Sunday, October 14, 2018

First run of the new Ops

Well last night Quin and I got together and ran the dry run.  I must say that everything went as planned and we had a blast.  Unfortunately I didn't get any photos or videos this time as we were to focused on getting the train ran.  I apologize for that.

I have plans to hopefully get several small videos of the train while it switches each town in the future, kind of a like a mini series.  Gonna have to give this some thought on how to go about this?

The only train we ran was the Winnfield local which was staged in the main yard.  It was ran as an Out and Back turn starting in Little Rock and running down to the yard in Alexandria, LA.  

Since I just wanted to see how the local would go about it's chores, I planned not to run the W&OV switcher, the ICG interchange or the El Dorado switcher, thus saving time.

After I had the cars staged and tabbed to be picked up, I moved them by hand into position so the local could just pick them up. This included the cars from the W&OV at Malvern, the interchange cars at Ruston from the ICG and the cars that needed to be picked up from the yard in El Dorado.

It was then that I realized some of the cars would not be run from the staging yard.  For example, some of the cars from the ICG actually wind up in Malvern.  Normally these cars were picked up via the local and drug back to the yard in El Dorado where as before the W&OV would run a train from Malvern down to El Dorado and exchange cars and then drag them back to be set out at the industries in Malvern by the W&OV switcher.    So I sat those cars bound for Malvern on the ICG interchange track and had the NB Winnfield local pick them up.  They were then actually hauled all the way back to Haskell where they were set out on the siding there for them to pick up via the Hand of God and moved back into Malvern.  The cars at El Dorado was pre-staged sitting on the A/D tracks as well.

Next I was just randomly placing NB or SB white tabs on the cars to be picked up when I realized that I shouldn't be dragging these NB cars ALL the way south end?  They should actually be going North.

Let me back up a bit.  Since the local was going to be ran as an Out and Back Turn , it was only going to work the Trailing Point turnouts.  This would save me from having to make any Run Around moves to get cars off the Facing Point turnouts.  

This dictated that any cars sitting on a trailing point turnout that had a NB tab was going to have to be picked up and set off at the nearest siding or drug down to the yard at El Dorado, sat out and would then be picked up by the NB local.  This posed some interesting movements, ones that I hadn't thought of before.

Likewise, some of the SB cars that would be picked up by the local from the W&OV in Malvern needed to go to A&A Concrete in Dubach and the rest needed to go to the ICG at Ruston.  The Hoppers bound for A&A Cement wouldn't be an issue because the Pit Track in DuBach was a trailing point turnout that could be worked by the SB local.  But the ICG interchange track was a Facing Point turnout that would needed to be worked by the NB local.

There were several options.  Those cars could have been left in DuBach and worked by the NB turn, but they would have had to run back down the line from DuBach to Ruston.  The other option was to drag all those ICG cars to the yard at Alexandria, then placed in with the cars sitting there waiting to make the run North.  This was chosen as it gave us a little more work to do in the yard other than just swapping the power and caboose onto the NB cars.  Then as we worked our way North, we worked the interchange with the ICG by grabbing the NB cars for Malvern that were sitting there and moved the ICG bound cars back on to the interchange track and headed on North with the Malvern cars in tow.

NB cars that we had left at DuBach and El Dorado was picked up and hauled north by the NB local.  All in all it made for some very interesting moves to be made and really made us stop and think about how we were going to get the jobs done.

Bottom line......I plan to move forward with the new operations.  It took Quin and almost three hours to run just the two trains.  Of course this was due in part that we were dealing with some new situations that made us stop and think them through.  I think once we run a it a few times, the time required will be reduced.

It was also a lot more laid back, much more like the prototype that I had always envisioned.   

Another thing I plan to move forward on is rebuilding the staging yard.  I plan to rip up 90% of the tracks and make a much more smaller, simpler yard, something with maybe 5-6 tracks and small engine facility.

If and when the yard gets rebuilt, there should be enough room that I may include an industrial scene using some of the larger Walthers Cornerstone buildings that I've collected over the years.  This area could then be worked as a separate Minim layout if I wished or could be included in the operating session if there are enough people on board, or it could just be left alone.  Time will tell. 


Thursday, October 11, 2018

Preparing for the new session

I've got the layout all staged for the new reduced Ops, but I gotta find a better word for this, starting to sound redundant.

While doing so I knew I wasn't going to be running the W&OV, the ICG or the yard in El Dorado, but I wanted to setup cars to pick up in Haskell that came from Malvern, and seeing how I just got a new phone I wanted to play with the camera, so I shot a couple of videos.

