Tuesday, August 30, 2016

CT River Valley Operating Session: August 25, 1947

The Crew Call for the latest ops session resulted in full two-man crews for all four local freights, as well as a "Superintendent of Operations - Shoreline Division," and yours truly acting as General Superintendent, Tower Operator, Agent, and Dispatcher.

After all the crew members signed the Register, the next step was to have a job briefing and go over the latest Bulletin Order which contains any last-minute operational changes.

Reviewing the latest BO, with crew members looking on, or reading along (or not paying attention :)
Once our briefing was over, it was time to hand out the paperwork for each train and fire up the Saybrook Tower control board and the fast clock.

The panel controls all the turnouts in Old Saybrook and the fast clock is an app running on my iPad - at this point used only to indicate passage of time since there's no formal schedule for the 4 locals. But it's helpful for dialing in the interaction between all the trains - and it's neat to feel like time is really passing.
Once everyone had a chance to review their paperwork and ensure that their trains contained the cars they should have, we fired up the throttles and started the clock.

Pieter and BobV on PDX-2 - the Haddam Local. Randy looks on. As "Superintendent of Operations - Shoreline Division" he's responsible for dialing-in the interaction between PDX-1 and PDX-2 here in Old Saybrook. Pete's in the back, as conductor of PDX-1 with Roman as engineer (probably sitting on the stairs).
The more we operate the more it's becoming apparent that Old Saybrook is a real hotbed of activity when the two locals are in town at the same time. We're not operating actual mainline trains as of yet, but the locals still need to get permission to foul the east and westbound mains so that makes things interesting. I think it took the two locals about 40 real minutes to sort out everything between themselves - which is actually about how long it took on the prototype. Unfortunately, the 4:1 fast clock made it "seem" like 2hrs & 20mins. Just another example of how even 1:87 scale switching is done in 1:1 time. Job cards will be a big help here (more on those below).

The gang's all here in Sayborok - Roman, Randy, Pete, Bob and Pieter are trying to sort things out.
The Airline local had newly "upgraded" DERS-1b (Alco RS-1) #0669 as power this session. Bill downloaded the latest ESU "Full Throttle" functionality to this engine's stock decoder earlier in the week, so I our Motive Power Department decided he'd be the best one to try it out.

Bill and Greg operate HDX-12, the Airline Local, in Somerset.
Unfortunately, the power used for the Valley Local (K-1b #287) is still having trouble keeping its rear tender truck on the rails when backing northbound between Shailerville bridge and Middletown. Since August 25, 1947 was a Monday, and the local isn't scheduled to go to East Haddam on Mondays, I figured we'd be ok. Unfortunately, the dispatcher gave HDX-7 orders to go to Haddam anyway to drop a few cars. Sure enough, when backing up the grade around the curve north of Shailerville - and despite an order to use Restricted Speed - the mogul derailed anyway. No harm done (though its having a Keep Alive keeps us on our toes) - just have to move it into the shop to get that truck fixed by next time.

Tom and Joseph working HDX-7, the Valley Local, in Rocky Hill.
Speaking of Haddam, the crew of PDX-2 finally got out of Saybrook and up to Haddam to do their switching there, including leaving cars for HDX-7. Unfortunately, they neglected to leave behind cars in Essex that weren't headed to Haddam or Deep River. Consequently, things got, um, a bit crowded in the sleepy river town of East Haddam...

Pieter and Bob switching PDX-2 in East Haddam. The prototype town probably never saw this many cars at once! Another job for the Job Card.
And here comes the southbound Valley Local, heading onto the Shailerville Bridge...

The mogul has no problem going forward - it's only backing up that hill and curve north of here that's the problem. She sure looks good though...

And here's a shot that Pieter took of PDX-2's power, DEY-5 (Alco S-2) #0615, pulling onto the bridge while switching the north end of East Haddam...

Now we see why they took the 0615 up to the bridge - looks like Pieter and his crew on the Haddam Local took some time to go down to the Shad Shack for lunch...

Photo by Pieter Roos, modeling by Bill Schneider
Once the two locals got their cars and left town, East Haddam resumed its slumber. Meanwhile, the town of Deep River was awakened by the sound of southbound PDX-2 switching the trailing point sidings...

