Sacramento Central modular railroad group. They'd hosted operating sessions on the floor of the NMRA convention at the beginning of the month (which I think is very, very cool), and I was very happy to get the chance to operate on their layout on Saturday morning as the public wandered by. Tom, Dick, and Scott braved the long drive to San Jose to operate on the Vasona Branch, with the help of Special Guest Star Seth Neumann!
This was an operating session to remember for at least one reason: I finished the prep work (wiping down track, cleaning wheels, getting cars in place, etc) in around three hours which is probably a new record. Usually, I'll spend a lot longer on cleanup, vacuuming the track, and making minor repairs. Recent prep for the NMRA convention meant the layout was in decent shape, even if I'd been burying the tracks around Plant 51 in dirt from the garden in recent weeks. It also helped that this was a forgiving group; even though I hadn't managed to fix broken switch point power on a pair of infrequently-used switches, they still made it through the session with good humor. Still, it was a pretty-trouble-free session with only a few stalls and misbehavior.
One of my surprises this week was to realize the wear-and-tear of cleanup. Wiping down all the track, for example, causes the rag to catch on spikes and causes the track to move. I found today that the siding leading to Plant 51 had a dip in it that caused a locomotive to short out. A bit of folded paper raised the dip, but I suspect the dip and track misalignment came from abuse during cleaning. I need to work on ballasting track (so it stays in place better), watch for maintenace work that causes such headaches, and be more observant for rail alignment problems before a session.
I used to think that my pre-operating session cleanup bordered on the obsessive-compulsive (except for the fact that I remember how badly op sessions can go without it.) But I got confirmation I'm not alone; Jim Providenza, who models pretty much the same location in a similar garage-sized space, pointed out at a panel at the NMRA convention that track cleaning is a big deal for operations on his layout. He runs multiple track cleaner cars on his layout and religiously cleans the layout before operating sessions, but he sometimes has to clean tracks and locomotive wheels halfway through operating sessions. It's not just me...