Friday, September 14, 2018

Friday Fun - MRH Posts Decoder Install & ESU Decoder (RE)Programming

If you're a long-time reader and you also get MRH's weekly email, you may have recognized the photo with the "Bachman steamer sound upgrade" link. Yup - today's "Friday Fun" is especially fun since the weekly email featured one of my past posts!

Check it out here and join the conversation
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I've often said that ops sessions are one of the best ways to tease out problems with your equipment, and my last session was no exception.

I use ESU decoders exclusively in the diesels that operate Shoreline trains and the Full Throttle feature - which allows you to ramp-up the prime mover sound while maintaining the motor drive independently - makes it easy to simulate the starting of a heavy train. But I discovered that you have to be a little careful with how you do the programming - especially if you start moving functions around (which is super easy to do with ESU's Lokprogrammer software).
My ESU decoder mapping

As you can see (if you click on the image), I've remapped the Full Throttle functions (Drive Hold and Independent Brake) to functions 5 & 6, respectively. That way, they'll show up on the screen on my NCE "dogbone" throttles (the LCD only shows the first 6 functions). I also (thanks to Roman) changed the sound default to default "on" so that whenever a Shoreline operator acquires a road engine, it doesn't automatically shut down the prime mover.

So far so good. Everything was running well - until someone wanted to run a two-diesel consist with the Full Throttle feature. Turned out, only one of the locomotives in the consist would respond to either Drive Hold or the Independent Brake - and it'd literally drag along the other engine. After a bit of troubleshooting, I figured out the problem.

I'd forgotten to make sure those functions would respond to the consist address(!) Yup - the checkboxes for functions 5 & 6 (Drive Hold and Independent Brake) weren't checked.

My ESU Consist Functions
Once I figured that out, it was a simple matter of making sure F5 & F6 were checked and loading the changes into the decoder. Now everything works as it's supposed to (yay!).

Decoder programming can be a hobby in itself, and it's way too easy to go down yet another rabbit hole in this hobby. But knowing at least a little bit makes the engines run so much more realistically and, fortunately, ESU's Lokprogrammer makes these little adjustments super easy. Once you know what the problem is . . .

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Throwback Thursday: Feeling Overwhelmed by "Too Much"?

For many of us, having Labor Day Weekend in our rear-view mirror means that "Model Railroad Season" is upon us - that period of time, roughly Labor Day to Memorial Day, during which we spend the most time doing our hobby.

But if it's been a while since you've been down to the basement (or wherever your layout room is located), you may have a small sense of dread as you contemplate all you have to do. It's frustrating how persistent certain themes are in our hobby, and one of the most common is that sense of being overwhelmed by the prospect of building - or continuing to build/finish - a model railroad.

Even though I've been at this project for a while, and have had a lot of fun doing it along the way, I'm not immune from those feelings - and they tend to crop up at the least opportune times. So, for this "Throwback Thursday" I'm posting a little reminder - a post I posted a while back and which I go back to any time I'm feeling like I've bitten off more than I can chew. It's a nice reminder that you can even eat a whole elephant, provided you do it one small bit at a time. . .

If you could use a little encouragement as we enter hobby season, click here and enjoy! (incidentally, you'll notice that it looks like I hit this mood about every two years, but I'm about a month early for 2018 . . .%^)

And for additional perspectives from the MRH Forum, click here.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Word(less) Wednesday #232 - The New Haven RR During the 1940s

"It was the best of times. It was the worst of times"
but for the railroad historian & modeler, few eras have as much variety.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Valley Line Ops Session - October 7, 1949 (9/8/2018)

While my primary era focuses on the Autumn of 1948, my ops sessions can run from 1947 through 1949 (well, 1947 is tough until I get more steam locomotives finished). So my operators can readily tell what year it is by what engines are running. For the session I had this past weekend, with the local freights being all diesel-powered, the date was October 7, 1949.

I was a little nervous about how the layout would operate, especially since 1) it's been a while since I've operated, and 2) this session would be primarily for folks that were coming from out-of-state for the annual NHRHTA Reunion. It also took me longer than usual to set up, since I'm a bit rusty. Yet another reason to have sessions more regularly and closer together . . .

