My B&O Wheeling Freight Terminal layout has reached the point where I can hold an operating session. All of the track switch controls have been installed and adjusted to proper working order and a few track gauge issues have been corrected. It was time to make the leap of faith. My friend Mike committed to the initial shake down session so I was now locked in and needed to prep. This will be the first op session on a layout in my home since the summer of 2001. Where have the years gone?
As a first step, I made a check list of tasks so the session can have a chance of success. Cleaning off the layout is the first step. The flat spaces attract all sorts of detritus and tools. These were removed to proper storage or the trash can. A vacuum was employed to pull away lots of small bits and dust. A small fleet of hopper cars were removed and packed away as there was no use for 20-some coal hoppers for the session. The rails were wiped down next to remove a thin layer of dust then I took an inventory of freight car locations and where those were headed.
I don’t have any car cards or waybills, so I crafted rough switch lists for this first session. This first team track job would move seven cars from the yard to the team tracks and seven cars from the team track area back to the yard. While this sounds easy, the team tracks are accessed by a switchback of limited length. A loco and four cars are the maximum. Here’s the track plan sketch from a couple of years ago.
The switch lists carry a basic instruction on what cars to pull. In this case, all cars on track one and the auto track would be pulled. I listed each car by reporting mark and car number (or partial car number) and also noted their routing beyond the yard. I did this to add another layer to the session so east bounds and west bounds can be sorted, and empty cars (MT) moved to the clean out track. The bottom half of the switch list notes where the cars coming out of the yard are to be spotted. Here’s what Mike had to work with.
After preparing two switch lists for the team tracks I realized I needed to break out more freight cars in order to work the freight house tracks. There is an 18 car capacity at the freight house dock and I was a dozen shy of that number. Fortunately, I had some models packed away that follow prototypes of an era a couple of decades beyond my focus, but they were decent stand in cars for the session. I also tagged a number of undecorated cars using a letter and number code on paper that was taped to the roof. While these didn’t sport any paint or lettering, the simple unique tag was enough to use as an identifier.
Once the freight cars and switch lists were set, I prepped a few locomotives. I’m glad I prepped several as a couple decided to be difficult during the session. it took a few hours to complete all of the prep work but the layout had never been operated like this before so I was expecting the first prep to take awhile. When Mike arrived, the yard looked just like the photo that led off this column.
Mike arrived in mid-morning and was briefed on the layout. He had visited before and was instrumental in developing the track switch controls. We reviewed the physical components of the layout and how things work. I reminded him of some prototype practices to keep in mind as the B&O probably had a crew of three on the ground in order to get the team track work done. Safety first is one of the top rules. With little more to review, Mike took control of his loco, coupled up to the string of cars, and headed down the track to the team tracks. I turned my attention to the cars headed for the freight house and compared the switch list to the cars in the yard. I considered a couple plans of action while I assembled a long string of freight cars and moved the locomotive to the far end for the shove down the track.
After my train arrived at the freight house, I heard Mike having some loco problems. It seemed there was a slight rail misalignment that was affecting the locomotive. We swapped out the motive power and jotted down a repair note on a pad of paper. This is another key tool for any operating session as gremlins often arise when others come to run your layout. A model railroad needs constant maintenance and tweaks to improve the operating experience. Somehow this rail alignment issue had eluded my attention. Take notes during the informal first operating sessions so issues are not forgotten. Mike got back to his work and I pulled and spotted cars at the freight house tracks.
I was about to head back to the yard with a string of out bound cars when Mike had another loco problem. I use digital command control (DCC) on the layout and something had gone awry with his loco. We swapped it out again and he finished up his first switch list. He returned to the yard with the team track out bounds and grabbed the second switch list and string of cars. I sorted the out bound cars and moved several empty box cars and reefers to the clean out track. I did not have any other freight house work so I messed around with the balky loco with no luck. Mike found a few more track issues that need attention as well as coupler issues on two freight cars.
After he wrapped up the second switch list we decided to break for lunch. We visited a German place and enjoyed some schnitzel. The restaurant folks were in a good mood as Germany beat the USA in a World Cup match that morning. Mike and I were lost in trains and forgot all about the World Cup.
We returned to the layout after lunch and sorted out the east bound and west bound cars. Mike had a few prototype questions so I showed him photos and maps that had been instrumental in designing the layout. Much of this is covered in an earlier blog post. We reviewed the list if items to fix and added a couple more items. The next session should be a notch better once these are taken care of.
Today’s operating session was great fun. Sure there were a few bugs in the system, but you don’t know what to fix until you use it, right? This marks the first time I’ve operated my own layout since the summer of 2001. It also marks a spot on the timeline for this layout, which I began in August 2012 shortly after I moved to El Paso. The session now gives me a list of things to fix or massage for the next session. I also realize I need several more freight cars to keep the freight house crew busy. I have over two dozen kits built but unpainted. I guess I need to get busy on those!
Thanks for stopping by to check in on the progress. I’ve been promising a layout update for a few months and I thought there’s no better update than an op session review. Your questions and comments can be posted below. All comments are reviewed and approved before they appear.