Wednesday, December 6, 2023

December operating session

This past weekend, I hosted two operating sessions on my layout. As always, the modeling represented the current dates (December 2 and 3) but in 1953. Those days were Wednesday and Thursday in 1953, so the session modeled a regular weekday operation. I always mention these points in my pre-operation briefing.

As had been suggested, my briefing included a “crop report,” identifying the crops being harvested locally in December: broccoli and celery on the vegetable side, prunes from Guadalupe Fruit Company, and of course lemons, which are harvested nearly year-round on the California coast (for background, see my post on this topic: ).

And in 1953, there was a good grape harvest, so both my layout’s shippers of wine would be loading “young wine” for blending (if that isn’t understandable, please see my article in Model Railroad Hobbyist, “Tank Cars and the Wine Business,” in the May 2023 issue).

Here’s a view of a PFE car being loaded at the Coastal Citrus Association shipping building at Santa Rosalia. There are even a few spilled lemons on the ground outside the door.

The first day of these sessions, Saturday Dec. 2, the crews comprised Jim Providenza, Tom Swearingen, Ed Slintak, and Richard Brennan. As we almost always do, the two-person  crews traded off between the Shumala side of the layout, and the Ballard/Santa Rosalia side, working each side once. Below are Ed (at left) and Richard, starting out on the Ballard side. It looks like Ed is the conductor here.

About the time the Shumala crew has completed the first round of work, the Guadalupe Local passes by on the main line, and both collects all outbound cars, and sets out inbound cars for the branch. As the mainline trains would be an interruptions for the switch crews to operate, I normally run them. With the Guadalupe Local having completed its work at Shumala, here is a view of me starting off its departure on the main (Jim Providenza photo).

Then the crew that started off on the branch takes over at Shumala, and the former Shumala crew departs with the branchline train. Below, Tom (at left) and Jim are at work on the Ballard side of the layout.

The second day a new set of crews arrived. Unfortunately, this session was marred by some trackwork issues, issues that had been less severe the previous day, and somehow had gotten worse. Likely in a future post I will deal with the remedies for these problems, but at the time, I tried to remember Paul Weiss’s advice about Host Flaw Hysteria (see my post at: ) and remain calm.

The crews who suffered through the problems on what was my 87th session on the layout in its present form were Jon Schmidt, Seth Neumann, Mark Schutzer, and Jim Radkey. Starting out on the Ballard side were Jon (at left) and Seth. I think Seth was the conductor here.

Meanwhile, Mark (at left) and Jim were working at Ballard, with Mark conducting. As he often does, Mark was kind enough to bring a couple of SP steam locomotives, which we all enjoyed seeing work on the layout.

And as before, once the two crews have finished their initial work, the Santa Rosalia Local returns to Shumala, and the two crews have to organize how to switch the train, including putting the branchline power and caboose onto the new train before departure. Here are all four of them discussing how best to do this. From left, they are Jon, Jim, Mark and Seth.

Not fun for the owner to have a session with problems (Host Flaw hysteria notwithstanding), but I think fun was nevertheless had for most of both sessions. And as always, for the layout owner, it’s great fun to see the layout come to life and switching take place just as you imagined it when designing and building the layout. Now to dig in and fix the track.

Tony Thompson


  1. With the staging in a pull out drawer, how is moving trains in/out of staging coordinated with operations in that aisle? Does it interfere very much?

    1. You raise a good point. The use of the staging drawer does indeed interfere somewhat with people switching at Ballard, though usually not to a stand-still. But it IS fairly brief, I do warn them before it happens, and I usually apologize after.
      Tony Thompson