The first one is just following the Winnfield local as I was testing the train and consist.

The second one is of the W&OV Switcher going about gathering up the cars in Malvern.

This picture shows the overall view of the area, Malvern is on the left and Haskell is on the right.

This is the track plan of Malvern.

I can see that I will need to replace the three little fluorescent lights above Malvern with LED's now.  It's really yellow compared to the rest of the layout!  Ugh...

Monday, October 1, 2018

Reduced Ops dry run.

Time has come to test the new reduced operation.  I have the layout staged and ready to go.

The plan is simple, one train will work the entire layout.  The W&OV, the ICG interchange and the yard at El Dorado will remain, but will not play an active part of this test session. 

Two strings of cars have been blocked and tabbed on track #1 and #2 in the staging yard. Track #1 (right) has the cars for the southbound train #773, track #2 has the cars for the northbound train #774.

The locos will be pulled out of the engine house (the ladder track for now) with the caboose.  

The local's crew will attach the crummy to the cars on track #1 and then run back and tie on to the head end of the train.  It'll leave the yard (Which represents Biddle Yard in Little Rock) counterclockwise and head south upon entering the layout at Haskell.   
As it traverses south as train #773, it will work all the trailing point turnouts.  Once the run is finished, it will re-enter the yard to the same track from which it left.  This time the yard will represent the yard used in Alexandria, LA.  
The crew will then place the crummy on the rear of the cars sitting on track two and tie onto the head end of that train and head back north as train #774 entering the layout at Winnfield.  Again it will only work the trailing point turnouts as it runs north.  When the it's done it will re-enter the yard (this time Biddle yard) and run clockwise back to track #2.  The crew will then cut off the train, grab the crummy and tie down at the engine facility.

The drawing below is only for illustration purposes only,  I have no plan to reduce the physical size of the layout at this time.  

As I was sitting up the cars to be picked up it hit me that some of those cars will not need to go back to the yard, as they are captive service cars that run between two locations on the layout.  These can just be dropped off as they go past their destination.  Likewise, some of the cars that will be picked up off the trailing point turnouts will need to be taken back in the opposite direction.  These can be spotted on a siding or hauled to El Dorado yard and spotted so they can be picked up by the opposite train.

Some of these car movements only become obvious once I started placing tabs on the cars.  It looks like this could result in some interesting actions.   The overall goal for this is to reduce the amount of trains and crews needed and allow me to focus more on the switching.

If all this pans out, the next goal will be to rip up the entire staging yard and replace it with some better track and a much smaller yard and engine facility.  

Monday, September 24, 2018

The Winds of Change Are Blowing update.

To quote John Steinbeck 

“The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”

This can be applied to my layout as with many other's I'm sure. Over the weekend I had several enjoyable and informative chats with a number of modelers in regards to my layout and the issues I'm trying to deal with regarding my operations on The Little Rock.

I've always read about modeled operations, but never had many opportunities to experience it first hand on a layout that was built and designed for it, small or large. Needless to say it's always intrigued me. So from the beginning, I designed my layout for operations because I knew sooner or later I would become disenchanted watching my trains running circles. Even though I didn't fully understand what was all involved with operations or how it was suppose to work completely, I did my best. 

Over the last few years since getting the layout up and running my Ops have been in constant change.  I've found myself tweaking this and that, adjusting the track arrangements or adding or combining trains for easier car movements. The last several sessions we've had has been a pleasure to run and things have actually went pretty I can say that I've learned a lot since the first session. 

Recently though I feel like things have gotten a little out of control which has resulted in the feeling that I'm working for my layout and not the layout working for me. More work than fun. 

To quickly recap my original plans and why I fell in love with the overall aspect of the The Little Rock Line. This line ran from Biddle Yard in Little Rock, AR south 146 miles to Alexandria, LA. Near the end of The Rock's existence, this portion of their Southern Division was set off as a semi-independent segment and labeled "The Little Rock" It had its own Profit-Loss accounting, locomotive fleet and management team. Thus given greater flexibility and the latter did not have to rely solely upon the home office for sales, maintenance or operating decisions.

There was one local that worked the entire line. It ran six days a week, running south on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays as train #773 and would return on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays as #774. Sharing the rails with the local were two scheduled night freights #34 & #35.

