Maine Central, Lamoille Valley

Maine Central, Lamoille Valley
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Thursday, May 21, 2015

Operating St. Johnsbury

Note: This was also published on the railroad-line forum...

One cool thing about visiting and operating on other layouts is the chance to see something and sometimes try something that you would not have otherwise thought about for your own layout. I had the pleasure of operating on Phil Monat's Delaware & Susquehanna layout up in NY a few years ago and drew an assignment as a yard engineer (Drill as it was called). A lot of times we will call these jobs yardmasters, but on Phil's layout, that was really a separate job from the yard drill jobs.

Phil has a large yard that employs 2 yard engineers and a yardmaster. The yard engineer is what you would think. You are assigned a yard switcher and need to make up and break down trains, and also switch some local industries.

A cool aspect of Phil's layout is that with 2 yard engines, it is not strictly the case of each engineer working separate ends of the yard. There are times when the engines are side by side, and also working in unison to get something done more efficiently. A lot of credit goes to Phil's excellent trackplan for the yard and the approach trackage.

With that going on and avoiding inbound and outbound trains, you get quite involved in the simple aspect of running your locomotive and getting things done. What you do not do however is handle car cards. So how do you know what work needs to be done?

That is where the yardmaster comes in. He handles the car cards and the train schedule and directs the yard drill operators on what they need to do. For example, if you have a train to break down, he might say "2 for track 3, then 1 for track 7". When that is done you'll get more instructions. Reporting marks really do not matter to me, the engineer/switchman. He is handling that at his desk, sorting and planning. I just need to know how many and where they go. The yardmaster is in his "tower" communicating with me, as well as the other yard drill.

It really worked well for a lot of reasons. First of all, having never operated on the layout, it would have been a stressful job to handle all of the switching AND juggle car cards, a train schedule and a throttle - AND be on the look out for the other yard engine and have to communicate with road crews.

Sometimes I think we overburden certain jobs and it makes it tougher to get a lot of enjoyment out of the operations night. A lot depends on the layout, the operating scheme, etc., but it is something to consider. For me, I got a lot of enjoyment just taking direction and operating the locomotive. There was plenty to do and think about but not too much that it became overly stressful or shut down operations while others waited for me.

It was also really cool to have others involved in the yard operations. We worked as a team and got things done while also having a good time talking to each other.

The concept is similar to having a 2 man crew on locals I suppose, an engineer and a conductor. But I had never experienced this division of duties in a yard situation. At most, I have operated a yard with another operator and we each handled all the aspects of certain parts of the yard individually.

Which brings me around to my layout. When I built my St. Johnsbury yard I envisioned it as an operating position for one person, the yardmaster, who would handle everything. But after that operating session I am now fully convinced the yard will operate better with 2 people. One person will run the locomotive, while the other will handle the car cards and plan ahead. I think it will make for a more enjoyable time for both. And if they want to trade off halfway through the session, that is fine.

But it is not like the yardmaster position will be without operational duties. First of all there will be times where assistance is needed in handling other locomotives. One train, the southbound CP 917, will have some power to drop off for a later northbound CP 937. The second throttle and operator will come in handy to help get the power off the train and into the yard.

One other duty will be to assist the yard engineer in throwing switches. I built this yard with Tortoise switch machines and instead of building the traditional control panel, I hooked them up to DCC decoders that can be operated with the Digitrax DT402 throttle. So the yardmaster will also serve as the brakeman. So both operators will have a throttle, but each will have a different set of duties.

As an operational tool, I just put together this yard schematic with switch numbers indicated. It will be interesting to get feedback from others operating St. J on how it feels to throw switches using this method. If necessary I can alter switch numbers and modify the schematic based on their input. We'll see how it goes.

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