Monday, March 23, 2009

I Survived BayRails!

Last weekend, I opened my layout for BayRails, a model railroad operating session gathering in the Bay Area. BayRails happens every two years. Eighty to a hundred people from around the country come to San Francisco and spend three days running trains on model railroads in the area. Some are quite famous layouts published in the model railroad press, some are huge and run prototypically long trains. Others (like my layout) are much more modest, but hopefully still fun for operations. I hosted two days of operations, and had folks from Arizona and St. Louis switching boxcars for half a day. The photos give a glimpse of what an operating session is like.

Getting the layout ready for operations is usually tiring, but prepping for two back-to-back sessions (on Thursday and Saturday) turned out to be quite a challenge. Model railroad operations is a bit of a game, with rules, pieces, and other players, but most games don't require the host to clean and repair pieces in between sessions. I spent most of Friday night cleaning the track, repairing balky locomotives, fixing minor electrical problems, and resetting all the boxcars to their correct locations.
One of my surprises at operating sessions is that no one plays the game the same way. I'm familiar with my layout, so when I do switch boxcars, I've got my habits. I've got favorite ways of getting the job done, I know how many cars can fit on a specific siding, and I know what order to do the work to make my life as easy as possible.

When I have others over, that all goes out the window. They're new to the layout, and are having to pick it all up as they go along. Each set of visitors is different. One crew early in the layout took what I thought to be a complex switching problem and finished it off in moments. Another crew noticed a useless bit of track in the Del Monte Cannery trackage that I'd copied straight from an old Sanborn fire insurance map, and realized it was a great place to hide the caboose when switching so they didn't block the main line. I suspect their use of the track might have actually been a use for the track on the prototype!
This weekend was no different; I saw crews switching nearby industries "backwards" from my usual way but with fine results, using hand signs to communicate when switching, and thinking hard about the difference between how they'd switched on other layouts and how they thought the real railroads would have worked.
Overall, it was a great weekend for me; it was great to get feedback (both good and bad on the layout), and I enjoyed seeing the visiting crews behaving like the real crews and getting real work done. I've got work to do before the next operating session. A couple of my locomotives could use some maintenance work after several hours of constant work. Several minor track problems became much more obvious when visitors are watching, and one switch got spiked shut on Saturday morning when I realized it was misbehaving enough to frustrate operations. But I'll be looking forward to operating again soon!
Thanks to all my visiting operators, and I hope you had a great time!

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