Maine Central, Lamoille Valley

Maine Central, Lamoille Valley
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Monday, June 29, 2015

First Op Session Success!

On Wednesday night I had a group of 6 local model railroaders, experienced at layout building and operations, over to conduct the first formal Op Session on the Northeast Kingdom. This has been a long time coming, having started the layout 12 years ago. The last few months have all been final preparations to make for a successful session.

Did I get everything done on my check list? No, I did not. But probably the best thing I did was send out invites on June 1st, setting a target date of 6/24. This helped me use the time available to just focus on the must-haves - the absolutes that would otherwise prevent trains from running.

I had to scale some things back, and eliminate certain trains, like the Central Vermont runs 537/538, St. Albans to Richford and return, because of missing track in Sheldon Jct. to make them serve any real purpose. But all in all it was enough to fill more than 3 hours, and left me with 3 trains out of 28 scheduled that did not run at the end of the ssession. Some schedule adjustments and better informational aids for the crews will help address this, allowing all trains to run and keeping the session at a reasonable length.

Once everyone assembled, we went over some basic info, and I explained the waybills and the train cards to the operators. A lot of good feedback regarding operational aids was received, things like linear maps, additional info on the yard instruction sheet and the like will be easily implemented to help.

I assigned 2 people to the St. Johnsbury yard position. This was a recent idea, and I am glad I did. It is very busy there, and having a yardmaster as well as an engineer really helped keep things flowing well.

 Joe Calderone (front) and Mark Fryzstacki (back) volunteered for St. Johnsbury duty. 
 Mark and Joe ran things very well and picked up quickly on the operating scheme. There were some issues, mostly being unfamiliar with the layout and lacking some operational instructions that would help, but they did a great job. The yard itself was a bit different than they expected as it is really an interchange yard and not a traditional arrival/departure yard that an operator might expect. With trains from 3 railroads and tracks heading N, S, E and W, it takes a little bit of an adjustment. One issue was the planned CP MLW S2 for yard power died a few days earlier. The replacement RS2 lacked the weight needed to handle large cuts of cars. Getting the S2 back in service should alleviate that issue.

John Rahenkamp operated a number of road and local freights.
 Three operators were assigned to road duties, which included locals, a paper mill switcher and general run through freights. I found that I will need to keep track of start/stop times and develop a balance of when trains should be released for operation to help keep things flowing nicely. There was a little too much down time here and there for the road crews that could be eliminated with some schedule adjustments.

Bruce Barrett (left) and Bill Howard (right) working together in Morrisville, VT.
 Bill signed up for Lamoille Valley yard duty. Bill picked up things quickly and got things done efficiently. The schedule affected Bill a little with some down time. We discussed some ideas to address this and Bill had good input. It is very interesting to start to get input from others who experience your layout and start to understand how you are modeling the prototype. In fact it is one of the real rewards in having an Op session, seeing the operators bring your layout to life, and use terminology for your trains and locations.

Jim Homoki (left) checks his waybills for CP job RS-1 before switching Lyndonville, VT.
 Jim did a great job as well, quickly understanding the work needed for the first train of the night, Maine Central's RY-2. He also had no issue throwing some of the remotely controlled Tortoise machines that operate as DCC addresses of off the DT400 throttle. This was a little concern for me, and I do want to put up track diagrams with instructions for throwing the switches. There are not too many, but I want each operator to feel comfortable in routing the turnouts.

John waits while the yard crew reviews the train that he just brought in, MEC TY-2 from North Stratford.
 One thing that will help alleviate road crew down time, and perhaps give St. operators a little break and a chance to grab a snack, will be getting the remaining trackwork in place in North Stratford, Beecher Falls, Lyndonville and Sheldon Jct. This is not to big of a task and even if just the track is in without ground throws, the operators can deal with this until the time is available to finish things like that. Getting that track in adds work for a number of trains, and work = time, and fun, for the operators.

With the 3 road crews occupied with other jobs, Bill ran the LVRC freight to St. Albans, VT, which included switching the feed mill (with the stand in elevator, until I build a more appropriate New England style elevator!)

