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!

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