Ops and dinner with Stephen

Cornfield meet: Oct 2019 Ops

Recently, at a gathering chez Harbord House of like-minded modellers, I lamented that I don’t get enough opportunities to operate my layout. More on that in a moment – but my friend Stephen Gardiner, who was part of the group, said, “Let’s pick a date and do it!”

So we did – yesterday. I prepped the layout in the morning and when Stephen arrived after work we were ready to go.

The first order of the day was to run a short work extra eastbound out of Port Rowan. This was hauled by CNR 1 – a 44-Tonner. I have equipped this model with a decoder and electronic flywheel, but it did experience a few pick-up problems regardless. I will have to look into that. Fortunately, it was not the main event and soon cleared the line.

Extra 1 East met Extra 80 West at St. Williams. Extra 80 West was the day’s local freight, with cars for St. Williams and Port Rowan. With the exception of a few missed couplings – caused by not having the knuckles properly aligned – the session proceeded flawlessly. It’s a testament to the beautiful locomotives designed and built by my friend Simon Parent, as well as to the power of rubbing the rails with a graphite stick.

Stephen took on the dual role of conductor/brakeman, planning our moves, tracking the paperwork and operating the track switches. I perched in the engineer’s seat. The session lasted just over an hour, by which time we were ready to head for Harbord House for pints and a meal.

Stephen at St. Williams
(Stephen collects the waybills for cars in St. Williams from the bill box, which represents the station. He’ll then use the desk behind him to plan our moves in this small community)

Trevor at Lynn Valley
(Stephen caught me as I ran our train through the Lynn Valley and past the water tank. I look pensive. I’m probably not…)

Mocean at Port Rowan
(Mocean – one of my three border collies – keeps us company during the session. It’s not an ops session in my layout room without a dog under foot!)

Stephen at Port Rowan
(We’ve recently arrived in Port Rowan, and Stephen is planing our moves at the slide out desk opposite the not-yet-built station)

As I said off the top, I don’t get that many opportunities to run the layout. Of course, I could run it by myself – and for the first few years, I did that – a lot. It is well-suited for one-person operations. But once one has mastered the operating scheme, it becomes fairly repetitive. Any layout will do that – but it’s especially true of a layout designed for solo ops.

But that’s okay, because I don’t build layouts for the trains – I build them for the friendships. I enjoy the relaxed ops sessions that my layout enables, because it gives my friends and I breathing space to talk – about the hobby, about other things going on in our lives, and so on.

From a purely practical perspective, I’m grateful that the layout performs as well as it does, given the infrequency with which it gets operated. The layout’s simplicity sure helps here – with a minimal number of switches and no other fancy track work or wiring, there’s relatively little on it to go wrong. And the aforementioned graphite stick is really the bees knees for track conductivity. It’s been more than six years since I so treated the rails and I have yet to clean the track, other than after I’ve worked on something messy in the area.

It was great to run a train or two – and the session reminded me of many of the things I like about the layout – from its relaxed pace of operations to the scenery:track ratio I’ve achieved, which really places the trains in the scene instead of overwhelming it. That’s such a compelling argument for me.

The answer, for me, is not to run the layout more often – but to make opportunities to run it more often because I’m hosting one or two of my friends in the hobby. I’ll work on that.

12 thoughts on “Ops and dinner with Stephen

  1. Trevor
    You expressed an interesting reason why you build a railroad. Fellowship is something that never occurred to me. I think we all have seen why your layout is a major draw to your friends and acquaintances. I suspect you willingness to share beckons them to your great accomplishment

  2. Sounds like a good time.

    Despite my history in sophisticated electronics I am planning battery power for my next layout.

    Bill

  3. When you “start” the workday of a train, is there a switchlist? When you arrive at a town and open the waybill box, is this work then done and the switchlist updated? When you reach the terminal does the switchlist reflect the train’s consist? I admit, this is what I do and when the session is over, the “memory” is cleared and the cars can be assigned to d whatever is needed the next session. I am however always looking for new insights.
    Ken Zieska

  4. Thank you for sharing your time with Stephen and the layout. I’ve followed your blogs for years, but I don’t remember a post that gave me such an intimate sense of “presence” alongside Port Rowan.

    While I’m at it, thank you for all the other insights and research you’ve shared in your magazine articles and in your Achievable Layouts and NS&T blogs. (BTW, re NS&T, I ordered John Mills’ book on the Niagara, St. Catherine and Toronto per your recommendation so I could follow along, so to speak. Well recommended, though your blog posts add greatly to it!)

    • Hi Bill:
      Thanks for the comments – I’m glad you’re enjoying my various blogs.
      You remind me that years ago I did a photo-essay on the blog about running a typical wayfreight. I need to do something similar again – when time permits. I’ll add it to the list.
      I hope you’re enjoying the NS&T book. It’s a great introduction to an interesting railway.
      Cheers!

  5. Gene, he definitely achieved fellowship and more. I know I’ve said it on my blog, and maybe in a comment on Trevor’s before, but prior to my reading his blog and meeting him and others through him, I’d have never gone (or had the courage to go) to an RPM to show off my work to others, or had any friends in the hobby to learn from and work with to improve all our skills and build a community. More than the quality of his modeling, Trevor’s accomplishment is bringing people together in the hobby, no mean feat in a city as big and spread out as Toronto and the surrounding area is!

    Stephen

  6. “ With the exception of a few missed couplings – caused by not having the knuckles properly aligned – the session proceeded flawlessly.”

    Isn’t that also true of the prototype?

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