Wait. What are we doing here?

I’ve been thinking:

How do I know what cars I need to pick up at each industry? The railway knows what cars are on each shipper’s siding but maybe isn’t as aware of what’s going on with those cars. Somehow the shipper must communicate the status of those cars back to the railway. What I’d like is to figure out a way to represent this during an operating session. The only reason we’re still working along the Prince Street Spur is to serve the shippers that remain and we need to make sure we’re doing our best to work closely with them. I’d like to find a way to incorporate evidence of this inter-relationship in an operating session.

The switchlist tells me to drop off this car and pick up that one. If I were doing this professionally “in real life” I think I’d want to pull up to the siding and then pause for a minute to figure out what needs to be done and then maybe talk with my crew about how we want to go about moving the cars around. It’s easier to do this in the cab and harder when I drop down onto the ground and have to rely on hand signals and radio communication with the engine. Rail cars are heavy and must be moved responsibly. Furthermore, we’ve only got so much time to do the work so need to work efficiently. I need to get along with my colleague in the cab and this relationship will get strained pretty quickly if either of us is wasting the other’s time. I think this makes sense but still too often just rush into the siding accepting that I’ll fix things along the way; I need to do a better job of planning out my day on the (model) railroad. Developing an operating plan for the layout should provide this time as a part of the operating plan. A crew should feel comfortable using this time and be taking advantage of it.

We need to work safely. Crossing the street on the walk in to the office this morning I thought about what it must be like to flag a train through the crossing. Further, I imagined what it must be like to have to stand there while my crew works back and forth through that crossing. If I can find a way to not have to stand there in my orange vest in the middle of six lanes of rush hour traffic, I can assure you I would. When I started my current layout I knew I wanted a road crossing so I could work against it. I think this interplay is fascinating and too often too easily ignored during the design of the layout and even more during its operation. Obviously placing this crossing should be strategic so it can govern the movements around it. Likely it’ll wind up at the end of the line and serve as the scenic break defining the end of the layout in a way that explains the length of the switching lead not just simply because that’s where we run out of benchwork but also that’s as far as we typically proceed when working these sidings respecting the safety of my train crew and those N scale drivers.

I started work on this layout as a means to test my definition of what I’m looking for in a prototype. I’m already planning its replacement but before I can even begin to consider that work I need to define the style of railroading I want to model and then find that perfect prototype for me. I’m grateful to have this platform to work against where its freelance definition allows me to move things around in a perpetual design-edit approach. As I define each element I have a place to try it out. Those that retain interest should remain as criteria for evaluating a prototype location a and those that don’t can be ruled out.



  1. Good thoughts, Chris. I can add this:

    in which the trainman flats, runs, boards the caboose on Counter Street here in Kingston. Was two lanes, now four. Track gone.

    Railroading has become less human – faxes replace paper waybills left in a lineside box, cell phones replace face-to-face conversations, centralized car control replaces travelling sales agents, printouts replace car checkers. But on a slower-paced layout, this element of conversation and planning could still take place at a prototypical pace at each customer’s spur.

    Keep us posted,

    1. Terrific blog post Eric. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. There’s some wonderful detail in there that really speaks to some of what I’m trying to achieve on my layout.

      I liked the photo and comment about the brakeman on the van’s platform working the air whistle. I fondly remember watching trains shoving out of Traveller’s Rest on their way to Emerald Junction and ultimately, Borden. Impatient to make their destination they’d run van first. In still photographs it looks like quite a relaxing change of pace but they sure moved and over the poor trackwork that was the signature of PEI railroading at the end, I’m sure that when not working the air whistle our brakeman was really gripping tight onto that railing.

      In all the development of sound for model railways, that van air whistle should be easy to recreate. Perhaps the van’s generator too?

      1. I’m still soundless (and DCC-less) on the Vancouver Wharves, Chris. Maybe someday! I just listen to the rolling wheels on the trackwork/plywood. The more recent metal wheels bring a completely different sound to the mix.

        Back when cabooses were still cabooses – still necessary and still giving us a reason to wait for the end of the train. With many CN freights here ending with long cuts of crude tanks or auto racks, I could just as easily drive away half way through. But I try not to. We never know what might be the exclamation mark on the sentence that is the train! Maybe that’s what they mean by period railroading.

        The Barista Prima Italian Roast this morning is slowly working its magic!

      2. Good afternoon, Eric. I like the metaphor of the van punctuating the train. As trains get fewer between, here in Atlantic Canada, they are getting longer. It’s easy to imagine that once the excitement of the power has passed it could be time to head home.

        It’s a pretty lazy weekend here with a lot of odd jobs being attended to. It’s a day that started with Timothy’s Columbian but I picked up a box of Bob Marley the other day (mostly because it was very deeply discounted and I’m cheap!) and they sure smell nice. I think I’ll try one out tomorrow morning – or if these restless nights continue, later on tonight.

  2. Another great post, Chris!
    In reading this, I’m reminded of several of the posts by Lance Mindheim (www.lancemindheim.com/blog) in which he talks about how a crew will stop before switching a site to discuss the work with the customer. Often, there are gates to open or appliances to clear from the cars (like gangways into boxcar doors). The customer may have a car half-unloaded and need it re-spotted. And so on. That railway/customer interaction – which even happens on today’s railroads – would be something worth incorporating into an operating session. Lance and others – James McNab comes to mind – would have some useful ideas on how to do that.
    – Trevor (Port Rowan in 1:64)

    1. Thanks, Trevor.

      You mentioned Lance Mindheim and earlier in the week I had been re-listening to a couple of episodes of The Model Railway Show and in particular the episode in which Lance is describing his approach to layout design and making sure that time to complete tasks during an operating session is incorporated into the layout’s design equal to the effort we place on track locations. Lance has done a terrific job of describing the work of the railway and I’ve enjoyed some of the recent posts where he describes modern Norfolk Southern operations and how data is wired to crews already out on the road.

      Another name to add to the list for resources I could add to your suggestions is Jack King. His New Castle Industrial District website and layout left a terrific mark on me and really catalyzed a lot of ideas I’d been nurturing with regard to the type of railroading I’m interested in with regard to my home layout.

      1. Agreed, Chris. Jack King’s blog gave me a lot of great ideas as well. It ended rather abruptly – I wonder what happened to him and the hobby? It also reminds me that if I ever stop blogging I’ll have to write a final “That’s all, folks!” post so people aren’t left wondering…

      2. We’re not alone in wondering what happened to Jack King. I have lost track of the times I read and re-read through the posts on his sight and the insight he shared with regard to railroading. He was doing some great modelling and I’m not too embarrassed to say that my current layout draws heavily from the plan he proposed for his own line.

        I hope he’s okay.

        This thread reminds me that I need to check in on Greg Amer’s site too. Another amazing resource in the hobby today.

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