“Instant on”

Car Storage Drawers under the Staging Yard

While I now have a lot of storage capacity under my sector plate staging yard, I also like to keep a full complement of trains ready to run on the four-track sector plate itself. In addition to the locomotives and rolling stock, I try to have all the paperwork for these trains ready to go.

In discussing an unrelated issue with a friend offline, I realized one of the things I like about this arrangement is that the layout is ready to go with the press of a power button. The electronics world calls this “instant on” and it has several advantages – particularly for simple, one or two person layouts such as mine.

The biggest is the ability to run short, frequent sessions as time allows. Lance Mindheim has written about breaking down operations into small chunks, and then operating several times per week, whenever one has a bit of time. Here’s how this concept applies to Port Rowan:

On my layout there are two towns and a total of 12 “spots” for freight cars – but as I’ve noted recently, typically less than half the spots are used at any one time.

For the sake of this exercise, let’s assume six freight cars are scattered throughout the layout, and only three of those are ready to be lifted: One in St. Williams and two in Port Rowan. To run a train from staging to Port Rowan and back, with all work performed, would typically take 75-90 minutes – and I do that fairly regularly with friends.

But what if I don’t have an hour and a half? What if I have 15 minutes this morning, and 10 minutes this afternoon, and another 15 minutes tomorrow, and so on?

Breaking the operation down into smaller chunks is the answer:

Let’s assume I have 15 minutes available to me this morning, I could grab my paperwork and throttle, and run a train from staging to St. Williams. I could also complete the paperwork at the station – figuring out what cars to drop and which ones to lift, writing up my switch list, and so on. Then I could go do the “real world” things that need to be done.

Van at St Williams station
(A freight extra stops with the van in front of the St. Williams station, so the conductor can confer with the station agent on the work to be done in town)

Again, assuming I find myself with another 10 minutes this afternoon, I could return to the layout space and pick up where I left off. With the paperwork ready to go, I could switch the cars in St. Williams. I might get all of the switching done, or I might only get the lifts taken care of, with the set-outs still to do. When I run out of time, I can put down the throttle and paperwork, and go back to the real world.

St Williams team track
(There’s switching to be done in St. Williams – not much, but some…)

Tomorrow, I can use my 15 minutes to run from St. Williams to Port Rowan, stopping for water along the way and arriving at the station. I can prep my paperwork for switching Port Rowan. And then I can walk away, knowing the next time I have time I can start on the switching.

Extra 80 West arrives in Port Rowan
(A freight extra arrives in Port Rowan. Before switching, it will continue ahead to the station so the crew can receive their orders)

It might take a week of short segments to run a “full operating session” in this manner, but it means the layout continues to entertain, and continues to be run – which seems to be the best way to keep any model railway in good shape.

However, there are several things to consider about running a layout in this fashion. These include:

The layout needs to be “instant on”. If one has to set up trains in staging, or even set in place a removable section of layout to allow for operating sessions, that can eat up a good chunk of the 10 minutes one has to run trains.

It works best for simple layouts – for example, this one, with one train on the line at a time. That said, on a more complex layout one could set up a branch line train to be used for these quick sessions, without disrupting the relationship of trains elsewhere on the layout.

One needs space to store paperwork and throttles, near the places where the train will pause between operating sessions. In my case, I have pull-out work desks at both St. Williams and Port Rowan that are perfect for storing ops aids between sessions.

St Williams Work Desk
(The work desk at St. Williams. Click on the image to read more about these)

I think it’s a worthwhile exercise for everyone to consider how their layouts can be “instant on” and how they can support these segmented operating sessions with activities that require no set-up, are quick to run, and can easily be walked away from when real life calls…

Mixed Train Traffic Study

Hagersville-LCL photo Hagersville-Resize_zpsd9144a97.jpg
(The Daily Effort at Hagersville, Ontario – June 20, 1953. Photo via the Henley’s Hamilton blog. Click on the image to visit that blog and read more about the mixed train from Hamilton to Port Rowan and Port Dover)

I’ve written a few times on this blog about my desire to make operating the mixed train (M233/M238) a unique experience. M233/M238 hauls a combine, a baggage mail car, and a boxcar in LCL service. These three cars – and the people, express, LCL and mail that they transport – are essential to the character of the mixed.

 photo M233-CNR86-StWilliams_zps55169f21.jpg
(The mixed train, with no carload traffic in the consist)

But from an operator’s perspective, these cars don’t actually do much: They trundle along at the back of the train, behind the carload freight, like a 200-foot-long caboose. They’re re-ordered at Port Rowan, but the switching is minimal. It’s one of the reasons why I like to run two short sessions when friends visit: One with the mixed train, and one with a freight extra. This way, visitors get to experience a variety of trains.

