Sunday, July 16, 2023

Pressure? What pressure?

 I was reminded recently of a conversation from some years ago, speaking with a fellow modeler who was about to host an operating session. “I’m looking forward to it,” he said, “but I don’t enjoy the pressure.” I was at first surprised by the comment, then quickly understood entirely what he meant. When you’re the host, you want everything about the layout, every aspect from trackwork to waybills, to perform exactly as intended.

And when your guest operators are there, this pressure can, if anything, increase. Of course some things, like a coupler pulling out of its box, can happen to anyone and is in any case easily repaired. But an unexpected electrical short, especially a transient one, has the potential to mess up the whole session and be really exasperating. There are lots more examples I could list . . .

Of course one can expect friends and regular operators to be more tolerant that someone who has come halfway across the country to operate your layout. Still, the possibility of flaws can be worrisome before a session. I don’t actually watch people operate with apprehension (photo below shows Lisa Gorrell at left, and Richard Brennan, operating last December at my layout town of Shumala), but some owners, observing this scene, may be thinking, “Oh, no! is that a derailment?” and so on.

Here, for perspective, I have to mention a comment made years ago by my friend, Paul Weiss, explaining what he called “Host Flaw Hysteria,” in which even the most minor difficulty is perceived by the host as towering above all the many aspects of the layout which do work and work well. To the host, even a few flaws seem like they overwhelm all the positive aspects of the operating session. 

The visiting operator, naturally, sees it the other way around — the flaws are few and far between, practically everything else is excellent. But Host Flaw Hysteria, even on a modest scale, can injure the enjoyment of the host in watching visitors operating.

I don’t think I can just argue myself out of experiencing Host Flaw Hysteria, but I can do some things to minimize the risks. The main one is preparation, including meticulous track cleaning.

I’ve also learned by experience that all the paperwork (waybills, agent messages, line-ups, train orders, lockout notices, etc.) need to be double-checked for completeness and consistency after they have all been prepared. Because they get prepared over a span of time, errors of various kinds can all too easily creep in. One last run-through of all of them is the only solution.

Here’s another action I take. From time to time, I “tour” my layout, looking for things that need freshening up, repairing or even completing. I have talked about my method of the “walking around” tour in earlier posts (see, for example, this one: ). But another techniques I have tried is to take photographs that don’t duplicate the normal view from the aisle, for example from directly overhead. 

A view like this (happens to be the middle of my town of Shumala) helps me see what looks good and what needs work.  That’s the turntable at left, of course; locomotive fuel, sand and water about photo center, and the caboose track just below it; and the Associated Oil dealer at the right rear. And yes, I do spot a couple of areas here that need work

So next time a crew is due to visit and operate, I will have worked my through a “to do” list of things to upgrade, along with operating every part of the layout myself, to ensure that track gauge and electrical power works as it should. Then friends like Mark Schutzer (at left) and Ed Slintak can, I hope, find everything running smoothly at Ballard.

These steps taken in advance give me confidence and thus can help with the pressure, though I can’t say it ever quite goes away.

Tony Thompson

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