Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Wordless Wednesday #138

Brand-new New Haven RR 8600-series coaches on fantrip
through Shailerville Bridge, Haddam, CT 
Photos courtesy BillS

Monday, September 26, 2016

New Acquisition - 1949 Calendar

Just arrived in today's mail
A little less risqué than the previous calendars I've had for ops sessions. But, as an actual original from the New England area, it has the additional virtue of being a bona fide time traveler from my era and region. 

Now I'm, um, "covered" for 1947 and 1949 - but when I do 1948 sessions, I may just have to resort to a pin-up calendar printed off the 'net. Ah well - I'm sure we can struggle through. 

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Friday, September 23, 2016

On the Valley Line - Sept. 22, 1948

Yesterday was September 22nd, but it wasn't Thursday and we weren't in my basement. It was Wednesday, September 22, 1948 and we were operating trains in the Lower Connecticut River Valley.

Pursuant to the railroad's Crew Call earlier this week, we had Bill, Bob, Tom, John, and Pieter, as well as greenhorns new guys "Mike" (two MikeRs) running the four locals, and me running the tower and being agent. I even tried to operate a few actual mainline trains, but that's another story.

A shot that's familiar to long-time readers, this is typically the first view of session setup - but this time "something new has been added." In addition to the Saybrook Tower control board, fast clock, and the usual paperwork on the desk, this session had a few innovations which I'll introduce below but will be the subject of more-detailed posts in the coming days.

Here's the crew sign-in: Not much new here - we have the register itself along with supplies for each crew (apron, uncoupling tool, pencil, and clipboard with a "memo" sheet for noting problems/suggestions). What's new is the iPod/Bose speakers which provide period background music.

First "innovation" is actually an adaptation of "job cards" - an idea which I got from Mike Confalone's Allagash railroad. Mike's cards are small, brief descriptions of the work the train does but I added the train's schedule on the front, copied from prototype paperwork, as well as miniature track diagrams of the towns along the route. On the back are "Conductor's Notes" which describe the work to be done, as well as some tips on how to do it.

The card on the right is a listing of all the mainline trains that go through Saybrook during a session - 33 of them(!) One of these cards is provided to each of the crews, but only the Shore Line locals (PDX-1 & 2) need to refer to them to know when they have to be clear of the mainline. One of these days, I hope to steal another idea - this time from my friend Trevor - and develop an actual employee timetable for my crews. But this and my Bulletin Order will suffice for now.

One of my crew members noted that last session I didn't have any snacks, so this time I made sure O'Rourke's Diner was open and well-stocked in Middletown. True-to-prototype, O'Rourke's is where the crews from the Air Line and Valley locals would "go for beans" while waiting for their tenders to fill. Fortunately enough, my crews tend to get to Middletown about the same time too - and the aisle space here is the widest on the railroad, which allows such a congregation.

Additional innovations introduced this session are the laptop running the WiFi throttle server and the foam squares (which I've used before, but not in a long time).

Each session has a new Bulletin Order and a calendar for the month/day we're running. Thankfully, is this Internet Age, such old calendars are fairly easy to find - well, at least images of old calendars are easy to copy and print. This one is from September 1948. You can juuuuusssttt make it out there above the authentic 1947 calendar I just got on eBay a few days ago. If you still don't see it - it's to the left of the gams. Funny - almost all of the late '40s calendars I find are pin-up calendars. Not that I'm complaining...

Also, this session I finally got around to adding track/siding diagrams on the fascia at the new towns of Saybrook, Essex, Deep River, and East Haddam. In Saybrook this is especially helpful since it shows - albeit in a font which is probably too small - all the switch numbers, which the crews call out to the tower operator so they can be thrown ("normaled" or reversed). Also in Saybrook, I've placed a list of the trains scheduled to come through and their times - critical for knowing when to be out of the way.

That same schedule is clipped to a new clipboard in New London/Boston staging so a mainline operator knows what trains need to be run and when. You can see the new board here as well as the mainline trains staged to be run. Yes, with 33 trains to run in both directions, some of these trains will be used more than once.

