At the throttle

Train Blog

September 11, 2011

OpsLog – Nebraska Division – 9/11/2011

I start to forget how far the group has come with model railroad ops. Oh, we’re not those super-prototype groups that do everything by the book (that’s what November at Tehachapi will be about). But over the years, everyone has learned to work radios and throttles simultaneously, and to generate more solutions than problems. And with my dispatcher program, I can keep the railroad moving like an air-traffic controller. So just as contrast helps to define, we had a visitor at Doc’s session today, a nice gentleman from England. He’d come to the club last Wednesday and the offer had […]
August 24, 2011

Opslog – LM&O – 8/24/2011

All operators know this one. Zanesville has a main down the middle, a siding to the left and a parallel industrial track to the right. With the throttle humming in Run 1 under my glove, Train 244 trundles down the main, passing thorough the zebra shadows cast by the Zanesville local parked on the industrial iron. A flash of light off the rails, and here’s 233 tucking into the siding opposite, the brakeman swinging back aboard as it rounds the switch stand. Watching the three trains line up, I hook up a phone. “244 in on the main at Zanesville.” […]
July 31, 2011

OpsLog – Nebraska Division – 7/31/2011

I knew there was trouble when I came into North Platte yard limits with my second local of the day. The first cut was still sitting there, the yard was filling up and the yardmaster was ripping out tufts of hair. Operations, like any other social organizations, can suffer breakdowns. In this case, the owner (a veterinarian) had lost a lot of setup time to clearing his train room of remodeling debris and also got called into two emergency surgeries that morning. Hence, the normal administration sorting had not taken place. The yards began confused and couldn’t catch up. Add […]
July 28, 2011


  One thing about last night’s ops – there comes a point in any game/situation/reality where the human mind simply cannot clock any faster, when you’ve hit that wall and know that every synapse is firing. That session was one of those events. I was working the radio with one hand, mousing and order-writing with the other. I’d knock out warrants and more calls would come in. I always had a train or two on the line, waiting for clearance. The problem (engineered to be just that) is Harris Glen, the summit of our line. It’s a long run up […]
July 27, 2011

Opslog LM&O – 07/27/2011

It’s a lot of work to set up for a model railroad session at the club. We’ve got 15 scale miles of mainline, which doesn’t include all the industrial and yard trackage. We’ve also got to put member’s engines on six freights, four passengers, three locals, two coal moves and perhaps a few unscheduled extras. We’ve got to clean all the rails, get the power up and checked, hook up the dispatcher computer, sync the clocks, activate the phones. And we’ve got to agree to an equitable distribution of crews, so everyone gets to run what they feel like running. […]
June 22, 2011

Opslog LM&O – 06/22/2011

With warrants (where a dispatcher reads checkbox orders to a crew, who reads them back) there is a handy little order for “Not in effect until arrival of train ____ “. With this, you can latch orders. If Train 101 is going from A to C, and train 102 is at B, wanting to go to A, you can cut an order to 102 that clears him but it isn’t “in effect until arrival of 101”. If a dispatcher is clever, he can latch orders ahead of time, letting the trains roll as events trigger them. It’s really cool… when […]
June 19, 2011

OpsLog – Florida East Coast – 6/18/2011

On the panel again on the FEC (as mentioned HERE). Always easier the second time around – I know what to expect. And now we’re in the zone. In the early days of programming (back before SOX and process and other such rubbish) I’d go into the zone a lot. Also, writing sometimes puts me there. This is when you are furiously working on multiple levels, with your brain seemingly running at capacity, fully engaged. In the zone, time doesn’t pass, it doesn’t even exist. You are fully focused, dealing with each issue as they come up. I’ve got the sheet […]
June 13, 2011

Opslog – Saluda Grade – 6/13/2011

Observations from running ahead of a young fella with a short attention span. In Knoxville, I climb aboard Train 172, which will hang down the W line to Spartanburg after car swapping in Asheville. A couple of tracks over, this young man is fumbling radio, cards and whatnot, trying to get train 162 onto the line. He’s crestfallen when the dispatcher tells him to hold. “Train 172, clear to enter the main,” the dispatcher responds to my initial call. “Cross over to track 2 and call clear into Asheville Yard.” “Don’t take it personally,” I tell him. “I’m running an […]
June 1, 2011

The morning after

It’s a misty morning, the film of dew drifting over silent fields. In King City, things are waking up. The helper engine pops and hisses on the siding, its steam confusing the mists. The Coast Mail, Train 72, has just made its long stop at the nearby platform, the station help yawning as they heaved the bags up. Now it’s gone, the wig-wags motionless now that their guarded rails are empty. Over to the left, you can see the head end of the beet string I’d left on the sugar refinery spur the evening before. They’ve been unloading through the […]
May 29, 2011

OpsLog – SP Coast Line – 5/29/2011

I’m at the throttle of GP-9 5417, a brute of an engine in the early fifties, big and black and boxy, nothing like those bullet-like F units still working about the railroad. This is the shape of things to come, utility over form, but I’m glad for that. These monsters are blowing heat and smoke like a river boat, their dynamic brakes howling as I come down out of the Lucita Range with tons of beets bulging over to tops of their open hoppers. The pressure is on – I departed San Luis Obispo with train 923 assembling in my […]