Hand Signals: Lunch and Ops with Steve

Brakeman hand signals
(Doesn’t he look like he’s having fun? Figure 100 is like an ice dancing move. We did not do this – but we did something similar…)

On Thursday, I was fortunate to entertain Steve Lucas, a modeller from Ingersol, Ontario who also happens to make his living on the rails as a locomotive engineer.

It’s always interesting to see how those who work on the real railways react to my little slice of the long gone Simcoe Sub. As such, I’ve wanted to have Steve over for a while to show him the layout – and this week, work and other commitments allowed us to do just that.

Steve and I enjoyed a leisurely lunch at Harbord House, then worked a freight extra along the line. Steve opted to wear the conductor’s hat, and took the opportunity to give me some lessons on switching using hand signals. Steve did NOT wear a jaunty conductor’s uniform or sport a handlebar moustache like the gentleman in the lead image – and the signals were not quite what’s illustrated either.

Instead, a lot of our discussion was about the hand signals used to convey distances (e.g. “Six cars”… “Four cars”… and so on). I only remember a few of these, as it was a lot to take in, but I certainly appreciated how elegant they were to use while switching.

Steve and I also talked about sight lines from engineer to brakeman – important because if the engineer cannot see the brakeman he’s required to stop moving.

Ops aid - scale brakeman
(Having scale brakemen to position on the layout helps to understand where the people need to be when switching cars. To read about the ones I use, click on the image.)

And I learned that one reason all the prototype photos at Port Rowan show the locomotive facing westbound (towards the end of track) is that this would allow the engineer to switch the sidings without having to look over his shoulder – a consideration that had never occurred to me.

So, lessons big and little. I have that much more to think about, and more information to make my layout come alive. Thanks Steve: We’ll do this again when our schedules allow!

I’ve been able to give back something, too:

At this year’s Toronto RPM, I did a presentation on my layout and as part of that I discussed the benefits of blogging. (I’ve summarized that information in a separate post, for those who are interested.)

I’m pleased that Steve has taken some of that presentation to heart and has started a blog about his layout, the Midland Railway. Drop by and have a look around…

3 thoughts on “Hand Signals: Lunch and Ops with Steve

  1. I’m kicking around the blogging idea again, and coincidentally happened across your last couple of posts, Trevor. I’ve documented a couple of topics in forums in the past, and found that the reminder of what I’ve done is very valuable – especially when it comes to remembering details or vendors. You’ve stated that the same thing is one of your reasons for keeping your blog. Once I decide on the software to use – I’ve seen good-enough implementations using Blogger as well as WordPress – I need to decide whether I can commit to the regular postings that most advocate as best practice.

    • Hi Matt:
      I do like the elegant layout of WordPress and find the interface easier than Blogger, but that’s a personal preference and your mileage may vary.
      Keep in mind that posts can be quite short. In a pinch, once could simply log what one has done in bullet-point form, or commit to summing up the week (eg: “Spoke with Trevor about blogging, worked on a project, ordered wheelsets (part #) and sketched a new design for the staging yard”)
      You’ll be surprised how easy this is once you develop the habit.

  2. Excellent post, as always! I especially appreciated your mentioning your discovery of why the engine faced the way it did. Form follows function – especially when prototype modeling. We may not know the reasons for certain track arrangements and practices but rest assured if we just follow them we’re bound to discover why they’re “right” eventually.

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