Sunday, July 27, 2014

Ops Session, 7/26/2014: What Have the Romans Ever Done for Us?

Sometimes you're so deeply involved in what you're doing that you don't realize how much you've accomplished until you raise your head up and look around. Operating sessions are certainly great motivators for getting things done, but they're also great opportunities to see what you've done already.

Last night's session was a good example of this phenomenon. My buddy Randy wasn't going to be able to attend as planned so, in an attempt to make him feel better, I said - "Don't worry - there's really nothing new or different, so you won't miss anything." I sincerely believed this to be true. But as the session got closer I had a better chance to take stock. Turns out, there was actually quite a bit different (reminded Pieter of a Monty Python skit):
  • Middletown Yard, double-ended
  • Frog Juicers, acquired and installed
  • New uncoupling tools developed
  • K-1b steam locomotive replaced diesel on the Valley Local
  • New Agent's position & associated paperwork applied to "typical day" operating scheme
  • New paperwork instituted: Crew Register & Registey of Trains
  • Many more mockups & temporary scenic details added for visual interest, including temporarily tacking up the Goff Brook railroad bridge
  • A new procedure for noting BO cars
  • Fast clock (there's no real "schedule" for these locals, but seeing the passing of time during the day makes things more realistic)
Except for all that, there was "nothing new" (sorry Randy)

Once all the guys showed up, I had them sign in (great way to keep a record of your visitors), we did a job briefing, reviewing the latest Bulletin Order (note to self: be sure your Bulletin Order actually goes into effect before your operating session starts.  You might be called on it. Ask me how I know :^), pointed out anything new, and issued paperwork, uncoupling tools and throttles.

I was also going to point out where the snacks were - but they'd already been discovered.

In addition to our crews (Roman/Joseph on the AirLine Local, Pieter & Bill on the Valley Local), we also had two surprise guests: John Wallace and Bill Chapin.  John's familiar to regular readers as the inspiration and primary resource of information & photos on the Valley Line.  Bill Chapin is from New Jersey and models the New Haven Railroad's Berkshire Line (and Highland Line too I think).  In a very rare example of serendipity, Bill called earlier in the day to say he was in the area for a school reunion and could he "just stop by for a few minutes" on his way home in the evening.  I told him that of all nights this could not possibly be any more ideal a time to stop by.  Bill had gotten me started on my track plan a few years back, but hadn't been able to visit since I started construction - so I had a lot to show him and was thrilled he was able to "just stop by."

The session itself went very well, the Frog Juicers impressing all and sundry - especially the K-1b which performed just about flawlessly (in marked contrast to pre-Juicer days when it couldn't even get past a single turnout).  There were only a couple of BO cars - interestingly, both CN boxcars which lost coupler springs. Even the new uncoupling tools were a hit.

The crews appreciated the newly-double ended M'town yard - though I still need to do some shimming of the trackwork there. And for some reason, the reverse loop started acting up a bit.  Short "short" story: My reverse loop is controlled by two bays on a Frog Juicer. It's worked flawlessly in the past, but last night when the K-1 entered it, it would sometimes short out.  Not consistently, of course. So the wiring on that Juicer is going to have to be reexamined.

One of the highlights of the evening for me though (other than BillC's surprise visit), was John's being able to follow the Valley Local and recognize all the moves that it made going down the line. This wasn't an accident, of course. I'd consciously set up this session to duplicate the operations on the "typical day" John described in his Shoreliner articles.  Every move was included, thanks to my being able to include all the industries & sidings he remembered. It was so neat to imagine his being able to relive his experience firing the Valley Local in the late 1940s, even if only in HO scale in my basement.  Frankly, and hopefully without being too corny, that sort of time travel is the primary reason for the layout in the first place.

And, thankfully, I had my clipboard and pen ready to record any new memories this trip would trigger. Suffice it to say, I have a lot of notes...

I'd planned doing a double session again - Day 1, break for dinner, Day 2 - but we'd gotten a late start and enjoyed dinner for a little longer than planned.  But enjoying each other's company is another reason for doing these sessions, so we didn't let schedules dictate our time.  The fast clock had been paused anyway...

All in all, an especially good - and memorable - operating session. Stay tuned for more details about the new uncoupling tools I developed, the fast clock I "installed," and the somewhat-novel way I generate my operations paperwork.  Enjoy the photos as I do a little railfanning....

Air Line Local Engineer Joseph enjoys "remotely" operating his engine under the hands-on direction of Conductor Roman.

I'd hoped to catch the Valley Local switching in Wethersfield, but by the time I got there with my camera, they'd already left town.

Goff Brook railroad bridge, temporarily mocked up.  Click here for the story of how it was built.

I caught up with the Valley Local as it worked Rocky Hill.  Bill & Pieter are doing the switching under the watchful eye of John Wallace (who's probably wondering when the Rocky Hill station will ever be built) 

Once again, the two locals meet in Middletown.  I'd always hoped the operating scheme would work out that way since that's how the prototype worked, but I never knew how to actually plan for it. Luckily, it just so happens that the two modules which constitute the Air Line provide about the same amount of work (time) as the Valley Local.

The Air Line Local's engine - R-1 #3304 - having dropped off its interchange cars, waits on the quadrant track while the Valley Local switches out its cars to hand off.

I caught a VERY long Valley Local making its way northbound through Wethersfield, heading for Hartford. I'm pleasantly surprised that the little New England Rail Service mogul can pull so many cars (anywhere from 17-22 during this session - Good thing the railroad is level!)

Here's a shorter Valley Local heading home at the end of the second session. Interestingly, the spreadsheet generated much different traffic than the first session.
Hope you enjoyed the pics!


  1. Fantastic report, Chris - thanks for posting it here! It sounds like a great operating session and I look forward to further notes on your blog about things you learned during the run.
    One of these days, I have to drop in to take part in a session myself.
    - Trevor (Port Rowan in 1:64)

    1. Thanks Trevor! You're most certainly welcome anytime!

  2. Don't forget the B.O. card for that unsecured load...

    Great fun, clearly you did a lot for those of us lucky enough to be able to operate on your layout.

  3. And I hope to have some more done in time for the next ops session in September(!) What was it the man said about operating sessions motivating layout progress? Next time, we'll have to get you on the Air Line local :)