I needn't have worried though. By all accounts (in addition to this one detailed account :^), the layout ran great. It's pretty well dialed-in at this point, thankfully. No major issues - or any issues really - and the resulting punch list is very short. Heh - speaking of shorts, I'm going to tweak the wiring on the liftout between the Saybrook wye and Essex that decided to start shorting toward the end of the session. And I want to change the programming on the latest additions to the motive power fleet. But that's pretty much it.

Oh - and I want to get going on a LOT more scenery and structures! As much as I enjoy operations - and devote a lot of my hobby time to setup and sessions - it's SO much nicer to operate through completed scenes. So I definitely want to get more of that done.

So, without any further ado, here are some photos I was able to take before and during the session (thanks to BillS, who took over as the Saybrook Tower Operator).

This is what operators first see as they come down the basement stairs - Saybrook Jct, and most importantly, the Crew Register which they must sign before going on-duty and getting their paperwork.

Speaking of paperwork(!) - this session I tried dividing it up between clipboards given to the operators that would hold their job card, locomotive/engine card, wheel report, etc (seen on the stairs) - and clipboards holding subsequent train orders that the agent would hold until needed (seen hanging on the side of the stairs). This experiment was a fail - way too confusing for everyone. So next time, I'll probably just put the orders in the bill boxes rather than have operators have to see the agent for them.

There's something strangely satisfying about seeing all the trains staged for an up-coming session, ready and rarin' to go. So much anticipation.... Here's the "west end" staging yard, representing New Haven and points west.

And here's "east end" staging, representing New London and points east. Note the debut of orange & green ("layer cake" scheme) DL-109s and PAs (thanks again Ted and Bill!)

Things are just a bit crowded at Saybrook Jct at the start of the session, with PDX-1 (eastbound Shoreline local, operated here by Bill Chapin and Bill Lupoli) and PDX-2 (westbound Shoreline local, operated here by Mike & Mel Redden) in town at the same time. Yet-another-Bill, Bill Schneider keeps things running smoothly at Saybrook Tower.

While PDX-1 is a fairly easy job ("all" it does is come from Cedar Hill Yard/New Haven, works Saybrook, and then terminates in Fort Yard/New London), it is responsible for handling cars swapped between it and PDX-2. The swapping tracks (tracks 5 & 7) are on the north side of the double-track main, next to the tower, so PDX-1 has to wait for windows of opportunity between mainline trains to get across the main to do its work on the swap tracks. Yup - that extends the time that PDX-1 is in town. Somtimes, by a lot.

Shot of one of the westbound Shoreline passenger jobs, powered here by "layer cake" DERS-1s (and their first time on the layout!)

Having completed their work in Saybrook, the PDX-2 crew works the town of Essex, just a few miles north on the Valley Line.

Meanwhile, Tom Derwin holds down the west end staging, operating the many Shoreline trains according to the actual prototype timetable (though on a 4:1 fast clock).

BillS takes a break from his tower duties to watch as a long freight passes through Saybrook westbound.

Meanwhile, "way up north" on the Valley Line, first-time Valley Line operator Ted Culotta and veteran Jim Fellows work the namesake Valley Local in Middletown.

The Two Bills - Lupoli & Chapin - work the Air Line local in Mill Hollow.

Randy takes a break from holding down the fort (Fort Yard, New London/staging, that is) to show Bill something on his phone.

Grab shot of an eastbound passenger job running through Saybrook, taken from the "bleacher seats" which provide an amazing vantage point (i.e. "the basement stairs).

The westbound continues on....
Despite how stressful they can be (all of my own doing, frankly), I really enjoy hosting these ops sessions. It's great to be able to hang out with friends and take a little trip back in time to do some railroadin'. It's also the best way to make sure your layout stays in shape - lord knows that if there's gonna be any problems, they'll show up during an ops session!

They're also a good opportunity to experiment with different approaches. This time, I'd hoped folks would "visit the agent" to get subsequent train orders and such. So I prewrote those order and put them on clipboards, sorted by train, on the wall next to the tower operator. Success was spotty, so I think for the next few sessions I'll just put orders in the bill boxes at the proper towns until my crews get used to using them.

