Case in point - my crew call. In addition to the prototypical paperwork I hand out (Clearance Forms, Train Orders, Bulletin Orders, Switchlists), I've started to let my crews know beforehand what day they're on-duty and what's going on in the world, including the weather forecast - all thoroughly researched and perfectly prototypical. I got the idea for doing this from operating on Dave Ramos' New York Harbor railroad and really liked how it set the mood for the session.
This year - 2014 - it just so happens that the days fall exactly as they did in 1947. So I couldn't resist the extra added bit of realism. Here's my crew call for tomorrow's operating session:
"It looks like our two extra freights now have full crews and will be operating tomorrow, Wednesday, October 29, 1947.
Here's what's going on in the world on that day:
Weather forecast: temps in the lower to mid 60s; fog in the morning, drizzle throughout the day.
The Thomas Committee on Un-American Activities in Washington is investigating the film industry.
Groucho Marx's "You Bet Your Life" premiered on ABC radio on Monday, October 27.
Trial of famous art forger Han van Meegeren begins in Amsterdam.
But none of that bothers our crews all that much - other than the weather, which - while not too raw - could be a bit nicer. The engineers will have to keep their drivers from spinning on the wet rails, made all the more slick by the fallen leaves. Be sure your sand dome is filled up before you leave the yard!"
If you want to try adding this extra bit of realism to your sessions, check out the Farmers Almanac online (Ben Franklin would be proud). There's a historical weather section where you can enter the zipcode of the locale you're modeling and the date corresponding to your era. Presto! a forecast for the day of your ops session.
Also, "this day in history" type sites are good for getting an overall feel for the day. I googled "this day in history october 29, 1947" and got links to a bunch of sites with good information. Unfortunately, there wasn't much that happened exactly on this day - so I had to fudge a little, e.g. by mentioning Groucho's show that started earlier in the week. I also checked out Eleanor Roosevelt's diary for the day - pretty helpful for folks modeling the late '40s.
I find that adding this level of authenticity really puts the railroad in context, literally. No longer are you just running trains on a layout (not that there's anything wrong with that), but you're participating in the history of the line & towns your modeling and playing some role in keeping those memories alive.
If you try this out, I'd love to hear about it. The cool thing about a time machine is that you can go anywhere in time that strikes your fancy - and it'd be fun to add your era to the list of places to visit!