But in doing so, my concern is that if the focus is on just the carload freight in the mixed train, it will feel a lot like running a freight extra. What’s more, given the train length constraints on my layout (imposed by the length of the run-around in Port Rowan and the length of the storage tracks on my sector plate), the play value of the mixed will suffer if the focus is on carload freight. This is because the mixed typically has only one or two cars of carload freight in its consist – so there’s even less switching to do than when I run a freight extra, which can accommodate up to five cars of carload freight while still fitting within the Port Rowan run-around.

 photo Ops-20140706-01_zps648ef68e.jpg
(A freight extra, hard at work in Port Rowan. Without that 200-foot-long “caboose”, a lot more carload traffic can be handled – and that means more switching during an operating session)

I’ve already created a number of receipts and tickets to represent the LCL and express that the mixed train carries, plus tickets for mail bags and passengers. And I’ve written about the idea of defining how much time needs to be spent making each station stop – so that the volume of passengers and goods actually influences the mixed train’s progress along the line. As noted in More progress on LCL and Express, I decided to test the following formula:

*The car must be spotted for five minutes, plus one minute per 200 pounds (or portion thereof) of freight listed on the receipts.

You can read that earlier posting for the rationale, but in limited testing this formula has been working for me.

However, the challenge has been that I’ve needed something to keep track of the spotting times – especially in St. Williams, where the platform is short and the train must be repositioned if all three of the “mixed train” cars must be worked.

I was using scrap paper for this, but I’ve been looking for something better – something “more railroady” to give the conductor a reason to actually be recording the times required for the work. What I really needed was a form to tie together all the other paperwork – the freight receipts, passenger tickets, and so on.

While pondering the problem, I recalled a document Roger Chrysler shared with me, which detailed the work performed by crews on his chosen prototype. If I recall, the document was created as part of a management/labour negotiation – and that gave me an idea:

Given that in the era I model, the CNR was looking to abandon mixed train service on the Port Rowan branch, it might make sense for management to run a traffic study – complete with a form for train conductors to fill out. While it would appear the form is being filled out to collect data, it would actually work as a tool for calculating the time required to do the work.

Inspired by the concept, I’ve created a suitable form to test during future operating sessions:

 photo MixedWorkDetail_zpsuheqrgy4.jpg
(Working on paperwork: This time, a traffic study form for the mixed train)

Each form has spots for listing mail, express, LCL and passengers. Small notes under each category appear to be targets for the study – but they actually provide the operator with a formula for calculating how much time must be spent performing each operation during a station stop.

Spaces beside each category provide room for entering the quantity (e.g.: 350 lbs of LCL) and for doing the time calculation and recording the results in the form of a start time and end time.

When the appropriate car is positioned and ready to be worked, the start time can be recorded, the calculation made, and then the end time noted. That car can’t be moved until the end time has passed.

For the sake of completeness, I’ve also included space to note the number of carload cars lifted and set off, and the time required to perform this work. Unlike the other categories, there’s no target time to perform the calculations here: The conductor will simply note the start and end times from each station’s fast clock.

The conductor will fill in one form for each station – so, three forms per operating session: One for each direction at St. Williams, and one for Port Rowan.

Is it a lot of paperwork? Not really. It’s the equivalent of writing down one’s work on a switch list – something my crews already do when handling carload traffic.

I also like that this Traffic Study form will remind operators that in the era I model, the job they are doing is being threatened by CNR management looking to abandon marginal branch lines, and annul services such as Port Rowan’s daily mixed train. I’m trying to tell a story with my layout and my operating sessions. As the tag under my blog’s title suggests, I’m trying to draw visiting operators into the world of “A Canadian National Railways branch in Ontario – in its twilight years”. This Traffic Study form may be a fabrication – but it’s one that should help me convey the story of The Daily Effort to visiting operators.

M233 at St Williams photo StW-Crossing-Trees-04_zps73bc3d71.jpg
(M233 stops at St. Williams to transfer passengers, mail, express and LCL)

Ops :: Pre-session “to do” list

 photo Pinky-ToDo_zps413a1ec8.jpg

I’ve started to compile a list of things to do before any operating session in which I’ll be hosting guests. This is a work in progress, but here’s the list I have so far. I’ll add to it as I think of things. In no particular order, I should do the following:

01 – Check that I have enough copies of required paperwork, such as Employee Time Tables, switch list blanks and so on. If not, print (and assemble, in the case of the ETT).