BobV switching Deep River - another town that got a lot more cars than expected.
All in all, we had another successful session and the Valley Local (HDX-7) didn't outlaw this time, despite going down-river to East Haddam. All the other trains seemed to work out well too. Just a couple of notable items though:
  • The Airline local (HDX-12) ended up waiting a while in Middletown for the Valley local (HDX-7) to do its work. On the prototype, the HDX-12 would just drop off/pick up cars and go. But on my layout, there's nowhere for it to "go" except back to where it came from (unlike the prototype, my Airline ends in Middletown and doesn't cross the CT river). Note: Perhaps I'll be sure HDX-12 has work to do during it's southbound run so it's not done too soon.
  • The Valley local still seems to have an amount of work out of proportion to what it really should have during this era. This session it wasn't a problem though (didn't outlaw). Note: Perhaps reduce the work further.
  • The Shoreline local (PDX-1) is still a VERY short job - it basically comes out of staging into Old Saybrook, does its switching and car exchange with PDX-2, and heads into New London staging. In the future, the crew of PDX-1 will be able to operate "background" mainline trains to fill out the session, but for now, it's a short evening unless they help out with another train. Note: Until then, and especially when I'm short-handed on crew members, perhaps have a crew operate PDX-1 first, then operate HDX-12.
  • The Haddam Local (PDX-2) needs to remember to set out in Old Saybrook any cars that are destined for New London since it's continuing on to Cedar Hill/New Haven, not going back to New London. It should also leave cars along the way that don't need to go further. No sense in hauling cars unnecessarily. Note: Outline this on the Job Card.
These observations, and others, prompted the following Punch List items for this session:
  • Create "Job Cards" for each train, and perhaps for every job (Agent/Tower Operator/etc). These are essentially job descriptions that will help the crews know how to do their job in the most efficient way possible. The reality on the prototype is that crews would develop this knowledge over time as they got qualified on the line. But the reality in a model railroad operating session is that folks may be operating certain trains for the first time and won't have that level of experience and knowledge. A job card could act as the "Senior Crew Member" that gives the newbie operating tips along the way.
  • Create Track Diagrams for Old Saybrook/Essex/Deep River/East Haddam. Related to the point above, crews need to know which tracks are which ("where's the House track? where's the Bulk track? for example) and what the siding capacities are. I've had these in place on the rest of the railroad for some time, but not on the latest expansion Saybrook to Haddam. So I need to get them posted by the next session.
  • Install visual indicators of where shorts happen. While the shorting issue seems to have diminished (if not disappeared) in Saybrook, it seems to have REappeared in/around Essex. And we can't figure out why it's happening. It's random and not the result of running through switchpoints. There are no reverse loops - just straight track and turnouts. It doesn't help that when there's a short we only hear it (there's a buzzer attached to each circuit breaker that controls each section of the railroad) but we often don't know exactly where it's occurring (two of the four locals use engines that have Keep Alives which just keep going if there's a short). I'm not sure if the problem is that I need more feeders (i.e. the PSX circuit breaker is occasionally seeing the load of the locomotive as a short?) or something else. Any insights/ideas would be most welcome!
  • Fix #278's tender truck. The next session may again require it to take the Valley Local to East Haddam - and I'd rather not have to worry about its derailing on the curve under Middletown (and, due to its Keep Alive, running right off the track and onto the concrete floor). Alternatively, I could (finally) finish DERS-2b #0510, get it out of the shop and put the 278 in the shop on the bench for a bit.
  • Evaluate the need for another throttle. I have four (4) locals but only three (3) NCE throttles(!). Thankfully, a few of my regular crew members can bring a spare, but it'd be nice to not have to rely on that. I'm considering installing JMRI and Wi-Fi throttles, but haven't figured out how to do that yet. That'd certainly be the most economical. Alternatively, I may decide to get an NCE PowerCab starter set which would: a) give me an additional throttle, and b) be set up at my workbench upstairs for more-convenient decoder programming and troubleshooting.
  • Rolling Stock Maintenance/Repair: a couple of cars had coupler and detail issues that need to be fixed by next session.
  • Continue to massage the spreadsheet that controls car movements - it's still not dialed in as well as I'd like.
As I've said before, each operating session tends to highlight new things that need to be done, but hopefully - over time - the to-do list diminishes and the pure enjoyment of operating just continues to grow. And the more often you have ops sessions, the quicker that process occurs. If that isn't enough motivation for regular sessions, I'm not sure what is.

The Tower Operator/Agent in Old Saybrook writing out orders.


  1. Chris,

    Thanks for the detailed and interesting account of the session, which I read in full.


  2. Top o' the mornin' to you, Chris!

    You said above, and I quote - "Unfortunately, the 4:1 fast clock made it "seem" like 2hrs & 20mins. Just another example of how even 1:87 scale switching is done in 1:1 time."

    Since you know (roughly speaking) what I am doing, you know that I too, struggle with fast time (just not at Ridgemont) and switching and making/meeting schedules.

    When I WAS operating regularly, I fretted over how to make my carfloat schedules (called closing times) work with my (off layout) symbol freight departures, and also my "hot" LCL car moves (also on layout). Now, without having a s**t-ton of fast clocks around the layout (I actually made three out of cheap battery powered clocks that I made homemade "fast time clock faces" for the last few sessions back in 2013), the whole keeping track of time thing never really worked, as I had abandoned it for sequential staging/departure/arrival of trains.

    The reason I bring this up is because maybe, just maybe, we can help one another find a solution, or at least toss ideas off each other to solve our mutual dilemma (I hope?).

    I mean, I guess as long as our crews are occupied and happy, that's all that matters, but for people like ourselves who "know better" about the prototype operation in regards to how long this took, and what time this ran, and etc, etc, it's like a mental itch you can't scratch, am I right?

    Anyway, the layout looks good and looks even more like great fun to operate, looking forward to it progressing here.