Wednesday, April 24, 2024

ProRail 2024

The Prototype Railroad Operating group (ProRail) meeting this year was in the San Francisco Bay Area. It was last here in 2015. I was among the layout hosts this time, and have more to say about that below. As background, this annual event began 52 years ago in Chicago, followed the next year with one in Kansas City, and those two locations hosted their respective 50th anniversaries in 2022 and 2023. For background, please visit: .

One of the ProRail traditions I enjoy is attending a baseball game on the Thursday before the event begins. This is often a major-league game, but minor-league ballparks are fun too. This time, naturally, we went to see the San Francisco Giants, playing the Arizona Diamondbacks. We had nice seats in the boxes on the first-base side. Here’s a view in the top of the fourth inning.

I was scheduled to host two operating sessions which, as it happened, were my 90th and 91st on the present version of the layout. I was flattered to see the people who had chosen my layout as one of their operating options, as several of them are people I have looked up to for years. Naturally I put in a lot of hours making the layout the best it could be, despite some hiccups I was aware of (more about that in a moment).

The Friday operating crew was Doug Harding, Paul De Luca, Bob Willer and Rene´ LaVoise, all Midwesterners. After the usual briefing, perhaps enlarged a bit as none of them had operated here before, we settled into the session. As you can see below, Bob (at left) and Paul first worked at Shumala, before we broke for lunch, with Bob as engineer here. I’ve visited both their layouts and enjoyed the operating sessions on both.

On the other side of the layout, Rene´ (at left) and Doug were working Ballard, though in the view below, Doug was snapping a few photos. I was at Doug’s layout for the first time last year, though I’ve known him for what seems like a lot of years.

Everything went fairly smoothly (we did lose a couple of coupler springs), except in the trouble area of trackwork about which I’ve been posting (see the most recent at: ). 

Before the first session, I had gone over this track with a fine-toothed comb, and found that the curved switch was now distinctly tight in gauge when thrown one of the two ways. I know it wasn’t that way before installation, because I checked it carefully first (a habit I developed in the days when brand-new Shinohara switches were not infrequently out of gauge). 

During the sessions, the engine was run really slowly over it, and it mostly ran okay, but I hated it not being right. I will just have to get back in there again and try to figure out how to correct it.

The second session again had a distinguished operating crew, Jerry Dziedzic and Bob Hanmer, joined by Mikc Chandler and John Walter from  Vancouver, BC. Again, people I’ve know and operated with for years. The crew starting out on the Shumala side of the layout comprised John (at left) and Mike. John was the conductor here, and is holding some waybills.

Meanwhile, at Ballard, Bob (at left) and Jerry were at work. I’m not sure what Jerry was doing in this photo, but I remember that both he and Bob were amused about something. Maybe a switching mistake? Here again, the photos were taken before the lunch break. The weather was nice enough that we ate outside on our patio.

In addition to all of the above, our local committee hosted a dinner for visitors and layout hosts together, another chance to meet or reunite with this community, and a few friends even came by my layout in the evening to see it, if they hadn’t gotten it as an assignment. I mention this as emphasis for the significance of the social side of the operating hobby.

Altogether, this ProRail was really fun, to have long-time acquaintances and friends operate my layout, and of course a chance to renew friendships and make new ones. To me, that’s a big payoff from operating sessions. I know some people find them stressful and a little too challenging, but I find them fun, both the model railroading and the people connections.

Tony Thompson


  1. Tony, it was a true delight to finally operate on your layout and seeing firsthand all the beautiful scenes and rolling stock of which I have read. I believe I first met you at the Pittsburg NMRA national many years ago. I will say I have enjoyed our friendship. Thank you again for hosting and to Mary for arranging a delicious lunch.

  2. Thanks, Doug. It was an honor to have you here. I think you are right that we met at the Pittsburgh national (where I lived at the time), way back in 1990. I hope you enjoyed my layout as much as I enjoyed operating on yours, just a year ago.
    Tony Thompson