I recently wrote about building more time into a typical operating session and filling that newly-minted time with time to enjoy watching the trains I was running and also time to incorporate more aspects of a typical day of work on my little stretch of railway so that what I was watching looked like real railroading. After posting that, a reader sent me an email offline relating his experiences at the throttle on an actual shortline. He introduced things I never knew or thought about and his contribution was just so wonderful I couldn’t imagine not sharing it. Given his relationship with the railroad I wanted to find a way to share his message while not compromising his position. I have edited his message with that in mind.
I like your comments about allowing sufficient time for each function. Watching other modellers running trains can be pretty comical at times, particularly in switching- bopping back and forth like the Energizer Bunny, slamming into parked cars and yanking them back instantly, not thinking about the man on the ground, etc… All this stuff comes so naturally to me that I often forget it isn’t common knowledge. Not everybody has run locomotives, dealing with full-scale physics and the reality of getting your man from point A to point B without forcing him to walk…and if he has to walk, they don’t give the guy time to do so! Typically, if your ground man needs to travel a long distance, it’s far faster to move the train to him and give him a ride, than to make him walk- especially in the winter!
A few things people forget…
– tying cars down when they’re left, setting an appropriate number of handbrakes if they’re to be left long enough for air brakes to bleed off
– Holding for a minute after coupling, to allow your man to couple the hosebags (sometimes ignored in terminal switching, where they sometimes have people to do that while trains are inspected prior to departure)
– Time for brake tests after switching en route
– Stopping short of a joint, checking alignment of couplers and opening a knuckle or two, and shoving gently to make the joint… not only prevents damage and potential injuries, but avoids having to waste time trying again if the couplers aren’t aligned. On freight, sometimes they’ll open the knuckle before heading off to pick cars up, and (hopefully) gently cruise in, stopping in time to allow the slack to run out so the cars hit with JUST enough force to drop the pin. Of course there are bozos out there… that don’t.
Yes, you need to be stopped before reversing. Suddenly reversing under load can destroy the commutators on traction motors, break traction motor pinions, cause arc damage to contactors, and potentially damage main generators.
A steam locomotive will pull instantly and an Alco, Baldwin, or GE diesel (not sure about modern GEs) will load instantly when you open the throttle, so there is very little delay. Stop, throw the reverser, pull open the throttle and go, sometimes like a jackrabbit.
EMD and GMDD power loads slowly- you have to twiddle your thumbs, waiting for them to move. Go get a coffee, there’s lots of time, LOL… well maybe not, but there is a long delay. Listen to the typical SD-40 starting a train… you hear the engine accelerate and turbo whine, eventually the hogger kicks off the brake, and after what seems like an eternity, the thing starts to move. [The railroad he worked for ran a combination of Alco, MLW, and GM switchers. -Chris] I used to hate running that little GM for this very reason. Our yard was all hills- very steep hills. If you had to start a movement uphill with that pig, you’d open the throttle, wait for an eternity, then start bailing off the handbrake… fanning the lever, because the unit’s governor was rough and you could kill the engine by simply bailing off the brake… and if you had too much throttle, she’d lurch ahead like an awakened zombie… yes, The first time I ran it, I was shoving a long line of loaded cars up into the loading dock. That track was steep and rough…the unit was coughing, hiccuping, and thumping like some undead being on its last legs… even with an excellent ground man it was a “challenging” move that made me long for my beloved MLW’s.
So, in switching, you should consider exactly what your locomotive is. With a GM, count to 25 before you ever open the throttle!
We’re so lucky that many actual railroaders bring their work home, are model railroaders, and are taking the time to share their experiences on the railroad with the rest of us. If I’d never received the above message I would have never started to think so much about the locomotive itself.
Perhaps there’s a message here for the layout designer too. If any of the above observations are ones that fire our imaginations, could we provide places on our layout where we can practice, in model form, what we’re seeing in real life?
Thanks again to everyone who has taken some time to visit and read what I share here on Prince Street and elsewhere. I’ll never have the words to really describe how much your interest means to me or how much I have benefitted from what you’re shared with me. I can only hope that in my actions I can share some examples that communicate that impact.