At the throttle

Train Blog

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 […]
May 27, 2011


Woke up on my free Friday with a sense of dread. I could only lay there hating today, wishing I’d gone to work. It’s like I’m facing the gallows. I guess it goes without saying that I hate hosting ops. I’m like an actor who has performed King Lear hundreds of times but still gets hysterical before the curtain goes up. I read of model railroader hosts who do a little set up, a little tinkering, and eagerly await their operators. Me? I just sit and slowly freak out. And it’s such a tempest in a teacup. After my shower, I started working […]
May 25, 2011

OpsLog – LM&O – 5/25/2011

I’m running up the long hill towards Harris Glen, “66” glowing on my E-8’s number boards, the cool air flowing down my passenger train’s orange and red livery. It’s a busy night on the line – lots of activity around Pittsburgh when I pulled out. People standing around the phones, waiting for warrants. The railroad is pretty jammed with numerous extras out on the iron. But that’s Bob’s problem. Tonight, the usual dispatcher gets to run! Ahead of me, I can just make out the tight siding at Harris where the caboose of overdue 202 is just, only just getting […]
May 22, 2011

OpsLog – Chicago & NorthWestern – 5/22/2011

I’m pretty down as I push the throttle to Run 3, getting the cut of colorful billboard reefers moving out of Chicago, my SP geeps clattering west over sunlit rails. I’m through Proviso, banging over the switch points, swinging onto the left-running main. As the train strings out, I sort through my waybills, not that it matters. I’m train 105 west, last train of the session, last session for this layout. Richard’s downsizing from this house, moving to an apartment. No room for this pike. I’d like to say I was somber, that memories were flashing through my head as […]
May 21, 2011

OpsLog – Central Georgia RR – 5/21/2011

Conflict is part of the drama of being human. It runs through our lives and our literature. Even in model railroad ops, where we all work in a make-believe world, all working towards the same successful economic conclusion (efficient transportation), there is conflict. Crews have to vie for the dispatcher’s limited time. The dispatcher juggles scarce resources (sidings and time) to get trains over the road. Even in the operations arena, the players are trying to do the best job, if only for the cred it brings, the ego boost, the possibility of further invites. It’s all about efficiency, which […]
May 15, 2011

OpsLog – Nebraska Division – 5/15/2011

It’s been a rather uneventful shift on the dispatcher panel. Sunday afternoon and I’m sitting upstairs while the boys roll through North Platte and Denver. On my laptop control panel, I track them across the division – it’s brisk but if you keep the plates spinning fast, they never slow down. Nearly 4pm now (almost midnight in the simulated world). Got a couple of trains rolling up the hill towards Denver and the Denver local running home to Bailey Yard. Two BNSF runs are merging in, looking for trackage rights west. Things are suddenly tensing up all along the western […]
May 9, 2011

Opslog – Longwood & Sweetwater – 5/9/2011

It’s feast or famine with ops attendance sometimes. This weekend’s session, we had a number of no-shows. Tonight the L&S looked like a popular nightclub – the room was packed, close, and very hot. Trains were going out with two-man crews (or husband-and-Kimmy crews) to get their work done. I crossed my name off the engineer’s list, picking instead to run over to Hunt Club with Engineer Steve. He was an old hand at ops, so mostly my job was keeping the paperwork straight and lining turnouts from a distant panel. Easy enough. We clattered home with plenty of time. […]
May 7, 2011

OpsLog – Southeast Virginia Division – 5/7/2011

Imagine two railroads, competitors forced by narrow river valley geography to wiggle together like snakes in a drain pipe. That gets you in the spirit for John Wilkes’ Southeast Virginia Division, a joint operation of the L&N and Southern Railroads. Its really neat to dispatch – the two lines cross and recross each other, actually sharing a long section of right-of-way. When two dispatchers work it, they have to clear such moves back and forth, keeping the traffic rolling but not into each other. Today we were short (pregnancies and diarrhea cut back our staff). I ran both desks. Great […]
May 1, 2011

Signal Maintainer 2

Why do I do this to myself? I’ve built two small layouts and worked on our club layout for years. I’ve wired and rewired as parts failed and needed replacing. There were all sorts of problems in my last ops session – four failing Radio Shack toggles as detailed HERE. The first two (in Salinas) I replaced quickly. The next two in King City… I put off. For months. Every night I was too tired, something came up, whatever. For the last two weekends I’ve been meaning to do it. Never got to it. So finally, like Black Bart of Blazing Saddles, […]