Mentioning my next-door neighbor Bill in the last post reminds me of another funny story that happened a few weeks ago (click here for the first funny story - how I discovered that Bill actually used to work in the real Saybrook tower).
It's been months, literally, since my the January session, and, as typically happens with neighbors, we didn't see each other over the winter (weather) and spring (work) except to wave to each other as we passed by. But I was out working in the yard early one morning and saw him walking his dog down the street. We yelled "Hi!" to each other and, instead of letting it go at that, I put down what I was doing and met him at the end of my driveway.
After exchanging the usual pleasantries concerning the weather and general health, the conversation that followed went something like this:
Me: "So, I'll be starting up operating sessions on my layout again pretty soon - want me to keep you posted so you can join us again?"
Bill: "Um, actually, I'm not quite so sure. It's gonna sound funny, but I gotta admit - it was a little traumatic. I'm not saying I got PTSD or anything, but it was an awful lot like my old day job, with all its stress. I couldn't get it off my mind for a few days after."
Bill operated the Saybrook tower during Penn Central and Amtrak days - certainly the twilight of railroading on the Shoreline, but still on the Northeast Corridor. And he did it with equipment that hadn't been maintained much at all in an environment that was, shall we say, less than ideal (the tower was little more than an elevated shack at that point, with little - or no - amenities).
Sure, he'd operated on the prototype, but when I invited him to operate on my model railroad he was probably expecting something more like trains running around the Christmas tree, not an actual late 1940s schedule of trains (71/day - and 33 during the course of the session) operated on a 4:1 fast clock!
No wonder he was a little stressed.
And therein lies (lays?) a lesson: As a prototype modeler, it may be possible to carry the realism a bit too far. We've all debated how much prototype paperwork to include in our operations, but it's clear the more you include the more it can be like actual work. And actual work isn't really what we're looking for in our hobby. I think the best balance is having just enough paperwork to convey the sense of realism - to maintain the illusion that we're operating an actual railroad - while at the same time readily jettisoning the more mundane - and often more stressful - aspects of the job that were probably the reason railroading was actually a paid job and not done just for fun.
Thankfully, even as prototype modelers, we can strike the balance between realism & fun where it suits us (and hopefully our operators) best. This is supposed to be a hobby after all. "Model Railroading is Fun" should be a fact, and not just a catchy slogan.
I did what I could to try and boil all that down and convince Bill to come back and give it another try. And I think he will at some point. But this was all a reminder that sometimes real railroaders might appreciate a change of pace from what they did for a paycheck. Remember to give them - and us - a chance to do some railroading for the sheer fun of it.