s layout is running at something like true (well, true-ish) TT&TO (and not mother-may-I). We kept the trains more or less on their timetables, everyone routed through Ute just fine, trains came in and out of staging on the dot (and a tip of the dispatcher’s visor to Brook, who handled things in orderly fashion in the back room). So yes, overall it was a fun run, and the Dulce tank cars were actually spotted correctly this time and not just carried off.

Of course, my favorite Al moment was when Brook was trying to get a train into staging at Durango. I could hear him in the office, dialing it up and not getting it to move. Al’s all over the line, yelling to clear the main because nobody was coming through anytime soon. I went back into staging. Noticed that when Brook turned the knob, another train in staging would move. There was some sort of goof in the address listings. Brook was trying to calmly reach into the tunnel to pull the train through so we could look at the tender. Meanwhile, like some sort of rude tenement dweller, Al is yelling through the wall to move the train. Yes, Al, we’re trying. Sheesh.

I will mention, with total false modesty, that I was awarded my AP by the NMRA for Dispatching, something I did want to finally get. This is where the blog was important – rather than pick up my needed hours here and there at a dribbling pace, I just went through the blog and read about the jobs I did, transferring them to my score sheet. Most people take a year or two to accumulate the three out of five classes required. In six months, I swept all the classes. So yes, I’m proud of myself. Of course, for all I know, the Alpine station agent might be trying to get it revoked because of that two minute jumpstart. So we’ll see if it goes to court.

Here’s hoping we can make it down to Al’s in six month’s for the next run. Of course, this time we’re going to maybe throw in a manufactured delay of movement and require helpers on all the climbs into Placerville Jct. I’ve got train orders and I want to start using them.

Thanks to Al and his club for hosting.


All photos credited to Jim Mathis

A train climbs in the warm sunny glow of an Orlando N-Trak shirt.