And, to be honest, that's what operations feels like to me: can I do the switching jobs in the same way a real crew would, and get an idea for what life on the railroad was like? That's great for the work tasks, but there's not a lot of ways to appreciate the setting when model railroading. We focus on the track and trains because... well, that's our job. We've got nice scenery to explain where we are in the world and hint at the setting, but what's it really like to be riding in the caboose up Los Gatos Canyon, or what subtleties of the town are we not getting from the scenery?
I'd thought a couple years ago about having a bunch of "location setting" cards at each town to add some color. As you passed through each town, you could pull out one card and it would give you some color to whatever role you were playing. For example:
Climbing up Los Gatos Canyon feels like a different world. The canyon walls close in, the towns disappear, and the closest sign of civilization are the orchards and farmhouses further up the ridge. At times, the tracks are carved into the cliff, and you can look down out of a window and see the creek below.
You can smell the sage, and the bay laurel trees, and the dust getting kicked up from the train.
The brakeman shot a rabbit during a station stop at Alma, and the smell from the caboose makes it seem like they’re working on lunch.
As your train pulls past the empty station at Wrights, you almost feel like the town’s fading away before your eyes. Sure, the general store’s still open on the other side of the tracks, but the Water Company’s trying hard to buy that bit of land and chase out the few families in the area. Alice Mattey, the operator, waves from the station, but there’s no one else on the platform. A couple wagonloads of apricots sit on the opposite side of the river waiting for a refrigerator car to be spotted.
The forest is slowly overwhelming the town. The trees droop and shade the track, and you occasionally see deer running through the brush.
Similar cards for Campbell or San Jose could give details about life in the canneries - reminders of what season it is, reminders of how the traffic compares to last year, which plants cut production completely because of the depression, or how the Cannery and Agricultural Workers Industrial Union (CAWIU) strike affected the train crews.
So, what's your opinion - too geeky, or a nice way to help set a mood for operations?