Saturday, October 25, 2008

Working on the B and O

I recently got invited to an operating session at Dave Parks's Western Maryland/Baltimore and Ohio layout. David's layout is huge, and can take a crew of 10-15 to operate properly. My job this time was to be in charge of Evitts Creek yard, a mixed freight yard just outside of Cumberland, Ohio. On David's layout, this is the main place for trains to get sorted. Because Dave's layout is primarily a coal hauler (and coal trains get handled at coal-only yards), that meant I didn't always have a ton of work to do. Luckily, I brought my camera to capture some candid photos of life during an operating session.

Coal train passes through Evitts Creek yard.

Switching in Cumberland

I don't know what Jim Betz did, but I'm very scared.

Steve Williams, dispatcher, looks at the train sheet to figure out which train is leaving next.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Redwood Forest at Wrights

I survived the LD/OPSIG layout operating session, and the folks attending sure looked like they were having fun. After they left, I finally had time for some of the messy scenery projects I didn't dare do before the operating session.

Wrights, in Los Gatos Canyon, was where the summit tunnel punched under the mountains and through the San Andreas fault. The photos of Wrights from the 1930's always make it look spooky -- the abandoned village up in some dark, tree filled canyon. Lots of pine trees, high hills, and poor layout lighting look like they'll make Wrights feel spooky enough. Here's photos of at least 30 Woodland Scenics trees on the hillside, and there's still room for plenty more. I also finally got the courage to paint the backdrop. It may not be very good painting, but it'll do just fine for the backdrop.

The 1930's pictures also show some old wooden buildings across Los Gatos creek. At least one was a packing shed for fruit grown in the hills around Wrights. Here's my model on its own and temporarily set in the scenery. The building is just plain white styrene; there's no paint here. I distressed the styrene, carved in warped boards and gaps, and washed it with india ink, dusted on some chalk dust, and ended up with a building that looks like it's been left up in the woods too long.
I've also read about techniques that use white acrylic paint as the base, then texture the paint coat to get a similar look.

Friday, January 25, 2008

An Operating Session with Paying Customers

Every year, there's a mini-convention on model railroad design and operation in Santa Clara. It takes place the weekend before the superbowl. Saturday is filled with talks -- discussions of the problems someone encountered building their layout, history of a real place being modeled, or stories on how to make running the layout seem more realistic and fun. On Sunday, everyone's invited to one of the model railroads in the area to join an operating session.

Operating sessions are a lot like role playing -- you take over a particular job on the model railroad, and do that job as if it were real life. It's fun because you can solve problems, pretend to do real railroad work, and see what happens when everyone works together. I've operated on different layouts for at least four years, and each one's different. On Rick Fortin's layout, that meant sorting boxcars for eight hours in the yard, and figuring out what order to do work to make sure each train was made up in time. On Dave Adam's Colorado narrow gauge, I got to dispatch -- controlling how trains went between towns. On Dave Parks' B&O layout, I got to manage a yard and add or remove hoppers full of coal as trains passed.

This year, I decided to return the favor; my layout's going to be one of the open layouts. Four people will get to spend a few hours shuffling boxcars at the canneries of the 1930's Santa Clara Valley and hopefully get some appreciation for the era and the way railroading was done. My layout might not be the largest layout open to guests, but hopefully it'll be a fun experience.

I've spent the last few weeks cleaning up -- tuning cars and locomotives, fixing problems in the track, improving instructions and labels, and whatever else might make the experience better. In the week before Christmas and New Years, I managed to shanghai four friends to do a trial run and help me figure out what needed to be fixed before the paying customers arrived.

Mark Gurries comes around the bend to find San Jose blocked with two trains already switching industries.

Dave Falkenberg uncouples part of the train before switching Del Monte Plant 51.

The only big issue was stalling locomotives. The track got dirty quickly, and my small steam locomotives would hit the dirt and stop. Mark suggested modifying the decoders in the locomotives with "keep-alive" capacitors to give the train a chance to coast past a bit of dirty track. I took his advice, and also cleaned all my freight cars' wheels in hopes of cutting the amount of crud that could be carried around. Fingers crossed. Thanks for the help, guys!