Or, “Sometimes, the more you know, the more you know you don’t know”…
When I added the brake wheel and air hose operations aids to my layout fascia, I had a reasonably good understanding of when these items would be used while switching cars. But then as I started to actually use these aids, questions arose – mostly around the order in which a crew would do things involving hand brakes, air brakes, and couplers.
So, I decided to pick the brains of a few pros I know – railroaders, current and retired, who are also model railway enthusiasts and therefore would understand what I’m trying to do.
I set up a switching sequence in St. Williams that I feel covers most situations on the layout – including set offs, lifts, and the re-spotting of cars that need to be moved to perform the other work. I then switched the sequence, taking photos and making notes about when I thought handbrakes would be set or released, glad hands would be connected, train air line valves would be opened, brake tests conducted, cut levers pulled, couplers checked for alignment, etc.
I then shared this with my railroading friends and sought their feedback.
The result of those conversations can be found in the sequence of captioned photos, below (click on each image for a larger view, if necessary):
It turns out I had a good (if basic) understanding of the proper sequence for switching, although I’d missed some significant things such as the need to bleed air from the brake system when spotting cars.
My sequence assumes a two-person crew – an engineer and a conductor/brakeman (which is what I’ll be using on the layout). In the 1950s, there would be two brakemen on the ground to speed up the switching but as one of my pros put it, “I think I heard the other guy say he was going to the general store for some supplies.” I expect that’s what happened.
I also found out that my approach is what one would call “by the book”. Interestingly, the source who spent much of his time on mainline assignments concurred with my approach… while my pro who worked way freights and switch jobs offered a different, faster approach. Here’s an excerpt, with my edits for clarity in square brackets:
Engine and car goes [into the spur] and couples up [to the tank car and boxcar] and pulls out to the switch and the boxcar [being lifted] is kicked onto the train. One brakeman at switch and other pulling the pin.
If the brakeman are experienced, the two cars [the tank car being re-spotted and the hopper car being spotted] would be kicked into the spur track and tail end brakeman would ride the cars back and tie them down on spot. All this done without air in cars.
You learn to spot the cars on the first kick or the hogger and conductor will chew you out. Before I got set up we did this a lot… the jobs you work regularly you could do this with your eyes closed.
Most sidings had a grade so one would know which way the cars roll… if they roll out [of the spur], the tail end man would release the brakes and the cars would roll out to the engine at the switch.
My way freight expert noted, however, that “by the book” is a more attainable approach on model railroads, because our cars don’t have the mass to for kicking cars or to take advantage of the slight grades one might find on a spur. Still, very interesting stuff. Not only has my understanding of switching improved, but so has my appreciation for the talents of train crews.
While full names will not be revealed shared to protect the reputations of my sources, my thanks to G, J and D for their input!