Tuesday, May 10, 2016

An operating weekend

About a week ago, I enjoyed an operating weekend in San Diego. I won’t bore you with a personal account of each day, other than to offer some appreciation of the layouts I enjoyed. It’s always a revelation to visit someone else’s layout, even if not for the first time, especially if you get to operate, and this weekend was no exception.
     One of the layouts was the La Mesa Club Tehachapi layout, an icon of our hobby and an unequaled monument to what is possible in model railroading. The layout now has its main line complete (some 30 years after construction began), and it is a remarkable accomplishment, even with some scenery and cosmetics still to be completed. I volunteered for one of the jobs I really like on the layout, being an operator, and was delighted to be assigned to Woodford. Located a little below Tehachapi Loop, the scenery from the operator’s chair is outstanding and because it is a busy railroad, there are plenty of trains in a typical operating session.
     Here is the operator’s position, a suitably old desk, with headphone, scissor-extension mouthpiece, levers to operate the train order board at the depot (the black square at the back of the desk, photo center), and of course the timetable, train record sheet, and pads of blank train orders and clearance cards. There is also a foot switch for “push to talk” conversation on the party line with the dispatcher.

The view from this position is excellent, now that the scenery in the area is well along. The roads continuing onto the backdrop from the three-dimensional scenery look poor at this angle, but from a straight-on view in the aisle, are well aligned and look fine. Note the depot train order board, set to “stop” in both directions, as was SP practice.

     Just uphill from the operator’s position is the Loop, and when two large trains are meeting at Walong, as you see here (you can click to enlarge), it’s a scene almost impossible to duplicate anywhere in model railroading. A great experience to be there and be part of operations. If you have never been there, do not miss a chance to see this layout.

     The other layout I want to mention is Jay Styron’s re-creation of Southern Pacific’s Friant branch. Though not a large layout, it captures a number of elements very well, and our crew had fun operating the trains. I will just show a few views. The main town on the branch is Clovis, nicely rendered with plenty of space between the industries, as is realistic in a small town like this.

Here is another view within Clovis, showing how nicely rendered the scenery is. This alone makes a layout fun to operate, though Jay’s layout ran well and had a good amount of switching (which I like). Most, maybe all, of the Clovis industries are named for actual ones in the region.

Last, I will show what I thought was an excellent treatment of the space inside a loop, always an interesting challenge in layout scenery design. Jay has modeled a field with plants just sprouting, located in a way typical of this area, above an embankment, as you seen here. It’s a superb example of something often seen but not often modeled. (The depot just beyond the field is at Friant, end of the branch.)

     This was a great weekend in a number of ways, not least the two excellent layout I’ve shown here. There were a number of others, either operating or open for tours, but I decided to concentrate on these two. They illustrate what you can learn from visiting as well as operating.
Tony Thompson

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