This time I also tried having one crew do two locals. PDX-1 is a fairly short job and I don't like giving that to folks that have traveled so far to operate. So this time I put our "New Jersey contingent" on the Air Line local (HDX-12) as well as PDX-1. Turned out, they completed both jobs in about the same time as it took our longest job - HDX-7/The Valley Local - to finish. So that all timed out really well. Combining these jobs also reduces the number of folks needed to "fully staff" a session - and that means a little less crowding in the aisles.

One of the coolest - and, frankly, just lucky - aspect of my ops is that they're "scaleable." In other words, I can operate the railroad with as few as one or as many as 11 persons. I've only had 11 folks once and it was a bit crowded. And, admittedly, it takes a minimum of 7 people to operate ALL of the trains (including the Shoreline trains) - though I could get by with 6 if I continue to combine PDX-1 and HDX-12 (but I think I'd still want 7 - so the Valley Local/HDX-7 could have a two man crew. Otherwise, it gets pretty lonely). But even operating by myself, I could just do one of the locals and save the remainder for "the next day." That provides a LOT of flexibility - and means that I can have a session any time, without having to worry about crew call response.

So far though, I haven't had any problem getting folks to come have fun operating the Valley Line. But that may have something to do with the treats that the Missus always manages to provide - though being able to adjourn to a local pizza restaurant located, in all places, right in the old Saybrook freight house right next to the still-busy Shoreline (!and which has a huge operating layout) probably doesn't hurt either.

So, another great session. Things are running really well and, since my punch-list is thankfully getting smaller as a result, it looks like I can focus less on operations and more - much more - on scenery and structures, so these smooth-running trains have something more interesting to run through than plywood and foamboard!

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Valley Line Ops Session - A Crewmember's Perspective

The Annual NHRHTA Reunion & Train Show was yesterday and, as has become a little custom of mine the past couple of years, I hosted an ops session for the folks that can only make it this one time per year.

While I do plan on doing a full post myself on yesterday's session, my friend Ted Culotta beat me to it. I've been bugging inviting him for a while to make it to a session, and yesterday he finally did and wrote about his experience on his blog here. I hope you'll click on over and check it out.

In the meantime, I have some cleaning up and reorganizing to do - and I may even find some time to set up the next session(!) Stay tuned for my session report which will hopefully follow soon!

Saturday, September 8, 2018

A Day on PDX-2: Part 3 - Essex & Old Saybrook

Essex is the largest town on the south end of the Valley Line and has the most customers. It also has the most track real-estate, so there's plenty of room to switch & sort cars. Additionally, all the stub-ended sidings are trailing point southbound so best practice is to work Essex on the return trip from up the river.
PDX-2 southbound, arriving back in Essex.
Once the train clears the Middlesex Turnpike, it's time to head to the station and get our work to do.

There's a lot to do in Essex, between delivering 3 cars that we brought from Fort Yard, delivering 4 cars we picked up in Old Saybrook from PDX-1, and picking up a whopping 10(!) cars - one of which is going back to Fort Yard on PDX-1 (in addition to the two we got from East Haddam). The rest of the cars continue with us to Cedar Hill Yard.

Here's the situation in Essex when we arrive. The six cars on the passing track (track 5) are destined for Essex customers. The seven cars on the bulk track (track 7) and the two cars on the house track (track 6) are all pickups (an empty hopper pickup at Burdick coal is off-picture to the right).

Here we've pulled the house track cars and are delivering a car to the feed mill at the end of track 8.

We've delivered the two hoppers to Burdick coal and are spotting cars on the house track.

Tracks are pretty crowded here - house track has 3 cars and we're making up our outbound train on tracks 1 & 5 (mainline and passing track, respectively). Note the two Canadian cars and GTW car - those will need to be left in Saybrook for PDX-1 to take to Fort Yard and the Central Vermont interchange in New London, so we're putting them on the engine's pilot.
The last move is to spot a hopper on the bulk track (track 7).

Having finished our work in Essex, using all the track here to block & assemble our train, we're ready to depart southbound for Old Saybrook with a whopping 16 cars(!).

