At the throttle

Train Blog

December 5, 2011

OpsLog – San Diego & Eastern Az – 12/05/2011

Usually it doesn’t go this well. Doc had brought his secondary layout back into service, his tightly-spooled San Diego and Eastern Arizona. We’d run it a while ago, but not recently. And since it’s been slightly shortened and simplified, all to the better. So the boys milled in the train room while I set up the dispatching computer. A little fumbling with the clock, a scattering of radio checks, and we went hot. Timetables usually go out the window once the session starts. Sure, the railroad management might think a certain siding might be an ideal place for two trains […]
November 23, 2011

OpsLog – LM&O – 11/23/2011

I’ve had the grim distinction of being audited by Earnest and Young for Sarbanes Oxley compliance. Pretty much every changed line of workplace software code needs review signatures and unit tests. And here I was, sitting with my boss while E&Y scowled over the phone at us, realizing we didn’t have any testing at all on a change we’d made. Blood in the water… Image my relief when closer examination showed a note from myself to the coder, clearly saying, “Close after attaching test cases”. And what did he do? He just closed it. Suddenly the eye of Sauron swung […]
November 13, 2011

OpsLog – Nebraska Division – 11/13/2011

Hosting an ops session is a good example of Murphy’s law. I showed up at Docs a little early to set up the dispatcher’s office, eager to see his newest effort – a train-cam which an engineer would use to run the train from a cab-level-view from the dispatcher’s office. It’s been a subject of model railroad conjecture for years now. So it’s run for two weeks – Doc’s even got a video of an earlier test run. And now it’s showtime and the camera fails. Nothing. I can see he’s disappointed and I feel for him. I can remember […]
November 7, 2011

OpsLog – Tehachapi – 11/6/2011

Here’s a word problem for you: Our black-widow lashup of Southern Pacific F-3 diesels idles in the afternoon sun at Bena in 1952 at the head of a seventy-car string. We are the fifth (and final) section of train 804 (meaning there are four sections ahead of us, the fourth section 10 minutes down the line). It is now 1:40PM. As head-end engineer, I’ve gone back to meet with my two helper engineers (midtrain and rear) to discuss our next move. Positionally, we are located as follows: Kern Jct (Bakersfield) – 10 minutes behind us Bena (where we are at) […]
November 6, 2011

OpsLog – Tehachapi – 11/5/2011

“Take over,” the Caliente operator asked me. “I need to get lunch.” I’d been hanging over the operator’s shoulder for the last hour, watching how he worked the board, wrote train orders, dictated them back. Essentially, he’s the contact between the remote dispatcher and the train crews, setting his station signals, passing orders up, OSing train times. And he needed lunch. So I took the seat, slipped on the head phones, eased closer to the mike. There should be a foot pedal to activate the mike- CLICK Over the earpiece: “This is dispatcher.” Shit. Ummmm…. “Caliente. Radio check.” “Got it Caliente.” Okay, […]
November 2, 2011

Off to Tehachapi

I’ll be flying to San Diego to operate on La Mesa’s massive Tehachapi railroad layout this weekend with five club-members. How massive are we talking? It’s 25 scale miles long. A mile is 60’ 8”, so that’s 1516 feet long. If you ran a train 60 mph along it, it would take 25 minutes to get from Mojave to Bakersfield. As track speed is about 25 mph, it will take a first class train an hour to complete a run. One time it took me six hours to move a set of cab-forward helpers (running as extras) down the hill […]
October 29, 2011

The Future

Saw the future today. Wow! Was over at my buddy Steve’s house today, doing a little work on the traveling layout and then getting another test run in on the SP&K. It’s a cool two-deck layout with a lower staging area, a twin helix (up and down) and then and over and back run – basically a great big dogbone (with a section of single track). But the thing is, he’s automated it. We’d run an early practice session a while back (HERE) and found a number of problems with how things worked, all which Steve addressed. For example, instead […]
October 26, 2011

OpsLog – LM&O – 10/26/2011

The reason we run trains is to escape reality. Even though we often push weathered cuts of cars into rusty sidings flanked by shabby industrial buildings, even if the era is the great and deep depression, there is an escapism to operations. I hate when reality follows us into our make-believe world. The recession is hitting the club hard. People have been forced into crummy jobs, night work and such. Others are having to extend services of their businesses to stay afloat. And those with 9-5 jobs are so burned out by the stress of keeping them that they often […]
October 16, 2011

OpsLog – FEC – 10/15/2011

There were lots of things I could have done Saturday. First off, I was coming off the tail end of a low-grade cold / long workweek, just bone tired and ready to take it easy over the weekend. And there was that new Steven King novel, Under the Dome, which the library just sent. Things are heating up in this corrupt Maine town trapped under a mysterious force field. And there is that Occupy Orlando march going on downtown. Regardless of what you think of them (I’m certainly not a fan of corporate turdworms), it would be an easy bike ride to get […]
October 10, 2011

OpsLog – Longwood & Sweetwater – 10/10/2011

The trains are streaming out of Orlando Yard at the start of the session, and then the layout goes down. We all look at each other. The owner starts cycling his system. We all help by checking our trains, making sure we’re not on turnouts, we’re not derailed or shorting in any way. The system comes up – briefly – then goes down again. You hate to see it – owners put a lot of time and energy into setup, and they feel a need to provide a good session. But still, with all the electronics a modern digital command […]