Finally, this session introduced two new structures in Old Saybrook, courtesy BillS. The Saybrook station has been a collaboration for a number of weeks now (and by "collaboration" I mean I did the measuring and materials purchase and Bill did the actual building %^) and I've enjoyed seeing it gradually taking shape, literally and figuratively. It got "planted" last weekend - including scenery - and we (he) even painted the track to get rid of that annoying plastic sheen.

What I didn't expect - and which arrived just yesterday - was a fully complete Saybrook Freight House. Last I heard, he was "looking forward to doing the freight house now that the station was done" and asked me a couple of questions about window/door placement. But that was last Sunday, IIRC. No progress pics, no other peeps about it. Then, last night, he starts placing peeps people on the station platform and I ooh and ahh all over them - totally missing the fact that he'd taken away the paper mockup of the freight house and replaced it with the actual model(!!) Yeah, I need my eyes checked. As you can see, I eventually saw it.

And now, on to the session...

With everything all set up and ready to go, I had the crews sign in and get their paperwork. It gets a little crowded/hectic at this point, with everybody trying to collect what they need to get going, so I'm trying to come up with a better process for starting. Actually, following the prototype even more closely could help. Unlike my sessions, the prototype locals started at different times and though I have a 4:1 fast clock, I wouldn't want folks to be hanging around too long before they can move their train.

But once underway, everybody is at a different part of the railroad: PDX-1 (Shore Line local) starts in Cedar Hill, as does the Air Line local (HDX-12), though in different parts of the room. PDX-2 (Haddam local) starts way over in New London, and the Valley Local starts in "Hartford" (nee Middletown).

As the session progresses though, the guys - and their trians - do get a little closer. Here's the Air Line local on the left in Middletown & Valley Local on the right in Rocky Hill.

Pieter running the loco on the Air Line local in Middletown and MikeR as conductor/brakeman. Mike developed the spreadsheet that I use to generate my car movements. From the "small world" department: I discovered that spreadsheet on the Model Railroad Hobbyist website and have been using it for a number of months now. Mike contacted me a few weeks ago and - much to my surprise - I discovered he lives just up the river from me(!).

The "other" MikeR doesn't live nearly as close, having traveled over 90 minutes to attend. But it looks like he's having a good time - probably just happy I finally told him about the F7 brake on the K-1 (he'd been having a devil of a time with the momentum set sooooo high). JohnG's in the background, smiling despite the fact that Rocky Hill doesn't have nearly enough space for all the cars he needs to deliver there.

BobV and Bill were crew on the shortest of the locals - PDX-1 only works Saybrook before it terminates, so at most they've got about a real hour's worth of work (4 hrs on the fast clock). One thing we tried this time though was running mainline trains - I figured the PDX-1 crew could do that once their main work was done. It looks like Bill's enjoying watching the varnish high-step past the beautiful Saybrook station.

Tom was flying solo on PDX-2, but I caught him here switching Essex. One of the things "Spreadsheet Mike" is helping me with is how to modify the car generation so that the trains don't have quite as many cars. My locals are typically anywhere from 12-18 cars long(!) - that's not a bad sized mainline train on many HO layouts, but on a local - on a railroad that has fairly short passing sidings - it makes operating a little too challenging sometimes. I don't hear many complaints though - unless a crew has put even more cars in their train unnecessarily... 