Putting the cars destined for PDX-1 & New London on the front of the train pays off in Saybrook. Here, we've left the remainder of our train north of the Mill Rock Road crossing . . .

 . . . . so we can continue south, along the west leg of the Saybrook wye . . .

. . . to spot the cars on track 7 for later pickup by PDX-1.

If there were any cars left in Saybrook that were destined for points west, including Cedar Hill, we'd pick them up at this point. There being none, we reverse our moves back up the wye to pick up our train.

And then, provided we have clearance from the dispatcher, we head down the west leg of the wye onto track 5 and proceed west on the Shoreline to Cedar Hill Yard in New Haven.

Looking south on the old Middlesex Turnpike (grade crossing long-since closed).

Final view of PDX-2 heading westbound toward New Haven.
I hope you've enjoyed this (long-ish) glimpse at operations on the Valley Line. PDX-2 is only one of four local freights I'm able to model - in addition to all the Shoreline traffic. Depending on the response/interest, I may "railfan" the other locals at some point (hopefully after doing some more scenery work!).

While the locals operate similarly (since I try to operate them all according to the prototype), you may want to check out some additional links for more detail on how I do ops. You can find more information at the Valley Local website - - by clicking on the "Operations" link on the left side of the homepage. Enjoy! And I hope you'll weigh in with any suggestions on how I can do ops more prototypically.

Friday, September 7, 2018

A Day on PDX-2: Part 2 - East Haddam & Deep River

East Haddam is a busy place on the Valley Line, second only to Middletown in importance. The railroad presence consists only of a main track and two double-ended sidings, a freight house, and a bulk loading area. But this is where the north end and south end Valley locals exchange cars, typically using track 6 (the center track) for swapping. Track 8 serves as both the bulk track and the house track, just as on the prototype.

Since any cars left on track 6 are most often destined for consignees south of East Haddam (or headed toward either Fort Yard or Cedar Hill), PDX-2 typically enters East Haddam by heading into track 6 and coupling onto the cars left there.

East Haddam is also an order station, so be sure to sign the train register before checking for any work in the bill box.

As you can see, there's a lot of work for PDX-2 to do in East Haddam. In addition to delivering a car from Fort Yard to the bulk track, we also have to pick up two cars for delivery back to New London (Fort Yard), one car for delivery to the transload track at Deep River, and two cars that have to go back with us to Cedar Hill Yard in New Haven.

Though it looks deceptively simple, that's a lot of switching. Here are some photos of some of the different moves required:

PDX-2 continued north on track 6 to clear Bridge Street, uncoupled from its train, and is here pulling the cut of cars south on the main (track 1) that it had coupled to on track 6.
Here we've broken the train to be able to deliver PRR boxcar 45939 to the bulk track.

Having picked up all the cars we need to, we're now switching them all together for the southbound train.

Best practice is to use the track real estate we have up here to sort & block the cars for efficient delivery to consignees on the southbound trip.

We don't have any cars heading further north that we have to leave for the Valley Local (HDX-7), so track 6 is empty and we've assembled our southbound train on the mainline, track 1.

With our train all assembled, and having orders in hand authorizing the return trip south, we whistle off and head back down to Deep River.
As we saw before, all the sidings in Deep River are facing point northbound, so we work those sidings on the southbound trip.

We know from the paperwork we already have that we have 4 cars in our train destined for Deep River customers and we discover when we check the bill box at Deep River that the two empty cars sitting here have to be picked up and taken with us to Cedar Hill.

First step is to spot the flat cars at the transload track. The 2nd Baldwin Bridge over the Connecticut River was being built during my modeling era, and many of the construction materials were transloaded here to barges and floated down to the construction site.

Next, we spot the gondola of poles at the bulk track (though we have to remember to pick up the boxcar sitting there first).

We also have a Southern boxcar to spot at the feed store (represented here by an old school house model).

With the 4 cars spotted and the 2 cars picked up and added to our train, we head south to Essex. . .
For more information on operations, be sure to check out the website at
and clicking on the "Operations" link on the left side of the homepage.