(The doodlebug provides added play value when a crowd shows up, while a flexible operating scheme allows the layout to adjust to the number of guests)
On the prototype, the line to Port Rowan was served by a single mixed train, six days per week. That’s it. That’s fine when I’m running by myself, but it’s not terribly exciting when I have guests over. What to do?
If I have one or two guests visiting, we usually annul the mixed train and run a freight extra. If I have one guest, we’ll split the conductor/engineer duties. If I have two guests, they can share those roles while I hover to answer questions. (Frequently, I’ll also assume one of the duties of a brakeman and take care of uncoupling cars, since I know some people are uncomfortable reaching between two pieces of detailed rolling stock with an uncoupling tool to perform this function.)
I rarely have more than two guests – but it happens on occasion, as it did earlier this week when four friends Regan Johnson, Dave Burroughs, Robin Talukdar and Bob Fallowfield – showed up to see the layout before meeting up with some other hobbyists for dinner. When the numbers go up, I find it useful to add a second train to the ops session – but the mixed train, or even another freight, would seriously snarl the terminal at Port Rowan.
The answer lies in CNR 15815 – an EMC Gas Electric I acquired about a year ago.
This model is not accurate for my prototype, but the CNR did have an extensive fleet of self-propelled cars detailed in an excellent book by Anthony Clegg), and I painted and finished this model following typical CNR practice.
When I acquired this model, I planned to use it on the S Scale Workshop Free-mo style exhibition layout – and I still will, because it’s an easy model to pack and transport, and it’s a reliable runner. I didn’t really plan to use it on Port Rowan, because – frankly – the prototype never ran a self-propelled car on this branch.
Since putting it into service, however, it has proven to be a great asset for enhancing operations with a second train:
As a passenger train, it follows a schedule, which requires the freight extra’s crew to keep an eye on the clock.
It also takes priority over the freight train, so the freight has to keep clear of the main track when the doodlebug is due.
At the same time, it’s a one-unit train, so it requires no reshuffling of cars or run-around moves upon arrival in Port Rowan, so as a second train it doesn’t overwhelm the small terminal.
After the station stop, the doodlebug operator will turn the unit on the turntable, then stay on the turntable lead – out of the way of the freight extra’s switching duties – until it’s time to head to the station and ready for its scheduled departure.
Looking for ways to break from the prototype’s practice, in order to entertain additional guests, it’s one of the things I’m exploring with this layout. It’s a fine line to walk, however. It’s easy to deviate so much that the essence of one’s prototype is lost – at which point, one wonders why the prototype was chosen in the first place…
In this case, a second train – on those rare instances when I have a crowd in the layout room – justifies the departure. And even though the gas electric is fictional, I think it’s a handsome unit and I’m pleased by the job I did finishing it, so I’m happy to run it to Port Rowan and back.