Mike and John discussing what they would have done differently - BobV weighing in, having finished his run earlier.
Speaking of which, a few lessons from this session:
  • The Job Cards will need to be fleshed out a bit - at least to make the tip of "leave northbound cars for pickup northbound; don't take them southbound unnecessarily" a little more clear. Last session, PDX-2 had this challenge; this time, it was the Valley Local. And with only a K-1 for power, well, let's just say she was slipping a bit on the way home.
  • WiFi throttle needs to be dialed in better. I'd forgotten to stop the internal wifi on the laptop before starting the JMRI server. Consequently, some of the throttles were running on our main router, which has very spotty coverage in the basement. This led to some minor frustration (remedied by switching to a regular throttle) and one panic moment when a high-ballin' mainline freight went barreling into the yard (and a stub-ended siding) at the same time the WiFi throttle controlling it decided to disconnect (remedied by physically grabbing the locomotive before it T-boned the brand new coaches on the reverse loop)!
  • Need "Engineer's Notes" in addition to the conductor's notes on the job cards. Engineers ought to have a ready reference to what each function key does on their engine. At the very least, the layout host ought to let them know where the brake is!
  • Running mainline trains on schedule is going to be a challenge. It was really cool to see actual trains coming through Saybrook (instead of locals having to pretend a train was coming in order to get out of the way), but with a 4:1 fast clock some of those trains are only an actual minute or two apart. I discovered VERY quickly that I couldn't be the tower operator/agent and try and run the mainline trains (especially not with a wifi throttle!).
All in all though, the session went very well - any derailments or other major issues were the result of human error (mostly mine) rather than any problem with the trackwork (wiffy throttle being the exception - and which will be addressed). I'm sure during my additional post-session debrief I'll come up with a few more improvements, but for now I'm pretty happy with how things are running.

Until next time, all is (finally) quiet in Old Saybrook . . .

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Wordless Wednesday #137 - 8600s Spotted!

The New Haven's brand-new stainless steel coaches spotted visiting Old Saybrook . . . (models & modeling courtesy BillS)

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Crew Call - September 22, 1948

One of my favorite parts of setting up an operating session is doing the Crew Call. This isn't merely an email to my regular operators notifying them of an upcoming session - it's another opportunity for realism, another opportunity to help them feel like they're actually operating a railroad in the late 1940s. And the research required to create such a time machine is certainly more fun than filling out all those switchlists....
To: Operating Crews
Lower Connecticut River Valley Region,
New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad
Providence Division Extra #1 (PDX-1, Shore Line Local)
Providence Division Extra #2 (PDX-2, Haddam Local)
Hartford Division Extra #7 (HDX-7, Valley Local)
Hartford Division Extra #12 (HDX-12, Air Line Local)

From: Superintendent of Operations

RE: Detail of Operations - September 22, 1948

To Whom It May Concern:

You have been assigned to work on one of four local freight extras, but please note - our transition to diesel motive power is almost complete; consequently, only one local remains steam-powered. Please review the information below to gain an understanding of what to expect during your assignment:
  • September 22, 1948 is a Wednesday and Harry Truman is the president, currently campaigning for re-election on a whistle-stop tour throughout the western US. The local forecast calls for chilly temperatures in the morning (low 40s), but it'll warm up in the afternoon (around 68 degrees). Should be a nice, sunny, dry day - much nicer than it was 10 years ago. September 21st is the 10 year anniversary of the Great New England Hurricane (a.k.a. The Long Island Express) that devastated our Railroad. But thanks to all your hard work and effort, we survived and even made it through the recent war, stronger than ever.
  • The most popular song of the day is "Twelfth Street Rag" by Pee Wee Hunt and His Orchestra. I much preferred Al Trace's "You Call Everybody Darlin'" that was #1 last month, but even so none of the music today compares to what we heard during the war. Of course, many of those songs bring back bittersweet memories, so maybe we're all just trying to forget.
  • The cost of living keeps going up: The average cost of a new house has risen to $7,700 - reflecting the persistent housing shortage - but gas is still only 16c per gallon, and cars cost a little less - about $1,250, on average. Average wages are stagnant though - at less than $3,000/yr you're not making any more cabbage than you did last year.
  • In sports, the first Olympic games since before the war, ended last month, the same month Ben Hogan won the PGA Championship. The Cleveland Indians and Boston Braves will be in the World Series, but we're all still mourning the passing of Babe Ruth a few weeks ago. Only 53, he was far too young to leave us.
  • Given last month's sports events, you may have missed Whittaker Chambers accusing Alger Hiss of being a communist. But if you're lucky enough to have a television (and as a railroad employee, you probably don't), you would have been able to see the HUAC's first televised congressional hearing and the Chambers/Hiss confrontation.
  • If you'd rather not think of Reds under the bed, and have time to catch a movie this weekend, Sorry, Wrong Number (starring Barbara Stanwyck and Burt Lancaster) premiered on September 1st. If you hurry though, you may still be able to catch Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (Cary Grant, Myrna Loy) or even Key Largo (Bogie & Bacall).
As usual, you can expect to receive your paperwork (Clearance Card, Orders, and Wheel Report) when you report for duty, but here's a brief description of what you can expect when you arrive: 
  • PDX-1 (The Shoreline Local) will have DEY-1b (HH660) #0924 for power and will depart Cedar Hill for New London with 9 cars. It'll do most of its switching in Saybrook and will use Track 5 to transfer cars destined for up-river consignees to PDX-2 (The Haddam Local).
  • PDX-2 (The Haddam Local) will have DEY-5 (S-2) #0615 for power and will depart New London for Cedar Hill with 13 cars for towns along the way. It will also receive cars from PDX-1 on Track 5 in Saybrook and run up-river through the towns of Essex and Deep River to East Haddam.
  • HDX-7 (The Valley Local) will have K-1b (2-6-0) #278 for power and will depart Hartford for Middletown & return. It'll be a heavy day with 18 cars for consignees along the way. Since it's Wednesday, this train won't be going down-river, but may leave Haddam-bound cars in Middletown for forwarding the next day.
  • HDX-12 (The Air Line Local) will be debuting newly-shopped DERS-2b (RS-2) #0510 for power and will depart Cedar Hill for Middletown with 14 cars for local industries and interchange with HDX-7 in Middletown. This train will also do all the switching in Middletown.
Of course, the crews of each of these trains will report to the agent of each town on their route for any additional car movements which may be required - and the Providence Division Extras must receive permission from the Dispatcher or Tower Operator, as the case may be, in order to occupy main track between Cedar Hill Yard and New London. Finally, be sure to review the latest Bulletin Order and sign the Employee Register when you arrive, or else you may forfeit your pay for the day.

C.R. Adams

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Weekend Words for RR Wives

(We interrupt our regularly-scheduled blog with our Very First Guest Post, penned by my SO, aka "the Missus." If you, too, are lucky enough to have such a person in your life, show them this post. They may find some of what follows awfully wonderfully familiar. Enjoy!)

When the Mister and I have new guests to our home and they see all the trains, a question I am often asked is some version of “Do You Mind--?” What they are really asking is, “Do you mind that your entire basement has been taken over by model trains?” “Do you mind that your upstairs bonus room is taken over by model trains (and railroad photographs)?” “Do you mind that your entire house is taken over every Thursday evening - and a few other weekend days a year - by (mostly) men who love model trains and prototype trains?” This is accompanied by either raised eyebrows or a wincing expression akin to that of biting into a juicy lemon.

            The answer is, in a word, no.

I knew from the time the Mister and I began dating that the Mister loved trains. The fact that on our third date he told me over dinner that we were close to the train yard where he worked as a high school student, and asked excitedly if I wanted to see the boxcar, um, "Pullman Troop Sleeper," that he lived in, gave me my first clue that I was not dealing with a sports-obsessed, video game-loving sort of man. The fact that I – still not knowing him very well and agreeing to go to said train yard in complete darkness in a rural area with one state trooper before the days of cell phones without having had one sip of wine – was excited to share this meaningful piece of his past with him gives you another clue: that his passion for trains was so sincere that I, who am normally so paranoid careful, didn’t stop to think about the craziness of this expedition until after the fact. (I didn’t tell my parents this little story until years later.)

I guess my enthusiasm for abandoned rail yards passed muster, because three years later the Mister proposed to me on the Cape Cod dinner train. It was a total surprise – I wasn’t suspicious in the least when he asked me to walk back with him to check out the empty, antique dining car. On our honeymoon, we took a train trip down to Savannah and Charleston. Although Amtrak doesn’t exactly evoke the luxury of train travel in Cary Grant’s North by Northwest, we enjoyed watching the landscape pass by in a way a plane just doesn’t permit. So when we returned home to our apartment, and he asked if I minded a small, 4’ x 6’ layout at the top of the stair landing, why would I say no?

