Tuesday, March 15, 2022

At last! Post-pandemic operating!

 I have really been looking forward to actually feeling like the pandemic is fading behind us (knock on wood), and returning to operating sessions on my layout. It seems like the time has come, so I invited a bunch of the usual suspects for the weekend days of March 12 and 13 (last weekend), reminding those coming on the 13th to please remember Daylight Saving time (!). 

You have likely already heard about this because of my previous “getting ready” post, entitled the “Long Snooze,” which is accessible at this link: https://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2022/03/the-long-snooze.html . As I said there, I did have some maintenance issues to deal with, and as it happened, all of the fixes held up in the session. The only major in-session problem was failure of an ancient Caboose Industries ground throw, which will be easily replaced. 

The first day, I operated with the usual locomotives that I have  been using, a diesel switcher at Shumala and one of my several Southern Pacific Consolidations for the local. As is usual, each two-person crew begins on one side of the layout and, after completing the first round of work there, trades with the other crew so both get to work both sides of the layout, involving different work. At Shumala, it’s essentially yard switching, while at Ballard, it’s the Santa Rosalia Local doing road work.

The first day, I happened to get the best photographs of both crews at Ballard. Below, you see Chuck Hakkarinen (left) and Ed Merrin, working with Chuck as the conductor on the local. Chuck has several waybills in his hand. Ed was the engineer in this segment, and they switched jobs when they moved over to Shumala.

Later, after the two crews traded, I captured Jon Schmidt (at left) and John Sutkus doing their turn with the local at Ballard. In this view, Jon was the conductor (they also had traded jobs between the two sides of the layout).

The following day, we naturally had two new crews, but more importantly, Mark Schutzer brought two of his Southern Pacific steam locomotives, very fitting choices for my 1953 SP layout. One was SP 2799, a Consolidation. The other was SP 1284, an 0-6-0 of distinctive SP appearance. I don’t own a steam switcher myself, so this was the very first time Shumala had been switched with steam.

Mark provided me a good photo of the Consolidation, shown below. As you can see, it has an inherited tender from an early cab-forward, a very large tender, thus dramatic. This was common in later years with smaller SP steam, replacing their original smaller tenders.

Back to the session. Below are Richard Brennan (at left, conducting), and engineer Jim Radkey, switching with the 0-6-0 (though you can’t see it very well). This was fun to watch (and hear), and the crew operating this switcher really enjoyed it. This definitely makes me think about acquiring a switcher like this myself!

Meanwhile,  Mark (at left) and Pat LaTorres were working at Ballard, with Mark acting as conductor at this point. Both crews worked efficiently and not only got all the work done in good time, but made very few errors. Nice to see experienced and effective operators at work.

Referring back to my “getting ready” post (link in the second paragraph of the present post), this pair of sessions seemed like considerably more work than the usual preparation, only because so much accumulated waybill and car spot disorder had to be removed, and of course track and wheels cleaned as they had not been for some months. But it paid off in a relatively fault-free pair of sessions.

In making assessments like this, I am always mindful of the description by Paul Weiss of what he termed “Host Flaw Hysteria,” in which even the most minor difficulty is perceived by the host as towering above the many aspects of the layout which do work and work well. The visiting operator naturally sees it the other way around. Or so I hope.

Tony Thompson

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