Boomer Operator #5 – A local layout

An eastbound local crosses Main Street in Birchmont, Ohio, on the Kingston Southern HO scale model railroad.

An eastbound local crosses Main Street in Birchmont, Ohio on the Kingston Southern HO scale model railroad.

I moved to El Paso, Texas, in the summer of 2012 and began to seek out local model railroaders. I attended a local NMRA meeting and met Mike who was building an HO scale home layout in nearby Las Cruces, NM. His layout had progressed well and he hoped to begin operating soon. I offered to assist with any tasks to keep the progress rolling and ended up visiting a couple of times a month. Over the next year, the mainline was completed, a yard was installed, an industrial branch was installed, and operating sessions were set up. Mike now hosts once a month sessions on his layout and a few local model railroaders participate. Click on any image here to review a large size.

Ken pulls and spots the freight cars as he works the eastbound local.

Ken pulls and spots the freight cars as he works the eastbound local.

Sessions begin about 10:30 am and the crews arrive about 10:00. The layout operates informally and crews focus on switching industries along the mainline. There are typically four jobs in each session, an eastbound local train, a westbound local train, the yard master, and the industrial switch job. Each of these jobs requires only one person to operate, but on occasions Mike has had two-man crews to help people become accustomed to the layout.

John keeps busy in Avalon with his westbound local.

John keeps busy in Avalon with his westbound local.

Mike’s layout features five destinations for freight cars. Two towns, Birchmont and Avalon, feature a mix of medium and small industries, plus local team tracks. South York is home to a four track classification yard as well as local industries. A branchline connects in the yard that serves the industries of York as well as a busy freight house and team track. One of the final destinations is an interchange point with the New York Central at Renrocani Junction. The staging areas beyond the scenery represent connecting points to the east and west, which are also destinations for freight but not active, modeled areas.

A string of cars are ready to pick up on the NYC interchange at Ren Junction.

A string of cars are ready to pick up on the NYC interchange at Ren Junction.

The local trains each come from staging yards under the surface of the layout. Each crew has a train packet of waybills that indicate the destination of each car. Most will be switched at local industries. The eastbound crew typically works a couple of towns before arriving at the main yard to drop off and pick up more freight cars. The westbound crew has the opposite tasks as they arrive at the main yard first to pick up and drop off freight before moving along to switch the other two towns.

Mike has his hands full with the industrial job switching industries in York.

Mike has his hands full with the industrial job switching industries in York.

Once the session begins, it can take several minutes for the yard master to determine the freight cars that need to be sorted out to move along to their destinations. A train of four to eight cars is typically assembled first for the industrial job crew to begin their day. About the time that train is ready, the westbound local arrives to swap cars. After exchanging cars with the local, that crew is given permission to leave the yard and head down the mainline.

It seems quiet in the South York yard, but that can change with the arrival of the next train.

It seems quiet in the South York yard, but that can change with the arrival of the next train.

As you can imagine, there is constant movement on Mike’s layout. The yard master often has his hands full to keep customers happy and crews busy. Of course, this operating scheme did not happen overnight. It has taken time to develop and there are some twists every now and then. Mike uses computer generated waybills that have a random factor built in, so each session is a bit different. A recent session had ten cars headed to one industry while the last session hardly had one delivery at the same place. It may be the same railroad each time we operate, but we don’t know what freight car will end up at what spot.

As the session rolls along, the industrial job crew will have made two trips to serve the industries of York and a transfer run from South York to the NYC junction will have run twice as freight cars shuffle along. The session usually wraps up after a couple of hours and the crew heads to the patio for lunch.

Lunch!

Lunch!

Over time, the crew members have become comfortable with the locomotive controls and how the layout is set up. Four men have been regular participants and three others come along as their schedules permit. Everyone has learned quite a bit as the months go by and a couple other local layouts are nearing the operating stage or have already started regular sessions.

The crew after a challenging op session and lunch.

The crew after a challenging op session and lunch.

There’s the happy crew after lunch. From left to right, here are Mike, John, Eric, and Ken. Mike owns the layout and Eric is me, your blogger. You can start operating a model railroad shortly after some of the mainline is running with a few switches to serve a town. We started operating on Mike’s layout before several components were installed or ready. The mainline was not complete; one staging area was not accessible; the industrial branch was not installed, and the yard had not been installed. Operate what you have and get into a routine. This will push you along to get other parts ready for the next session.

Thanks for stopping by. I’ll have more posts here soon as a few things are wrapped up. Your questions and comments can be posted below. All comments are reviewed and approved before they appear.

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2 Responses to “Boomer Operator #5 – A local layout”

  1. Great report, Eric – thanks for posting. I like the idea of “operating what you have” as a way to get started on operations even before the layout is ready to host full sessions. As you note, it’ll familiarize people with parts of the layout so they don’t have to learn the whole thing at once.
    Cheers!
    – Trevor

    • Eric Hansmann says:

      Thanks, Trevor! “Operate what you have” has been a sort of mantra for a few decades now. I was in a club in West Virginia and we built a large layout but we began operating once the mainline connected staging and a town or two. In a club setting, you really need to operate as frequently as possible to keep interest and to find those segments that don’t work as well in reality. In the long run, the trackage at four of vie towns was altered to increase functionality as a railroad. – Eric

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