Bruce ran the Maine Central local YQ-1, which is shown here switching cars at Giman, VT.
 One big change will be establishing a paper mill switch job for Gilman. This is very much a case where strictly following the prototype does not always scale down well on a model railroad. The prototype ran a local out of St. Johnsbury, switched the paper mill at Gilman, ran on to Whitefield to interchange with the B&M and then headed back to St. J.

Initially this train left too late as I did not indicate it's importance properly to the St. J yard crew. And then, because of switching work, it takes a long time to operate. This is not an operator issue, it is just the reality of having to do a lot of back and forth, throwing of switches, dropping and picking up cars. On the prototype they had something like an 8 hour window to do the work. Most of this time was not running between towns, which on a model railroad is scaled down. It is the switching work that takes so much time, and same thing on a model railroad. Meanwhile planned trains get stacked up waiting for YQ-1 to complete.

So the solution I will implement is to establish a Gilman paper mill switch job, This job can do advance work to gather outbound loads, and then handle drops that will get left by YQ-1. This will allow YQ-1 to proceed to Whitefield and do work there. On the return trip as QY-2, the Gilman switch job will have spotted all outbound cars on the passing siding for a quick pickup.

The benefit will not only be a shorter time period for YQ-1/QY-2 but also a new operating job for the Gilman paper mill. It will need collaboration with the road crew, which also adds fun and interest. This was not what the Maine Central did in 1980, but for my model railroad, it will work better.

All in all it was a great experience. The layout ran really well, which was a relief. There were some issues that were put on the hit list, but that was to be expected. A few cars need couplers or trucks adjusted, but again, expected.

But I also have a long list of things to address to make for a better session, outside of the physical layout. Schedule change, paperwork, operational aids, some crew comfort items, and staging adjustments that I make to balance freight cars, will go a long way to making session 2 an even better experience. I plan to try to get that one scheduled sometime in August, so no time to waste on getting things started!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

T Minus 2 Weeks

Well, as I was often advised to do, I set a date for the first Op Session to take place on the layout. I sent invitations out on June 1st to a small group of people I regularly operate with, and most importantly, have each been involved in helping get a new layout off the ground and going with Ops. I kept a copy of Marty McGuirk's "Sea Trial #1" email from a few years ago as I thought it was a pretty good template to use. I just didn't think it would be this many years later I would be referring to it for my first session. But luckily I received 6 affirmatives and the first session will take place on Wednesday June 24th.

So like any model railroader knows, having something on the calendar only intensifies activities to get things done, and I have been diligently chipping away at my to do list of things I think are essential to hosting an Op Session. Short of cleaning the track and loco wheels (which I'll probably do that day before the session), most every critical thing has been done. Now I am focusing on some 2nd tier type items that will make things better.

One of those is the Central Vermont trains. If these do not run in the session, its no big deal. But if I have time, it would be a nice extra couple of small jobs to be assigned. I found that I was short on cars and waybills to support CV operations and a small amount of interchange with the LVRC at Sheldon Jct. So I have been addressing that. Of more concern has been my 'fleet' of 3 CV RS11s. One is an Atlas unit that runs fine, but it's older Soundtraxx decoder no longer does the sound thing. It would be nice to fix or replace that, but again, not critical. The other 2 locos are really nice looking Proto 1000 of Canada units. These have great detail, but for whatever reason, both run poorly, stopping and starting despite clean wheels and clean rail. I'm not sure if it is the decoder (both have simple LokPilot decoders from a number of years ago) or something in the drivetrain or pickup system. I probably need to remove the decoder and see how they run on straight DC first. This may or may not be possible by the 24th. So I could annul these trains, or use borrowed power, perhaps a MEC GP7 with a sticky note attached with CV on it perhaps...

I had a some extended time last night and decided to tackle the install of two more UP5 panels for the Digitrax Loconet system. One extra one at St. Johnsbury at the north end, and one at the Gilman paper mill. These will allow each "action" location to have a panel should there be wireless issues. I figured this would take maybe an hour and I could also move on to some other items. Wrong.

