ith Protorails in town, I got invites to help run the three local layouts, the first being the beautiful West Virginia Northern (way, way, way over in Tampa). Since they needed two boomers, I took Chris Strecker with me (since he is both a railroader and game enthusiast, meaning he can pick up operating rules/instructions quickly). We had a pretty good drive over (given we got two weekday rush hours) and at my goading we took Ashbury west end (he as the yard switcher and me on my beloved hostler job). And to Chris’ credit, we kept it busy (hostler, I finally realized, is the metronome for the entire yard, bringing trains in at his own sweet whim, which determines the workload on switchers east and west). I wasn’t trying to break his back and looked at his work order as much as my own, arriving trains as his time opened up. Happily, East End Barbara (a guest boomer) kept up and we had a brisk little morning shift, moving the freight and staying busy. And I didn’t drop a engine into the turntable pit, so that’s all to the plus.
Since the gold crew at Ashbury finished early, I took a look at the crew call board while Chris railfanned. Turns out that there was one job not signed up for, a local switching job at Harris. This one should be easy. The engine house is on the south side, across the yard from the aisle and quite close to all the local industries. The problem was that I suspect that some guest crews must have missed the line in their workbooks where it says to pick up Clifton Ford/Huntington cars – the yard was packed. And it was scrambled. And there was a turn idling about the yard like a steam-zombie, taking up rails.
Okay, I’m not sure why the little local switcher has to direct yard operations but I jumped in with my imaginary authority and took over. First, I picked up all four of my outbounds (thankfully the Harris shippers decided, in unison, to clear their cars simultaneously). Ran around to the east end of the yard where I could work it where it shoulda been worked earlier, telling the outbound west to run his units to the far end of the yard, couple up and vamoose. I needed the rail and didn’t have time to cherry pick all the westbounds out of the pile. With him out of the way, I settled in and got to work reclassifying the yard. Yes, I was sure there would be freight agents in Clifton Forge and Huntington who were wondering where the heck their cars were tonight.
And then lunch was called. “But but…” I whined, pointing at what needed to be done. But no buts – Gail sat us down to one of her fine meals while I sat there, unusually quiet (I didn’t even think to insult all the MMRs at the table, which was a nice change for me). No, I was organizing what I had to do to catch the yard up in the afternoon.
As soon as the clock was hot, I was back at my post, switching things. Had a train out of Blackstone breathing down my neck, holding at the distant signal (I’ll give him this – he was understanding which helped while I dug out his arrival track). Adding to the pressure, I’d been signed up to Ashbury west end, so I had a yard job waiting while I was shuffling Harris. I played a quick hand of train poker (leaning cards against the cars to get the paperwork back in shape) and then started indexing all three tracks. in the end, both east- and westbound tracks were full, so I’m pretty certain AM crews missed their pickups. Me and the Blackstone guy worked out a snazzy trick to finish the run – the eastbound track was full to fouling, so I let it foul east (on his end) which allowed me to run around the yard and run up the west ladder and tuck back into the industrial area to finish my work (the Blackstone job could enter and shove the eastbound cars clear to foul my end but I was already past).
With four cars to switch, I pulled what I call a “Tuscarora Straight”, meaning that I had four cars to spot and they happened to be in the absolute correct order to just shove into the spurs, without a single indexing to be done. After that, the engine was returned to the house and I spun in place to take over the Ashbury job, not a moment too soon as the hostler was pulling power onto the turntable and I had a train to build.
So overall, we had a great session with Gail and Greg (though I imagine that Gail will be in the layout room next week with a snow shovel to dig out Harris yard). I did overhear our host and a guest talking about how well Chris had done for his first time, so I’m pretty sure he’ll be back (maybe he can bring me!). But it was a great day over at the West Virginia Northern, one of the books (or the blog).