Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Tuesday Tip: The "Agent's Office"

Ever since I started operations on the Valley Line, I've required my crews, each time they enter a new town on their route, to "report to the Agent/Operator" for their work in town and any new/additional train orders issued for them. They already know what to do with the cars in their train, but they don't know what cars in town need to be picked up - and/or what additional orders they may have - until they check with the A/O. So they have to physically walk over to the desk (pictured above) and see the A/O seated there. And if he's not there (i.e. if he's investigating why somebody keeps shorting out the layout, just to pick a random example :^), then there's a bell to ring to get his attention. It's a very prototypical way to operate and keep the crews engaged, but it's a fairly unique way of doing things on a model railroad.

But lately - especially since the Saybrook Tower was completed - that A/O position has gotten very intense and stressful, what with having to be a towerman, throwing switches for Shore Line express trains, and be the A/O at the same time, managing local freights on the mainline as well as dealing with the local crews out on the branches. That may be the height of prototypical fidelity, but it's become increasingly clear why these guys were paid to do this job (or "jobs" since we're actually talking about 2-3 different roles here).

And even if I didn't mind doing all this work - or, more typically, pawning it off one someone else - as my crew sizes have grown the two liftouts that are required during part of the session have become real obstacles to the crews reporting in.

So I've decided to provide another option. I can still revert back to the full A/O/Towerman job if/when I want to, but in the meantime I've limited the "desk jockey" job to the Towerman and have offloaded the A/O tasks to a Train Register and Bill Box located in each town. Now, when a crew comes into town, instead of walking over to the desk to report in and get their work/orders, it's as if the agent has gone off duty. Everything they need is at the station, either on the clipboard or in the bill box.

The above photo is a typical "station" set up: Throttle pocket, plug-in, track map, bill box, and train register - all located, appropriately, near the station.

The first thing a crew (specifically, the conductor) has to do when he arrives in town is go to the "station" and register - recording the month, day, train, engine number, number of cars, and time. A closeup of my (admittedly "proto-freelanced") Train Register is below.

Click here for where I got the inspiration and how I did it.
Not shown are the switchlist(s) and, where appropriate, additional Form 19 train orders that would be sitting in the box for the conductor to take. The switchlist tells the crew what cars in town need to be picked up and where they're going. If I ever get around to doing waybills, they'll be in the box instead (and the conductor will have to use them to fill out his own switchlist). Until then, I fill out the switchlists myself beforehand and leave them for the crews.

And in my continuing effort to reduce the amount of "stuff" the conductor has to carry (paperwork, uncoupling tools, pencils, throttles, clipboards, etc) - after all, he doesn't have a caboose, or even a desk, to help manage it all - I at least have supplied a pencil and an uncoupling tool at each station for his use: 

For the rest of the stuff, I supply an apron:
Certainly not as "railroady" as a caboose - or even a desk - but certainly less cumbersome to move around in my basement. . . 

As you've probably guessed, if you've been following this blog for very long, one of my favorite aspects of this hobby is operating the trains as close to prototype as possible within the constraints of its being a model railroad and not the real thing. Compromises are inevitable, but I think I'm getting pretty close. Nevertheless, I'd be very interested in any additional tips/suggestions/feedback on how YOU manage operations on your railroad - everything from what car forwarding system you use to what "helps" you provide to your operators, as well as how much work you require them to do. 

"Modeling jobs" may be prototypical, but as I discovered, there's a fine balance between what's "fun" and what's "work." I'd love to know how you strike the right balance.

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