02 – Turn any trains on the Sector Plate so they’re ready to enter the layout. When building new trains, cycle the freight cars, pulling new cars from the storage shelves below the sector plate. Check wheel sets for dirt when building trains.

03 – Cycle the freight car waybills: Select appropriate waybills for cars in trains on the sector plate. Pull waybills from bill boxes in St. Williams and Port Rowan and determine which cars will be lifted during the session, then replace the appropriate waybills with bills to lift the cars.

04 – Set up LCL and Express paperwork, if running the mixed train.

05 – Choose suitable pre-written Clearance Forms and Train Orders, or write up new ones.

06 – Prep the Conductor’s Package.

07 – Set the fast clocks: to 12:30 pm for the mixed train, or to 3:30 pm for a freight extra.

08 – If the St. Williams agent/operator has work for the train crew to perform, set the order board on the St. Williams station.

09 – Check that there’s space on the Train Register at Port Rowan for recording trains that will run during the session. If not, print a new register page.

10 – Test throw each turnout a couple of times to make sure the points move freely. (This isn’t a big job, since there are only eight turnouts on the layout.) Do the same for the derail in Port Rowan.

11 – Ensure there are pens for the conductor. Check that the batteries are working in The Galvanick Luchipher.

12 – Charge the iPod Touch used as a TouchCab throttle, if necessary.

13 – Check the layout for dust or cobwebs and clean if necessary.

This may seem like a lot of work, but it goes quickly and ensures that my guests have a smooth, enjoyable operating session – so it’s definitely worth doing.

Ops session :: Conductor’s Package

 photo CndrPkg-01_zps05d00693.jpg

I’m setting up for an operating session and thought I’d share some of the work that goes into that – starting with what I’ll call the Conductor’s Package.

This is the set of paperwork and other information that a conductor needs to safely navigate his train over the line. In this case, I’ll share the contents for a freight extra behind 2-6-0 Number 80.

First, there’s a copy of the Employee Time Table:
 photo CndrPkg-02_zpsf07a9712.jpg
(Click on the image to read more about this document)

This document includes a schedule of trains, notes, and special instructions adapted from the prototype time table. It also includes useful tips to help conductors and engineers do their work on the layout.

(I frequently have to make up some of these before a session, since I’ve started giving them away to visiting operators as a keepsake – which also allows interested operators to study the Employee Time Table in more detail at their leisure…)

Next, we have a Clearance Form and a Train Order:
 photo CndrPkg-03_zps14cf76c4.jpg
(Click to enlarge)

 photo CndrPkg-04_zps1f16609c.jpg
(Click to enlarge)

These two documents authorize the crew of Engine 80 to occupy the railway. The Clearance Form includes a list of initial Train Orders – in this case, one order (Number 5). The Train Order gives the crew authority to run as an extra from Hamilton to Simcoe, and back to Hamilton. Since Port Rowan and Port Dover are both part of the Yard Limits south of Simcoe, authority is not needed to run to these two terminals – so it’s not given here.

(I created the Clearance and Train Order forms for my friend Pierre Oliver, by redrawing official CNR documents. I don’t think I’ve mentioned the Clearance Forms on this blog before, but they’re done the same way that I did the Train Orders. Pierre then took my artwork to a local printer, which printed up pads for us to use.)

Next, we have the telegraphy cheat sheet:
 photo CndrPkg-05_zps9c284bfd.jpg
(Click on the image to read more about my working telegraph system, including why I use simplified International Morse)

This is greatly simplified International Morse Code, which allows the conductor (putting on the agent/operator’s hat) to OS his train with the dispatcher when arriving and leaving St. Williams and Port Rowan. The information for the return trip – in this case, Extra 80 East – is printed on the reverse side.

Next, the waybills and a blank switch list for any freight cars to be delivered:
 photo CndrPkg-06_zpsbbe6a863.jpg
(Click on the image for more information about the waybills)

 photo CndrPkg-07_zps8b51668e.jpg
(Click on the image for more information about how the switch list is used)

The waybills are presented in the same order that the cars appear in the train. Finally, everything is secured, in the order presented here, to a small clipboard that represents the conductor’s desk in the caboose. This can be seen in the lead photo for this post.

In addition to this package, the conductor requires a pen and an uncoupling tool.

There’s more prep to do for an operating session, though – and I’ll cover that in a future post.