Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Ops Session - 9/9/2017

The Annual Reunion for the New Haven Railroad Historical & Technical Association was moved up again this year and as has been my habit the past couple of years, I opened up the Valley Line to give folks visiting from out-of-town the chance to operate.

This time around there were a few changes/innovations from the most-recent ops session, which occurred just a little over a week previous. I was going to try one-man crews, but it turned out I had enough of a response that that only worked for one local. Even the Shoreline trains were fully staffed thanks to Tom - and good thing: turns out there was no way BillS would have been able to make it back & forth between "Points West" and "Points East" in time.

In order to cut down on the work the "desk jockey" has to do, I offloaded the Agent/Operator duty to a new "Train Register" located at each station. Now crews, instead of physically walking over to the desk to report their # of cars and get their work in town, they sign the register, note their cars, and take the switchlist and/or orders that are clipped to it for them.

Train Register, with work clipped for PDX-2.
This is in Saybrook - a town where two locals interchange cars. Other towns are served by only one local, so there's only one unlabeled binder clip that would hold their work/orders.
Currently, all that is on a small clipboard hanging from a cup hook in each town. I thought I'd be able to get away with that long-term, but operating a bit myself afterwards I concluded that I really need to install bill boxes asap. Now, "all" the guy at the desk has to do is operate the mainline switches as the Saybrook Towerman. With all the traffic through Saybrook, that'll be enough to keep him busy!

Secondly, it's been difficult in past sessions for the crews to keep track of the cars they have to hand off to each other. Since I don't have car cards or waybills, I needed a better alternative to just expecting they'd transcribe the info from their switchlist to another (for the receiving crew). So - at least for now - I've created a "Car Transfer Form":

Crews can use this form to keep track of the cars they know they need to hand off and either give it directly to the crew receiving the cars, or leave it for that crew to pick up later (on the clipboard or in the eventual bill box) if they're not in town at the same time. It's admittedly a bit contrived/non-prototypical, but it serves as a plausible stand-in until I can get around to doing waybills.

The final idea was to stagger the start times of the locals. Last session, it got a bit crowded in Saybrook with two locals in town at the same time, not to mention all the Shoreline trains going through. While that's perfectly in keeping with the prototype, it makes things a bit, um, "snug" in that area. Thankfully, it's also in keeping with the prototype to have the locals arrive in Saybrook at different times - which, in turn, means staggered starts.

But I've been hesitant to institute this innovation since it would require some folks to hang around waiting for their work to actually begin. But it turned out, since some of the guys were on the Reunion Dinner Train and arrived later in the evening anyway, we got to try it. It worked a bit to reduce congestion - but not as well as one-man crews will, I suspect.

So with all that as prologue, on to the session!

Bill C, Tom D, and first-timer Bill L at New London/East End staging - Tom was the east end mole and the "Bills" were crew on PDX-2 out of New London up to East Haddam and then on to Cedar Hill.

BillS was working the East End - all smiles since he doesn't have 4 guys on 2 crews to compete with for aisle space - yet.

Mike, having just arrived to crew PDX-1 solo, waits his turn to sign the Crew Register.

PeteL and another first-timer DonM work the Air Line Local (HDX-12) in Somerset.

2nd timer JimF and yet-another-first-timer DaveI all by their lonesome "way up in the chilly north on the branch" (i.e. in the other room with the windows open) working the Valley Local (HDX-7) in the Dividend section of Rocky Hill.
BillL switches the westbound Shoreline local (PDX-2) while Mike - on the eastbound Shoreline local (PDX-1) switches the house track in Old Saybrook.

More action at Saybrook Junction: PDX-2 (a.k.a. The Haddam Local) heading north up the Valley branch on the east leg of the wye while one of the many Shoreline express trains flies through town westbound.

Meanwhile up in Middletown, the crews of the Valley Local and the Air Line local coordinate their switching and car swapping. Good thing there's a nice wide aisle here. . .

. . . unlike at East Haddam, where the aisle is somewhat - er - narrow. This is where the Valley Local (on the left) and the Haddam Local (PDX-2, on the right) swap cars.
It was another really fun night with lots of laughter and a bit less stress than last time, due entirely to having the crews deal with each town agent via clipboard rather than in person. So I was able to enjoy the session a bit more - and even got to take these photos! As for the "laughter" part - well, I'll leave it to BillS to post his video of the Boston-bound Yankee Clipper. Let's just say, it didn't go quite as planned . . .

We had the usual minor glitches that every session seems to have - the occasional short (which, thankfully, was typically caused by human error and didn't shut down the layout), some confusion over the paperwork (I - admittedly - tend to have more of it than average), and some mechanical issues (mostly "prototypical" in nature - broken couplers, wonky engine operation, a derailment). But all in all - and at the risk of jinxing it - the layout is operating really well.

So, with all that in mind, here's my punch list/goals for next time:

  • Try one-man crews. It'll be interesting to see the trade-off between reduced congestion and added work for one guy (he'll have to man the throttle as well as manage the paperwork). I may keep the Valley Local as a two-man crew though, since it'd get awful lonely "way up north" all by oneself.
  • Related to the paperwork handling - install bill boxes. I've purchased 10 of those longer narrower ones (described here) since they seem more versatile and can hold more.
  • Be on the lookout for ways to reduce the paperwork a crew carries - e.g. perhaps the content of the Job Card can be on the fascia at the towns where ops tips would be helpful and maybe the Loco Card info (function key assignments) can be taped to the back of the throttle.
  • Speaking of paperwork, tweak the notes for the mainline moles to make it clearer which notes pertain to "Points West" staging and which pertain to "Points East" staging.
  • Further adjust/dial in the DCC settings on my engines, especially momentum. I'm still learning how best to do this so it's a lot of trial & error. Any help or guidance to good resources would be appreciated!
I'll be hosting a guest ops session during the NER convention in November, so I'm hoping to get a LOT more operations under my belt between now and then. In the meantime, and as always, please feel free to weigh in with feedback/tips/suggestions!

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