To me, there was always something enchanting about seeing a short train trundling along at a snail's pace over a pair of rails half obscured with weeds.  Maybe a couple of first generation diesels on point with just a few cars in tow and a caboose bringing up the rear.  One of my childhood memories was on my grandparents farm, while taking a break from bailing hay on a hot summer afternoon, I heard the distant horns of a Chicago Northwestern local making its way to town past the hayfield.  Grandpa spoke up and said "Here comes the Tri-Weekly again".  Asking what he meant by that he replied "Well it's making its run today and will TRY to get back next week".  From then on, whenever I heard the Tri-weekly's horn, I'd jump on my bike and race to the crossing to see it wobbling down the tracks.

I think this was the reason I was drawn to the Little Rock?  Short trains, small power, and crappy track forcing them to roll at a reduced speed.

Over the last several years the layout has quickly moved away from a laid back kind of operation to that of a busy 1st class mainline.  The last session I had 22 trains scheduled to move in a 3-4 hour period.  This was done for several reasons, I wanted to see more train running, I wanted to make sure I had something to do for everyone that showed up to operate.  But in doing so this caused myself and a friend almost a week of evenings to get things cleaned up, cars staged and consists readied.  After the last session was over, only about 1/3rd of the scheduled trains actually ran.   Due primarily to the lack of crew that was able to make it.  This is why I said it felt more like work than fun.  After the session was over, the crews present and I decided that things needed to change.  

Since that last session I've chatted with several different modelers about operations, watched a ton videos on operations for small layouts and have made the decision to greatly reduce my operations. I plan to eliminate ten of the twelve through freights and detour trains.   As for the locals, I will move their base of operations from El Dorado yard back to the staging yard, I might even condense both trains into one trains that works the entire line in one session.  This will of course depend on the amount of time it takes.

I'll also keep the W&OV in Malvern and the ICG interchange as they are part of the layout for now.   If this works out, it'll be even less trains than I mentioned in the previous post. I'm pretty certain I can back things down to where just a one or two man crew can work the entire layout or at least sections of the layout easily.

The layout itself will stay intact with no physical modifications to it other than reworking the tracks in the staging yard.  I'm kind of thinking of tearing them up, cleaning it off and redoing the tracks with a much smaller yard and update it with better track and turnouts so that it's more reliable.

There's also a possibility with more room in the staging yard, I might be able to add an industrial scene.  This could also be ran as a separate mini layout by itself much like I've done with Malvern.

As I said in the earlier post, I want to run a few test sessions and see what I can do, what I want to do and how to go about improving things.

Friday, September 7, 2018

A bright idea.

Shortly after buying the house in 1990, I cleared out the basement and installed three rows of 4' fluorescent fixtures so I had plenty of light to work with.  This has worked well over the years but after building the layout to fit the room, the lighting didn't quite fit the layout.  I've often wanted to redo the lighting to reduce the dark areas caused by existing lighting.

Recently Quin was looking for some LED shop lights for his new garage and we stopped at Menards to see what they had and we stumbled across some that were on sale.

Here is what one area looked like with the existing fluorescents.  The far corner is a little dark.

The same area after I hung the first LED shop light to see how it would look...... much better.

This is what they look like without the diffuser installed, I also adjusted the exposure.  They have three LED's strips that produce 3300 Lumens with an output of 4200K.

Last night I got them all installed.  This time I tried position them above the layout to reduce any dark areas.  Please pardon the mess.

In some ways, they are a little brighter than I'd like but it's better than having dark areas.
Along with being cheaper to run, I also have the option to turn them on and off individually by means of their pull chains.  Even with less than half of them on, there is still more than enough light to work under.

Since March I've had to step away from the layout to focus on some personal agendas.  As of today most of those agendas have been completed and I hope to be returning to my trains and the layout as Fall approaches.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Life always gets in the way.

It's been awhile since I last posted anything, I thought I'd take a minute to let everyone know that things are just in a holding pattern for now on The Little Rock Line. 

Since getting back to work this past March, I've been just plain busy with work and now the family is in the process of cleaning up Mother's house getting it ready for an estate auction and then try to get the house sold for her. 

We got Mother moved into and assisted living community back in January and it's been quite a bumpy ride for all of us. Not many problems, just trying to get the bumps evened out. With any luck I should get back to my trains by late summer or fall. 

The last post was about the "Winds of Change". This change is still coming and I'm still looking forward to seeing how this change will progress, as well as a little bit of scenery in Haskell.

Thanks for hanging in there with me...

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The winds of change are blowing...

across The Little Rock Line.    

But fear not, the layout ain't going anywhere just yet.  With another session in the books, it has solidified my thoughts in the fact that I need to rethink my directions.

