Friday, November 17, 2017

Friday Fun: NER Convention Ops Session

Way back in May, I was invited to participate in this year's NMRA/Northeast Region Convention operating sessions, which would entail me opening the layout to any convention attendees that wanted a chance to run on the Valley Line. Since my ops sessions had up to that point been limited to those that help build the layout and other close friends, the prospect of inviting "all and sundry" was a little intimidating at first. In fact, I even posted about my concerns here (and subsequently in Model Railroad Hobbyist magazine here).

But I needn't have worried at all. I'd already planned on having some of my regulars as "pilots" on the 4 locals, if only to provide helpful tips/hints to newbie operators along the way. And as it turned out, over 1/2 of the conventioneers that showed up were folks I already knew or was acquainted with. In fact, the only one I knew only by email was the guys responsible for organizing the NER sessions themselves. So I figured all would be well.

And it was. In fact, like most (if not all) of my sessions, it was a blast. Heh - at least *I* thought so. Getting to see the layout come to life is the goal of every session host; it's the operators that have the challenge of navigating the session that the host created.

This session was like my previous ones with a few new innovations. Now, instead of each crew having to report to the agent in each town to get their paperwork and go "on sheet," they sign a Train Register and get their paperwork from new boxes I've installed at each station.  Click here for more detail on that process and how it's evolved.

I also decided to try staggering the crew start times to reduce congestion, especially at Old Saybrook. When the railroad has two-man crews on the locals, I can easily require 11 people to operate the layout (8 on locals, 1 "mole" in each staging yard, 1 A/O). And with 2 locals in Saybrook at the same time, other locals waiting to get started, and mainline trains going through as well, it can get very crowded. I didn't want to reduce crew size (and limit the fun!), so this time I got the Valley Local started first (they have the longest day), got the Airline local out next (and out of the way), and just had PDX-1 (by far the shortest job) be the only train with a 1-man crew.

That did the trick - everybody staggered out nicely and didn't run into any congestion. Now, if I could just do something about the liftouts/duckunders.......

So with all that as prologue, here are some photos from a great afternoon running trains on the Valley Line:

Mike Redden, Randy Hammill & Pete Luchini - Randy is the head operator at New London/Fort Yard staging (representing "points east" to Boston) and is explaining why some changes are necessary. Mike is acting as Randy's apprentice, getting qualified to run the yard in the future. And Pete is sole-operator of PDX-1 in Old Saybrook.

Meanwhile, at the "other end of the line" in New Haven/Cedar Hill Yard staging (representing "points west" to New York), Tom Derwin is getting another eastbound train ready to go, while Dave Ramos and Al Oneto are on PDX-2, trying to figure out how to switch Essex.

Further up the Valley Line in Wethersfield, James Mayo acts as conductor on HDX-7 (The Valley Local) while Sudro Brown keeps a firm hand on the throttle.

Heading back down the Valley and banging a westward turn at Middletown, we find Bill Schneider and Howard Miller working the Airline local at Mill Hollow.

A better shot of Tom, Dave and Al - all smiles . . .

. . . . until they realize they're still not done switching Essex.

As typically happens - on the model railroad as well as on the prototype - the Airline local and the Valley local are in Middletown at the same time. Well, actually, in this case, they're in the "Middletown Aisle" at the same time - HDX-7 is actually still in Rocky Hill at this point.

After finishing Essex, Dave and Al discovered that the rest of the work goes pretty quickly. Here they are back at the south end of the Valley Line in Old Saybrook having already done their work up to East Haddam and back. They're waiting for permission from the dispatcher (um, who's taking the photo) to occupy Main Track 1 so they can  continue to Cedar Hill Yard and home.
Despite my initial misgivings - especially with regard to crew size/congestion - this was probably one of the most successful sessions to date - definitely since the Shore Line got into full operation. The layout ran well (with only a couple minor glitches at the beginning, despite having JUST tested everything an hour beforehand!), there were no major incidents, and everybody seemed to have a great time.

But - as is always the case with ops sessions - a few punch list items surfaced:

  • Some couplers have developed issues - specifically, I need to (re)check the coupler heights on all the DER-1s (DL-109s) as well as the centering on the DERS-1b (RS-1) and a few freight cars.
  • Even though I distinguished operating notes for the Shore Line trains (so the operators know clearly which notes pertain to them), I'm considering just creating separate sheets for each of the Shore Line operators to make the schedule easier to follow and the staging easier to execute.
  • I need to check the trackwork at the east (left) end of the Saybrook station area, as well as tweak the Airline liftout. Seems about this time every year I have a similar issue, due to seasonal expansion/contraction. No derailments (thankfully), but any height-mismatched couplers would tend to disengage in these areas.
  • And - a first for this session - the main power toggle switch got bumped and shut down the layout. So I'm considering putting a toggle guard around it to prevent future unintended shutdowns. %^)
  • Finally, signing of the Train Registers in each town was spotty. So I'm considering returning to in-person reporting to the Agent. Then they'll HAVE to report in - if only to know what work they have to do in town >:^)
Comparing this list to previous punch lists, it's gratifying to see that the quirks are being worked out of the layout over time. That sort of improvement is one of the reasons to host regular operating sessions - but it's certainly not the most important reason.

THAT is to have a chance to have friends - and future friends - over to share in the love of railroading and help get the time machine we've created off the ground and running.

Thanks again to Mike, Randy, Pete, Dave, Al, Tom, Howard, Bill, Sudro, and James for making it such a great day! I'm already looking forward to the next session (as soon as I can get through the punch list...)


  1. Looks like you may have caught me sleeping on the job in the first photo!


    1. I just thought you were in deep thought about the next move...