Maine Central, Lamoille Valley

Maine Central, Lamoille Valley
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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Preparing Lyndonville for Ops

Definitely making an effort to do little on the layout each day now as I plan to hold that first Ops Session in June. I turned my attention to Lyndonville, which is where Canadian Pacific Local RS-1 will have work to do. As I am not modeling any other local towns along the CP besides St. Johnsbury, I felt it was important to at least provide a way to pickup and drop off cars here, even if I do not have my full plan in place for how the planned industries will be laid out. That way they will not just have to stay in the train. Like North Stratford, it will be more interesting once I get the rest of the track laid, but for now, it will support the basic operating scheme.

My plan for Lyndonville is as a small industrial park setting, with one track in and a few sidings to serve my industries of IGA (grocery supply), Lyndonville Building Supply, NEK Distribution (various items like appliances that transfer to truck for final delivery, and Vermont Furniture. That is what I have waybills for so far. If anything else can fit, I can look to add ti, but don;t want to overdo it either.

CP RS-1 will come south from Newport and then back its train into the industrial park (as a trailing point). The return trip, CP RS-2 will not work this as it is a facing point fot that train. CP RS-1 will switch the industry sidings as needed, and then depart for St. Johnsbury. In St. J, anything that can be dropped for the through freights 904 and 917 will be done, and any local switching in St. J will be done as well. Then the train will continue south to unmodeled towns East Ryegate and Wells River. In reality it will terminate in the south end staging designated East Deerfield. The return trip, RS-2, will use a different train from staging, made up from the previous session's RS-1.

So for now, I am lightly tacking down some Homa-Bed and flex track to allow RS-1 to drop cars and pick up cars without any local switching in Lyndonville. I need one turnout to accommodate dropping the caboose. The mainline here is on a grade, so nothing can be set out there while switching the park. Here is the start of the temporary track in the triangle shaped area designated as Lyndonville.

Homa-Bed, flex track and a simple Atlas turnout will make up Lyndonville for now. The three boxcars represent spotted cars that will be picked up (or left in place, depending on the waybill). I do not have a card card box for this location yet. Behind the CP RS10 is the CP mainline going downgrade to Newport Staging (where the boxcars go under Gilman). The hidden CV St. Albans yard track can be seen under the Tortoise (well, it will be hidden once scenery goes in), while the Maine Central is up top running through Gilman. 

Another view of Lyndonville where it splits off the CP mainline. Gilman in the background, and above that Beecher Falls, VT, which is beyond North Stratford  (unseen to the left) and served by the North Stratford Railroad (track still to be laid). I don't really have a double deck layout, but it kind of looks that way in this picture!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Op Session on the Harrisburg Terminal

I was pleased to get the opportunity to participate in an Op Session on Rick Bickmore's Harrisburg Terminal layout. It has been about 2 years since I was last there so it was great to get reacquainted with this great layout. Rick posts regularly to the Railroad-Line forum, so I know and have seen pictures of a lot of his progress since I was last there.

The layout is essentially a loop that is operated as point to point. His double ended staging yard represents Philadelphia to the east on one end and Pittsburg to the west on the other. In between Rick models what he calls the 7 miles of sheer hell. What makes it difficult (or more appropriately, interesting) is the density of traffic and the uniqueness of trains modeled. In addition to through trains and locals, Rick models steel mill operations that sees special hot metal cars and slag cars moved. All the movements keep a dispatcher pretty busy and a crew of 10 with just enough downtime to enjoy a little socializing. His session runs about 3-1/2 hours.

I didn't take a lot of pictures as I was busy running a number of road freights. But I did take a couple.

Here we see 2 shots of the general layout area.

The main yard to the left, and part of the steel making process on the right, along with other industries. The PRR double track mainline can be seen passing the yard, it continues around the entire layout, except where a couple branches break off.

This is exactly 90 degrees to the left of the other picture. The same double track mainline curves around the peninsula making its way back to staging. On the left is part of the massive steel mill. Rick dedicated a large space to it and a lot of operations occur there. Really neat.
Just one of the great scenes along the right of way. Rick is a great structure and scenery builder, and often comes up with and shares new ideas and techniques.

In relation to my previous post about turnout control in St. Johnsbury, Rick has really nice little control panels for controlling turnouts that are not hand thrown (which most are). A single push button and Red/Green LEDs really make it simple. If I find the need to change out my turnout control method, I would definitely build something like this. I need to see if there is a similar product that can take a pushbutton control to drive DCC stationary decoders instead of Tortoise machines, hmmm...
I ended my night by operating a high and wide movement, delivering this transformer to a GE Plant. One of Rick's great background buildings can be seen.
The return of the high and wide also had a load - good planning by the railroad! This GG1 was at the GE plant getting some electrical work done. Now it needs a repaint and can go back into service. Thats the massive Harsco Steel Mill in the background.

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.