Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Op Session for the South Bay's Annual LD/OPSIG Meet!

The Bay Area's annual Layout Design and Operations Weekend is now over. As usual, I had a great time - fun presentations on Saturday, invitations to operating sessions on Sunday, and layout tours throughout the weekend. Byron Henderson also arranged his layout design advice sessions for all comers, and the folks looking for advice all enjoyed getting hints about their layout designs from the experts. (If you arrange meets and conventions in your own area, consider offering the same consulting. You don't really need *experts* at layout design, just some knowledgeable folks who can listen and give good suggestions. The help seekers will be very, very grateful.)

If you didn't make it out to Mountain View this year, make sure to mark the weekend before the Super Bowl next year on your calendar, and come out and attend. It's a great event!

I'm particularly proud of the LDSIG Meet's tradition of inviting participants who may never have done serious operations to op sessions at the local layouts; my visits to Don Marenzi and Dave Adams's layouts back in 2000 and 2001 got me interested in switching, timetable and train order operations, as well as operations in general. I remember coming home from each of those operating sessions with a different view of model railroads, fired up to improve and run my own model railroad.

This year, I helped repay the favor by hosting operating sessions at the Vasona Branch for a few of the attendees. I was behind on preparing; between work, a nasty cold, and family issues, I didn't start my usual preparation til Saturday night. While I got the layout presentable and operating with around six hours of cleanup and prep, it wasn't the smoothest operating session (though it wasn't the worst either.) One of the serious problems was that I didn't check for problems detected in the last operating session in... um... October. The last thing I wanted to do the night before an operating session was try to fix balky switch machines and frogs that were intermittently losing power for fear of breaking things worse. Next time, I block out a full day for the little repairs.

But the guests seemed to all have fun; the photo shows Don and Nolan handling the Campbell Cannery Turn, with Jeff checking his timetable to figure out when the Los Gatos commute train leaves town. Brett, another guest who's a professional railroader, was impressed that my small layout could give him a realistic and busy day of switching. Note the tall shell of the Sunsweet building on the right hand side of the scene, and the new Hyde Cannery spur at the far end of town. Also note the bright blue erasers I leave around as handy brakes to keep free-rolling cars from moving.

Brett also noted that my switchlists with door assignments listed are a bit unprototypical. In the real world, the crew arrives at the industry, finds the plant's foreman, and asks where the different cars need to be spotted. They then do the necessary shuffling. The computerized switchlists with the doors chosen do add more complexity (sometimes too much), but loses that sense of "we've gotten somewhere, let's figure out what we need to do or find someone who'll tell us what to do." I'm tempted in the future to require the crew switching a big industry to stop, send a switchman over to me, wait til I stop b.s.'ing with the guests, then ask for door assignments. I can give him some specific assignments ("the Pennsy boxcar needs to go at door 5"), some random ones ("the SP cars can go in any order at doors 1, 2, or 3") and some don't cares ("why are you bothering me about those cars? You're the railroaders; just put 'em where you think they go!") I don't know if the interruption would be annoying or fun, but I'm tempted to try it next time. Model railroaders interested in auditioning for the operating session role of "cranky plant foreman" can drop a resume and head shot in the comments.

Model railroad operations and layout design are both fun, but they're more fun when shared with others. Don't forget to have some operating sessions for the new folks in the hobby. Someday, they'll be building the cool layouts you'll want to operate on!

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