I’ve introduced several concepts to my layout to help make operating sessions more realistic and rewarding, and I’ve written about them several times on this blog. I’ve also photographed trains at work on the layout to present an operating session as a photo essay.
But I haven’t actually put it all together to give readers a sense of an operating session on my layout. It’s past time to tackle that.
I won’t bore you with a huge photo essay documenting a whole run. Instead, here’s a look at some of the work that must be done to switch a spur on the layout.
As X1650 West arrives in St. Williams, the engineer stops the train with the van in front of the small depot so that the conductor can hop in and determine whether there’s any work to be done. Here, I’ve unlocked the bill box on the fascia and I’m collecting all of the waybills inside. Note the paperwork and pen in my other hand. When X1560 West left Simcoe (staging), my paperwork included a blank switchlist and the waybills for the cars in my train:
(For more on the bill boxes)
(For more on the waybills)
I have five cars in my train and there are three cars spotted in St. Williams, so I know have eight waybills to check.
The cars in my train include a Milwaukee Road boxcar and three CNR hoppers for St. Williams, plus a Maine Central boxcar for Port Rowan.
The waybills in the box include two lifts at St. Williams – a Frontenac tank car and a New York Central gondola – plus a waybill for a Pennsylvania hopper car that’s staying put.
Since the waybills represent accounting documents – in other words, since they enable my S scale crews to get paid for their work – they need to be treated with respect. Therefore, instead of using them as car-cards, I write up a switch list to use during switching.
The first four entries are the four cars in the train that I’m setting off in St. Williams. The MILW boxcar is headed to spot S2 on the team track and three CNR hopper cars to be placed on the double ended siding. (They’re full of ballast – the section gang likes to lose a couple of cars of the stuff occasionally, so they’ll have it on hand to deal with washouts or other emergencies and this little-used siding is an ideal location to do that.)
The two cars listed below the line are the cars I’m lifting at St. Williams – the FPLX tank and NYC gon. They’re both in spot S2 on the team track spur. I’ve made a note next to them that these are lifts. When the work is done, I’ll have three cars in my train – the MEC boxcar for Port Rowan, and the two lifts from St. Williams that I’ll be taking back to Hamilton for points beyond.
I’ve only written the last three digits of each car in the “number” column. That’s usually enough to positively identify each car.
Obviously, I’m only depositing the waybills for any cars that remain in St. Williams. The waybills for cars that will be in the train when we leave town go on my clipboard, which represents “the caboose”.
With the paperwork done at the depot, the engineer pulls the train forward to the west end of St. Williams, where the switching will take place. At its simplest, switching involves:
– Throwing switches
– Moving forward
– Moving backward
Here, I’ve put on my brakeman’s hat and I’m breaking the train between a CNR hopper car and the MEC boxcar. I’m using an uncoupling tool for this – I don’t like automatic uncoupling features for various reasons, so I cut the trip pin off the Kadee couplers.
You’ll note that my other hand is on the brake wheel on the fascia. In reality, uncoupling and setting the brakes are two separate steps – I’ve just combined them in this photo. After uncoupling, I give the brake wheel a few spins to represent setting a hand brake on the MEC boxcar, so that part of the train won’t roll away. (It doesn’t actually prevent the models from rolling away – I’m just representing the work of the prototype here.)
On a real railroad, the crew would likely not set a hand brake – they would close the valve on hopper car to keep air in the train line, and the boxcar and van would go into emergency braking when the air hoses parted. But since I can’t actually close the valve, spinning the brake wheel represents “applying brakes” – regardless of whether they’re hand brakes or air brakes – so I’ll do that each time I’m leaving cars unattended.
Switching begins by pulling ahead so the engineer can back the train into the spur and lift the cars spotted there. Here, I’m throwing a switch:
(For more on the switch stands)
The engineer stopped the train where a brakeman could dismount from the last hopper car to bend the iron. Note that I’ve had to unlock and set aside the chain that prevents one from lifting the switch lever. The chains are quite effective in encouraging operators think about where their S scale brakemen would be on the layout, so they don’t throw a whole series of switches in sequence. This adds time to an operating session and keeps the work thoughtful and deliberate. I have to admit that throwing switches with these miniature switch stands is one of my favourite activities during an operating session.
As I wrote off the top, I’m not going to bore you with a blow-by-blow of an operating session, so I’ll stop now. But this should give readers a better idea of the work involved when we run trains on the line to Port Rowan.