like newbies at ops. They do the craziest things. They are like kittens who get tangled in yarn or tear the arm off the sofa, but are still adorable.
So second shift on the West Virginia Northern found me in one of my favorite jobs, the Ashbury Hostler. Usually this is a fun and interesting shift, moving engines in and out of the roundhouse while handling the traffic to Huntington. But this time I started off on the wrong foot. The prior shift had three engines in the stalls but only two cards on the pegs, so there was a bit of confusion while Hostess (and Division Superintendent) Gail dug around in all the train sleeves, looking for our missing paperwork (critical since you can’t really see what engines are in the stalls, and without the addressing you’ll need to physically drag them out onto the turntable to look at their cab numbers). That threw me off enough that I spent half my shift reading the wrong page of my instructions, jumping ahead and getting reined back by Gail. Finally I got my shit together, settled in an started digging through it.
Early in the shift, one of our newbies left with the Harris Turn, a pretty easy job that works up to the summit at Harris and comes back. In my hostler instructions, it tells me to break him down when he gets back at a specific time, and if he isn’t back, keep working other trains until he returns. But eventually I got to the end of my duties and no Turn. Gail looked over to Harris and the Turn wasn’t there yet. “It’s going to be a while. If you’re done, run a train.”
I picked up 110, a loaded coal drag out of Huntington, lit the signal to come out and rolled back to my old stomping grounds at Ashbury, only to go on the brakes (which is a lot of fun with the programmed air-braking simulation these trains have). Found a work train coming my way on the main – I guess we were equally at fault there, since we came into Ashbury at the same time (truthfully, if he had lit his approach signal, then I missed it and the fault is mine). Anyway, I pumped off the brakes and slowly backed into Huntington to let him come in (now that I think about it, we should have cleaned up this mess inside Ashbury, but I didn’t think about it then). So once he was by, I rolled back out. I knew 100 (another coal drag) was somewhere on the line ahead of me. I could see the Turn just getting into Harris but there was another job working up there (both the crews were newbies). I’d seen this happen before and it usually wasn’t pretty. With Harris tangled, it was shaping up to be an interesting day.
Got up to Darby and found the crew there fussing a helper onto 100 up the line at Elkview. Mentioned to them that I needed to pick up five hoppers off the mine tracks and was told that it was now a self-service operation (am I really supposed to take a heavy articulated steamer up rickety mine tracks?). In return, I smiled and told the two engineers that I’d probably never see them again, what for the newbie convention in Harris. And off they went, brave yet doomed.
I got my cars on and got to Elkview – couldn’t go further since I needed a helper myself (and the helper and 100 were stalled on the hill, flagged down from entering Harris and all the kitten-play taking place there). I’d been aware that a PFE reefer block was coming up behind me and so I took steps to pull up as far as I could and stash my forward-fouling heavy engine off to the station track (turns out I didn’t quite clear enough, and two WVN cabooses ended up scraping each other’s paint off). So the PFE pulled up next to me and we stood around while the guys on the hill eventually nosed into Harris.
I’ll now admit my act of selfless heroism – that PFE was a hotter run than my coal and so, as the helpers rumbled back down, I told him to take them up the hill before me. I should get a WVN medal for that. Regardless, he got pulled up and then it was my turn (the poor Darby crew was not getting anything done that day).
So finally I made it to Harris, splashing through briny puddles of PFE juice. In Harris, the kittens had both given up, leaving all their toys all over the packed yard (as I write this, I can imagine Gail cleaning up the mess right now). Anyway, I made it through to Clifton Forge and braked handily into my staging track. Hung out with the crew while night fell on the layout and the Darby guy muttered like Gollum in his grotto, trying to finish up. We finally went in with a flashlight and fetched him – kudos to Royal for sticking at his post.
I always enjoy my time at the WVN. It’s even made more fun by the newbs and the interesting solutions they come up with. But as always, thanks to Gail and Greg for the golden ticket invite.