I cut the holes in the fascia no problem, I do run the common wire to provide daisy-chained power to each panel, and these two would come off an existing feed nearby (I power two separate branches of UP5s from 2 plug in transformers, plus have a UR91 and UR92 each separately powered). I also had to cut and run Loconet cable. I will say running wires is much easier when you do it before scenery and such is in place. Once in place, I disconnect the Loconet feed from the booster and test out the panels to make sure they are getting power properly from the common supply. If so, your plugged in throttle will start up and then the light will blink indicating no Loconet signal (using a DT400-series throttle). Well it seemed that the 2 new panels, and 1 existing one did not pass this test. After some time, I traced the issue to one panel not have a good solder connection on the feed wire and this caused issues downstream. I'd prefer if Digitrax made this common wire connection a screw terminal also like the others for track power. Oh well, that cost me about an extra 30 minutes. Coupled to the difficulty in routing the wires, and the decision to more logically route the Loconet bus with the 2 new panels, and I was past the 2 hour mark. Well at least that task is done and crossed off the list. It also is reassuring to have successfully tested each panel prior to the session, so that is a bonus.

Here is the new UP5 as well as a new throttle holder installed at the north end of St. Johnsbury. Next to that is a first draft of operating instructions for the yard crew. I actually have a new one that separates the arrivals and departures that I think will work better. Just need to print it out.

And here is the UP5 and throttle holder added to Gilman, but actually on the side fascia for Lyndonville. The coal cars are for the Gilman paper mill power plant, while the CV boxcar is sitting on newly installed temporary track for Lydonville local switching, as detailed in a previous entry.
I also took a couple of pictures from new angles recently for posting to the new Facebook group for the layout, a trend I have seen with other layout builders. I figured what's one more place to share info. That will mainly be pictures and just a little text though, unlike this blog which goes into more detail.

A closeup of the Hardwick Farms stand. An LVRC train exits the Fisher Covered Bridge while the rest of the town of Hardwick is in the distance. It's pumpkin season!

Looking forward to the first session in 2 weeks. Still more I want to get done before then, as I really want to have as much success as possible in that session. Unknown issues are bound to occur, I just want to have addressed as many of the known issues as possible!

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Power for Maine Central YQ-1

As I continue to prepare for the first Op Session, I am getting down to a short list of things to do and finalize that are critical to the session. Would I like more scenery, some more completed buildings, details, etc.? Absolutely, but none of that will ensure a successful operating session. They would make it nicer, but if certain things are not done, like locomotive assignments and staging set up, it will only be an open house, not an op session.

Next on the list was locomotive power for the Maine Central local YQ-1, an out and back (returning as QY-2) from St. Johnsbury to Whitefield. Looking at the available units, I saw a few GP7s and GP38s. This job usually ran with one or two GP7s, but on occasion other power was used. I decided to MU GP38 258 and GP7 562. These are both Atlas units and have similar operating characteristics, They also both have Soundtraxx sound decoders making speed matching a little easier.

Speed matching 258 and 562 in St. Johnsbury
I installed the sound decoders in these units over 10 years ago, and they are pre-Tsunami DSD decoders. As such, they no longer really sound as great, especially with Tsunami and Lok Sound decoders on the layout elsewhere. However for now, they will give the train crew sound, which to me really is necessary in order to enjoy running your train.

After speed matching was the important step of sound levels. First, these have different speakers, but more importantly I am finding the need to reduce volumes significantly overall now that most locomotives have sound. And in an op session environment, it would be ideal if only the general area occupied by the operator had that loco's sound, and could not be heard across the room.

Power for YQ-1 is ready and idling on a siding in St. Johnsbury yard
I also addressed sound levels on a few other locos to get them ready for assignments. After working on the new B&M 200 Bicentennial unit, I used it to move some TOFC cars back to the staging yard. It got me to thinking about the Central Vermont's Rocket train, and perhaps using 200 on this indicating a special service being inaugurated. For now, the TOFC is on the back burner for an Op session, but I do have staging yard capacity, and it might be a cool train to end the session with, running from East Deerfield up to Newport.

Boston & Maine #200, an EMD GP38-2 delivered in 1973 as #212 and still looking good in it's Bicentennial paint scheme 5 years after it was applied, leads a special Trailer-on-Flatcar train consisting of leased Impak 5-unit spine cars. Looking to emulate the success of the Central Vermont's Rocket TOFC service, this new expedited train is being tried as a joint venture between the Canadian Pacific and the Boston & Maine to take trucks off the highway between Montreal and Springfield, MA.