Benchwork I
And why would I say no when, upon moving into our first house, he wanted to finish the unfinished basement for a train room? I had no plans for it, and as his collection of books and models grew, it was easier to keep them there, all in one place, than divided among the upstairs rooms. I gladly accompanied him on road trips to photograph factories for the proposed Naugatuck Line, and then the Berkshire Line--which is quite lovely in autumn--when he was researching his first few layout concepts.

Benchwork II
But, alas, after many, many versions of track plans and Building Benchwork II, we had decided once again that we needed to move. Our former city was too congested, and our neighbor’s new addition seemed to disturb the water table which was causing flooding every time we had a heavy rain. While the Mister worked his late hours in spring, I traveled with our real estate agent to our new dream town, forty miles away, and fell in love with our current house: fireplace, attached two-car garage, big yard, no major renovations needed. I knew that the first thing the Mister would counter-argue was, “it’s too big.” Compared to our tiny 1927 house, this house had so many extra (to us) spaces that upon seeing the bonus room for the first time, I thought to myself, I don’t even know what we would do with all this space! And then I got a Wonderful, Brilliant Idea. The bonus room could be The Train Room. No need to put the books and the models and the photo library in the basement! Two floors up and it could rain all it wanted! While it still took a tiny bit of convincing, papers were signed and boxes were packed and a really heavy train layout full of Vermont stones (literally) were loaded into the U-Hauls (thanks Tom!) and off we went. The Mister now LOVES his aerie/clubhouse, and sometimes even I and the cats are allowed in.

As a train wife, I am thrilled that the Mister has a hobby that engages his mind and fine motor skills, gives him a break from his work, and has allowed him to meet and become friends with so many kind, funny, and generous people. They are like family (we see them more often than our actual families!) and in a world where, despite social media, rates of loneliness are soaring, we feel so blessed to know each of them. What woman wouldn’t want that for her Mister?

So, what if your Significant Other has recently shown an interest in trains, or you have met a new man who offers to take you to a deserted rail yard on your third date? What if, before you can pronounce "ferroequinologist" much less spell it, the model railroad magazines begin to take over your coffee table? What if you have no clue who Tom Brady is, but are starting to really get Lionel Strang’s inside jokes? And what if you know you’re at the point of no return when you are grocery shopping and an engine for Shoreline East goes by behind the store, and you think, that’s a GP-40 (true story)! How do you adjust to this new lifestyle?

Here are a few tips that may help:

1.       Set Boundaries: Give your SO a dedicated spot for his new hobby. The Mister has the basement and train room to do what he likes. That means no train stuff in the other, shared rooms of the house. It also means I have no input when he 1) rehangs doors or removes them entirely 2) punches through the walls to connect the track through the rooms or 3) blocks the fuse box with a liftout. (The pink foam board blocking the basement window is still a point of contention.)

2.       Be Prepared: You never know when, on a visit to a relative’s house or a weekend road trip, you will stumble across abandoned track, bridge abutments, dilapidated factories or mills, or cabooses in the woods that Must.Be.Documented.For.Historical.Record. Bring a book, a podcast, your knitting, or a crossword puzzle, because this could take a while. If it’s time for an Op session, plan a Girls’ Night Out with your friends. Reunion Weekend? Time to do a big house project you can’t get to, or visit family and friends out of state.
3.       Per #2, make him drive his own vehicle.
4.       Hide Your Good Tupperware and Kitchen Gadgets. Apparently they are good for mixing Ground Goop and other non-edibles.
5.       But also designate limits on storage of recycled containers:

Above all else, I will leave you with advice from my grandmother, who, when asked, never minded my grandfather’s bowling nights: “It keeps them out of the bars!” Indeed.

(When she's not guest blogging here, the Missus maintains her own website at Now excuse me while I go hide dispose of some recyclables)