Mythbusters: Operations In Model Railroading
Wed, 2012-07-04 21:26 — SurvivorSean
You know having been a part of 4 different clubs now over the course of 20 years, not including my prior home layout in my parent's basement has given me plenty of exposure to the topic of operations. For me personally as I've stated I can run on plywood with a good operation in place. I could probably run the cheapest, out of era equipment and just have fun working a switch list. Eye candy has never been something that holds me back, but eye candy is certainly admirable.
For me the hobby is made more authentic by many factors. Running trains in an operation weather or not being prototypically correct is one (the later just makes it more real, and honestly some operations that is a bad thing). Having equipment and track that run properly is another factor for making it real. Finally having realistic scenery, rolling stock, and power complete the experience. Having one or all of the above only enhances the experience, but for some certain factors may hamper. It all depends on personal taste, and that also includes the era, the railroad, and the location you are attempting to model. Proto-lancing is often an attempt at making it more fun but try and be close to the prototype. Freelancing is something where you set your own rules, and have fun doing things that way. Again all of this is subjective to what one enjoys about the hobby.
But why trains? When I'm out watching real trains in public parks such as Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington, Ontario I often get the question from passers by "what is so exciting about trains?". My usual reply is "what is so exciting about flowers?". No I'm not that sarcastic but you know I'm thinking it. I try to explain it, but that is often a complicated answer, and many people don't have an answer. They just like it, pure and simple. But it brings up an interesting thing. Most modelers are in the hobby because they like trains, at least the vast majority it would seem. But if you examine a rail fan you will find that that hobby is also very complex, and contains many different aspects depending on personal interest.
Personally I like signals and the operations of the trains. Some people like to see the differences between cars and engines. Some people like it as a subject for photography. I don't think it's as complex as model railroading but if you think of a hierarchy chart and put trains on the top, and now you have a few different categories of what people like about trains, the chart starts to expand. Now how one goes about enjoying the hobby even further can be subdivided even further. Model Railroading in fact is not the only way to enjoy the hobby. If you consider how huge simulating is on a computer something that I'm also a huge part into that too breaks down further. Then you got those that like watching ATCS monitor, and listening to live radio feeds, or watching trains at a webcam. This hobby in itself though all branching from trains is a sub hobby of it's own. I participate in all of these for the most part. For the purpose of this site I'm not going to go down the other aspects, but concentrate on operations as it pertains to model railroading. But I wanted you to thing about how complex it is just to get to that level.
That first club was incredible. Almost 100% when I joined, it had no car forwarding in place but they did have a dispatcher and 4 cabs. Dispatching was very difficult on this layout though I've dispatched virtually many more trains much easier at a relaxed pace, this was intense. Eventually I encouraged members to consider bringing in a computer waybill system and though there was some resistance, it past and it is still there today. But there were a few other things that were attempted and failed. A fast clock was brought in, the only problem was the ratio was so high, and it was very little space between sidings. Not to mention 4 throttles and 1 yard was always in operation. I can honestly say it was one of the most stressful experiences and I was actually happy to see it go. The club wasn't big enough for it to work right, so it was gone. I tried bringing signals in before I left the club for transportation issues. I managed to build 1 test signal still in place today, but it's never been expanded.
Eventually I got into a club that was more prototypical but they didn't use a fast clock just ran the trains. They just made sure certain trains were ran in order and away they went. We used a card system, and for the most part it was fun. Then there was a blow up about modern era, vs past and the club imploded. There was an attempt at an off shoot of another club that was mostly proto-lanced and still seemed to focus on running trains then an operation. Most seemed to be convinced they were having enough fun, but I wasn't so I left for the virtual world and it was nice for 10 years to be in a place I can call my own.
