Friday, April 1, 2022

Friday Fun: Mr. Murphy's Mischievous March Madness Ops Session

While I'd love to have monthly operating sessions, the day job too often interferes. April will be my busiest month this year, but happily I've been able to string together two months of sessions in a row - February (report here) and now March too!

I'd decided that this session would be an "all-steam" session (except for the Shore Line, which would continue to use back-to-back DL-109s for ease of "turning" the trains, while still being prototypical), but I'm a little short on steam so - as you'll see - I had an I-4 pinch-hit on PDX-1 (eastbound Shore Line local freight) and an R-1 on PDX-2 (westbound local freight). While I don't know whether these engines were ever actually used on these trains, I do in fact have photo evidence of such engines being used on other local freights trains (I-4 on a local in Berlin, CT; R-1 on the Airline local). So I figured I wouldn't be stretching plausibility too much.

So that took care of the Shore Line locals. The Airline local (HDX-12) had K-1b mogul #278 for power and the flagship Valley Local (HDX-7) had big K-1d mogul #343 on the point. So just about all my in-service steamers were run for this session (except for my I-5 #1407, which I just realized I should have used for the Yankee Clipper and Merchants Limited... oh well, maybe next time). The rest of my steam locos are in the shop - which, I guess, is pretty prototypical anyway...

I've mentioned before that trying to run a full steam session is like poking fate in the eye. Mr. Murphy enforces his law pretty heavily during ops sessions and this one was no exception. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised - Murphy is no doubt Irish and considering its association with the Emerald Isle, March sessions can be particularly risky  Before folks even started showing up, it appeared that ALL but one of my throttle cords had decided to quit working(?!!). Yeah, I know, very strange. But I swear that's what I thought had happened. My ProCab/dogbone throttle would work with just one of my cords, but none of the others.

The problem - thanks to ChrisZ for figuring it out - was that the socket on the throttle was/is faulty. Some of the contacts are bent ever-so-slightly so I need to bend those back to guarantee contact with the male end of the cords.

Lesson learned - and thankfully before the session actually got started. The pics tell the rest of the story of a fun evening (despite Murphy's not-infrequent visits)...

The start of an ops session is always filled with promise, anticipation, and enthusiasm for the evening ahead. What could possibly go wrong? Just ask (from L to R) ChrisZ, Tom, Pieter, Bill, Jim, Bob, and Kaylee... 

Here's Bill and Jim on the Valley Local in Wethersfield. They got Murphy's first visit of the session. Despite having fixed (I mean it!!) the shorting issues I'd been having, the Valley Local shorted as it entered Wethersfield southbound from Hartford. So (re?)fixing that will be Priority 1 on the punch list.

Tom is the perennial Cedar Hill/New Haven staging crew and was willing to do it again this night despite an invitation to go out on one of the locals. ChrisZ is just starting the Airline local into Somerset.

Kaylee decided to give the tower/operator job a try (we think it was the only job on the railroad she hadn't done yet) which gave Bill a break to get out on the road.

Bob held down the New London/Boston and "points east and north" staging yard, while Pieter rode the caboose on PDX-1 and PDX-2 (with yours truly holding down the right-hand seat in the cab).

And what a train PDX-1 was this night! I-4 #1392 is such a beautiful locomotive, it's a real shame I've only run it a few times since I got it almost 7(?!) years ago. While technically a passenger engine, toward the end of steam ops in the late '40s, the New Haven occasionally used I-4s in local freight service - and even occasionally as pushers eastbound out of Cedar Hill yard. I think it looks pretty great on freight, if you ask me. Although I had to stage this train here rather than have it run behind the station on Track 6. The radius back there is just a bit too tight for it not to derail.

PDX-1 is probably the most varied of all the job assignments on the railroad. "All" it does is come eastbound into Saybrook (ostensibly from Cedar Hill Yard in New Haven), switches the local industries, leaves westbound cars for PDX-2 (westbound local) and picks up all eastbound cars. BUT, to do so requires finding rare windows of opportunity to cross the busy double-tracked mainline - twice! So there may not be tons of switching, but there's definitely a bit of stress - punctuated by waiting for, and watching, the parade of passenger trains rolling by.

