Wednesday, July 22, 2015

An operating weekend

This past weekend, I hosted two operating sessions, one on Saturday, one on Sunday. These were invitational (from a list of acquaintances and fellow operators), and of course, fun is really the first goal of such a session, both for me in making it happen, and hopefully for participants in doing it. But I did have additional things that I wanted to come out of the sessions: primarily further testing of layout changes and improvements, as well as exercising my operating scheme and waybills. I should emphasize that these goals were secondary, but I did have them in the back of my mind. And last but not least, I wanted to repay some of those whose layouts I’ve had the pleasure of operating on in the past
     As seems to work on my smallish layout, I assign two crews of two each, one to start switching at Shumala, the other at Ballard on the opposite side of the layout, and when each each crew is done, they will have made up a train to go to the other side. When those two trains run, the two crews can exchange sides to switch out the cars that have just arrived at the new destination.
     On Saturday, the crew which began at Ballard was Jim Providenza and Paul Weiss, both of whom are certainly operating experts as well as experts at layout maintenance — the latter point leading to suggestions on their part about solutions to some of my glitches. In the photo below, you see Jim (foreground) holding the throttle because he’s engineer on the local, but looking ahead to see where the next car pickup is, while in the background Paul, who was conductor here, appears to be nudging a stalled locomotive.

     On the Shumala side, meanwhile, Clifton Linton and Lisa Gorrell were at work. As you can see, Cliff has the paperwork and is planning switch moves (he made good use of switch lists to organize the job), and Lisa is engineer of the diesel switcher.

     Most everything went well. The waybill scheme was effective and there were only a couple of cars which acted up during operation (all were pulled off for maintenance). Locomotives worked well, but we had some electrically balky turnouts, only some of which we could diagnose. It is always baffling when a turnout which worked fine in the morning when I made one last pass over the trackage, starts acting up in the afternoon when guests arrive. (Yes, I know, there’s a well-known adage that “guests cause sleeping gremlins to wake up,” and my experience obviously provides more data in support of that saying.) Just one of those things.
     But  it was well worth the experience to get expert advice, especially from people like Jim and Paul, both of whom have torn out track on their own layouts at times, to rebuild and make it better.
     For simplicity, I’ve only shown the Saturday crew, though I re-staged overnight and a different crew operated much the same session on Sunday. Once again, I got good advice on trackwork maintenance from experienced layout owners who were there, as well as helpful comments on the operation scheme. So in addition to the fun of putting the layout to work, both days I identified  problems as well as solutions on the layout.
     In a way, I was a little discouraged that we did find problems, which I hadn’t found in advance, but as Jim Providenza reminded me, the layout in its present form has been operated in a formal way relatively few times, and as he put it, “remember, it’s still early days.” So I have some fixes to implement, and next operating session, at least some of the demons will be exorcised. And not to forget, we will continue to have fun doing all the switching. That part worked just fine.
Tony Thompson


  1. Sounds like a lot of fun, Tony. Sorry you had some gremlins pop up. It might be interesting to hear how you resolve some of those issues, like the balky turnouts.

  2. Yes, it WAS fun, for all involved. I have already fixed one turnout with wide gauge between the points and the frog, and cleaned out a tiny piece of dirt preventing contact of point and stock rail in another. Two electricals to go. There is also a vertical kink at one point, which I haven't fixed yet.
    Tony Thompson

  3. Pleasantly surprised to have a cameo on this world famous blog, I feel compelled to comment. The topic is problems at an operating session, a field in which I have an advanced degree unfortunately in my capacity as a low level host.
    I have come to learn that the fun for guest operators is directly a function of the humor, grace, and humility of the host. In this regard the subject session was destined to be a winner. And the very inconsequential problems that bubbled up created fodder for tiny jokes and triggered dialogue about potential causes and fixes. This dialogue, where the collective experience of the guests may happen to complement that of the host, leads to good ideas sometimes. The gracious host, always eager to learn more, encourages this and has fun with it. It makes the session very rich indeed.
    Another lesson for hosts is that when a layout is 80 percent scenicked, guests perceive it to be mostly done. And yet the host seems to feel it is less than half way there and kind of apologizes for the 65pct incompleteness. This Host Incompleteness Perception (sometimes referred to as Host Flaw Hysteria, a similar but not identical condition) is something I suffer from systemically. A single cardboard mockup building seems to block the dozens of scratchbuilt beaties nearby... but not really.
    This layout is scenickly appealing as heck, well conceptualized, it offers much learning about waybills and is fun to operatine. There isn't the least sense of small size, incompleteness, problems or flaws. So, if we could invoke Zagat, the comments would be that this "Bay Area jewel" while not the "biggest in town" boasts "a great experience","much fun", "hugely knowledgable host" and "if invited run dont walk" to the session.

  4. Thanks very much for the kind comments, Paul. I am humbled by your perspective, which hopefully will assist me in developing my own perspective. Perhaps I should have a beer before each session so as to damp down the "Host Flaw Hysteria." (grin)
    Tony Thompson

  5. Although the electrical problems we encountered in Shumala were at first troublesome, it enabled us to think outside the box and use our heads and many box cars to get into the dead track, much like we used to do up at Rio Vista Junction when there was no trolley wire available on a yard track. I had great fun and enjoyed working out the puzzle of the Waybills.

  6. Thanks, Lisa. The Shumala turnout your crew had trouble with was fixed on Sunday, and I just checked yesterday, so far it is staying fixed. (grin)
    Tony Thonpson

  7. Tony,

    Paul wasn't nudging, he was SANDING! Great way to increase your friction coefficient and get the freight moving again.

    John Barry

  8. Hi Tony,

    Thanks for the kind mention. I really enjoyed myself.

    The issues that cropped up did not interfere with my ability to enjoy myself, which I did in a big way. I had fun getting to know a new operator, Lisa. It was a great chance to spend more time with you and also to hang with Paul and Jim.

    Preparing a switch list helped Lisa and I to organize our work and while it took a little time up front, on the back end it probably saved us time.

    I know you mentioned the mechanical issues and as Lisa observed above, we turned them into a challenge to find ways to work around some of those problems. The problem solving was fun.

    Chiming in as a layout owner myself -- and one who scratches his head when folks come back after what I consider an awful operating session -- the issues, flaws, catastrophes that I see, may not be perceived the same by the operators. Either that or we have the most patient, charitable operators in the Bay Area. Because I have had my share of tough sessions. I appreciate the feedback I have gotten.

    You were a gracious host and i enjoyed myself. Thanks for the invite.