Right now though the virtual world is not at a level of what is capable by an organized club. Generally a fast clock should be not only realistic to what you have time to spend in a nigh for, but also something that meets your layout's characteristics. When I joined the Sudbury Division they already had every thing down right. The era was 1970's and they modeled CP in Sudbury. The reason why Sudbury was selected from what I understand has lots to do with being a central yard serving many logistical directions and connections to industry. Many positions in the club include Webbwood Dispatcher, Romford Operator, Sudbury Yard Master, Sudbury Crew 1 (and 2 if available), Road Crews (about 3 to 4 as the night goes on sometimes 2 man crews). The fast clock is at a forgiving 4 to 1 and because we are running prototype that only deals with call times, and passenger schedules. The Webbwood Dispatcher seeing less than a dozen trains (passenger, through, and locals) has a challenging yet calm environment to work with. Because the layout is DCC he doesn't have to be concerned with block power. The Operator presently only deals with the junction switch towards Toronto and the actual Toronto staging yard. Once again a calm position with even time to rail fan around the layout in down times. This position will be expanded this year as the junction will now be completed and will involve the use of signals. That extra responsibility though is offset by the fact that less trains will now be in staging as Montreal trains move further down the line. The yardmaster I actually find more challenging than my 1st club only because the yard is bigger, and there is a learning curve. Car cards make it much more of a thinking position, but it's a challenge I enjoy and want to improve. The crews at Sudbury are very enjoyable jobs. Under the supervision of the YM who writes out switch lists by hand, we break down cars in the yard, process lifts and set offs etc. 2 men crews are the best because a crew at each end makes it more efficient, however even in the early days I ran just by myself on 1 crew and could handle it with no issues. New members are first introduced to the club by running trains on the mainline with an experienced member in a 2 man crew. This is how they learn the trains the best, and can feel comfortable learning the procedures (though written out nicely) just in case to calm any nerves. When they're comfortable enough and numbers are down many people will run 1 man crews.
A look at the call board in the morning of a session a few years ago
There is about 18 trains per session but this number is starting to grow as the railroad and fleet expand. Call times very between 30 minutes to a couple hours appart. The yard at Sudbury is an operating yard that doesn't fill every track and has plenty of room to sort and bring in other trains. Most but not all trains that pass Sudbury often have work conveniently blocked at the head end for switching. They get instructions by the yard master and co-ordinate with any other crews in the way. Yard crews while waiting can assist these trains or be the go between for passing car cards back in forth between the train and the yard master. A few members only stay half the night, and there is always enough crews to run most of the time. Even when we are short on crews that too is prototypical and eventually the freight moves. Crews get to relax in chairs by the snacks and fridge and can chat with the dispatcher on duty. Often there are extra members around who may not operate, but enjoy the social aspects of the night. The supper break at noon is a great place for everyone to relax and talk about what ever comes to mind. Once a year we have a junk night where we allow out of era power and trains into our mix with the regular operations. Members also have the opportunity to test out or run trains outside of the operating sessions as we only have 1 session a month in the operating season. If you just like running trains then the open house and Double Header's tour is perfect because you can, and are encouraged to run as many trains as you want. The trains will already be there for you, so other than that following a dispatcher to avoid collisions is the only operating requirement.
Junk Night 2011 - An awesome SP switcher running our 70's CP yard at Sudbury
So how does this defuse myths about operation? Well perhaps you may have thought operations was more intense, or demanding. Many clubs as I've noted like to pack as many trains on the line, and stuff the yards full of cars. The prototype in fact even in the 70's often had lulls in traffic and some lines are busier than others just like ours. Being part of a club doesn't restrict you to do what you like to do. Yes as far as our sessions go, we stick to the prototype. But that doesn't mean you can't bring your own stuff on off nights and give your stuff a run if it makes you happy. Positions are varied to what you like to do, and often you get a chance at what you like to do sooner or later. Is it for everyone, absolutely not. That is not the point of this. But just like that upside down tree is full of many sub categories, so true is that little section of it called operations. The fact is just like humans of different race, religion, sex have one thing in common we come from the same ape (or whatever else you believe to be true). In other words we all like trains, but there is room for many people of many different likes of trains to fit into this huge hobby.
Images courtesy of Waterloo Regional Model Railroad Club
More information on Sudbury Division can be found at http://www.wrmrc.ca
974 with work at the east end of Sudbury Yard
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