Up on the branch though, it's a different world. After crewing PDX-1, Pieter and I took the helm of PDX-2, which runs up the Valley Line through Essex and Deep River to East Haddam before returning to Saybrook and continuing west to Cedar Hill yard. That's Pieter in the distance switching Essex, while Tom figures out his next move out of Cedar Hill.

Sometimes, the model works exactly as the prototype. And in this case, the north end and south end Valley Locals (HDX-7 and PDX-2, respectively) ended up meeting in East Haddam. That's the good news. The "bad" news is that when that happens the aisles can get a bit, um, "snug."  ChrisZ photobombs from HDX-12 for good measure.

Not being as pressed for time as the Shore Line local, HDX-7 is responsible for the switching in East Haddam, so Jim and Bill use their steam power to transfer some cars to PDX-2 while its diesel waits on the main. It was about this time that Murphy decided to make 343's brake full on/full off. So much for finesse...

Did someone say "diesel"?! Mr. Murphy apparently thought dimly of our all-steam session. Chris' #278 on the Airline local was the first to give us fits - until we discovered that the shorting issues were more likely due to turned-trucks on the brass caboose rather than the loco. But we didn't figure that out until DEY- (S-2) #615 was pressed into service. Once we swapped the offending caboose out, #278 was back on the point and finished the session in fine fashion.... and just in time for the 615 to go over and rescue PDX-2 who's R-1 (ESU-equipped Bachmann 4-8-2) inexplicably started bucking, balking and generally behaving badly. But, just like the prototype, what the diesel lacks in charm and charisma it makes up in reliability and performance. Above is the 615 switching Deep River on its way southbound back to Saybrook.

Thankfully, PDX-2 made it back to the junction without any further incident and held clear of the main while waiting clearance to enter Cedar Hill.

After meeting with PDX-2 in East Haddam, HDX-7 The Valley Local headed back to Hartford and here we catch it as it goes through Wethersfield northbound.

If you have a layout of just about any size, no matter how small, you're unlikely to have many - if any - incident-free sessions. Mr. Murphy always has a way of making mischief. The resulting punch list catalogs his greatest hits of this session:
  • Check/fix wheels on caboose #C-301 for proper orientation/polarity
  • Check/fix brake function on #343 (reset/reload decoder?)
  • Check/fix operation of #3304 (reset/reload decoder?)
  • Check/fix lighting functions on #0615
  • (Re)fix shorting at north end of Wethersfield (south end of reversing section)
  • Check/fix south grade crossing in Mill Hollow (#278 derailed here, backing southbound)
  • Consider installing rerailer at end of Cedar Hill Track 1 to facilitate freight moves
  • Shave some layout from in front of Dickinson Witch Hazel coal track to widen the aisle
  • (and all the way back to the beginning of the evening...) Fix throttle cable socket on the ProCab
It's true that ops sessions are the best way to put your layout through its paces and show you what needs attention and/or what needs to be fixed. And with every ops session, that list usually gets shorter.

But it's also often true that the list may not get so much shorter, but different. I've been operating this layout in its current full form for about 6 years (actually, almost to the month!) and, like bubbles percolating up from your pond's freshly-poured resin, you never quite know where Murphy will manifest next. But the response is the same - you pop the bubble, tick off the punch list item, and improve your layout bit by little bit.

The cool thing though is that, no matter what Murphy has in mind, you'll have a lot of fun along the way. And if you have some great friends to help you along, that's even better.

Hope you're able to get to some modeling this weekend. I, for one, plan not only to get to some of these list items, but hope also to post some more progress on the DEY-5 build. Methinks Murphy's mischief will be mitigated by the marshalling of more modern machines...


  1. You have a awesome layout Chris, the detailing is phenomenal. And for the fact that it was a all steam night makes it even better!! The moguls, who made those? I had my eye on 3 off them but i didnt jump in time. Oh well, I'll be faster next time!!

    1. Thanks! The moguls were done by New England Rail Service (NERS) way back in the 1980s. Even after all these years, they hold up to today's locos in detail as well as operation. Pretty amazing. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment!

  2. It looks like you guys were having a lot of fun!

    1. We did! Thanks for stopping by - hope you're enjoying the blog!