While this last session went off pretty much without a hitch and we all had a good time, there are a couple things that's causing me pause and rethink things.
1- is the staging yard, 2- is the amount of work needed to get all the trains readied for a session verses the lack of attendees.  (Now before anyone gets upset at the last concern, I understand that life bestows changes on us everyday.  I get that.)

1)  The Staging Yard.

As said before this yard was constructed for the use with our Bend Track modules so that all the members could build or tear down their trains in the yard without shutting down or fouling the mainlines.  I rebuilt it in 1996 to its current state before we took our modules to Madison, WI  in 1997 for the NMRA meet.  I kind of rushed through it and also didn't have the budget to use PECO turnouts at the time so Atlas Snap turnouts had to do.  They've worked surprisingly well over the years, but they are just not as reliable for me as PECO have been.  So I end up worrying about derailments in the yard during each session, kind of takes the fun out things.

What I really need to do is to the re-lay the entire yard but that will take some serious coin and an extended amount of time and effort.  At this point, I'm just not sure I want to take the plunge based on several things.  The Cost, the Time and if what I have planned takes shape, I may not need this large of a yard anymore.

2)  The Amount Work, the main issue.

When the layout first became operational, there always seemed to be a lot of interest and participation.  But lately it's seemed to have dwindled.  Not sure the exact reason, could be several or it could be my imagination, but one thing is for sure, when I restage the layout for a full session, it takes me several nights to get things readied, it's part of the game.  But if we have a short crew, like we've had in previous times, over half the trains sat unused.

Now like I said, I'm not trying to guilt trip anyone, life has a way of changing, I get that and I have no problem with it.  So instead of complaining about it I figured it was time for life to make changes on the layout as well.

On a normal full session we will run around 22 trains:

Four Manifests.
The two Turns (locals).
The El Dorado Switcher.
The W&OV Malvern Switcher and the W&OV Razorback.
Then there's the ICG Interchange and finally the 12 Through Freights.

I will say this, I added the 12 through freights only for the fact that I had the yard space and then if there were enough crew on hand, they had something to do or if they only wanted to RUN a train and not WORK a train.  So not all of these trains run every session anyway.  But it still takes time to make sure they will work and run if and when they're needed.

After some discussion and soul searching, I think I'm going to plan on reducing the number of trains and jobs that actually run during a session.  This will also result in the need for fewer crews during the session.

Here's a list of trains that I'm thinking of reducing to:

The two locals: Haskell and Winnfield Turns
The W&OV Malvern switcher and the W&OV Razorback
The ICG interchange
The El Dorado Switcher.
The two Mail trains (optional at this point)

This works out to be 8 trains.
The overall operations will still work pretty much the same way as they do now, but with less trains and less crews needed to operate them.

The biggest change will be the two Turns.  These would now originate out of the staging yard instead of El Dorado as they have before.  This will eliminate the need for the four Manifests.
Not only will the Turns haul the cars needed for each side of the layout that they'll be working, they'll also carry the cars that will be bound for the W&OV, the ICG and the industries in El Dorado proper, which the Turns will drop off in the yard at El Dorado.
Only one crew should be needed to run each of the two Turns.
The rest of the trains will be manned as they are now.

The way I see it now, I'll be able to reduce the amount of tracks in the staging yard, as well as the yard in El Dorado.  Since the Turns will be pre-staged in the staging yard, there won't need to be as much switching done in El Dorado.  The way it is now, the El Dorado job can keep one crew busy throughout the entire session.  I will still keep a single unit on hand at El Dorado to handle shuffling the cars from the two Turns to the Razorback and ICG as well as working the local industries.  Because the two Turns will originate in the staging yard, the engine tracks in El Dorado will more than likely be removed as well.

The Malvern Switcher and the Razorback could be handled by one crew, which mostly is the way it's done now.  So a single crew could handle the small amount of work needed in El Dorado as well as run the ICG interchange.  If things work out, they could also run the two mail trains if they have time or the desire.

This would total only 4 crews needed minimum to run a session.
2- One for each of the Turns.
1- The W&OV Malvern Switcher and The Razorback
1- The El Dorado Switcher and ICG interchange, and possibly the two Mail trains.

My hopes is that I can reduce things down so that we'll only need a crew of around 4 to work the layout and get everything done in one session.  The time needed to stage the layout should also be reduced.

Now in case you're wondering, if a larger number of attendees do show up, we can still accommodate them by having them team up as an Engineer/Conductor for the two Turns, the W&OV Malvern Switcher and the Razorback as well as the El Dorado Switcher and the ICG interchange.   

If I rebuild the staging yard, which I would like to do if for no other reason than to make it more reliable, I plan to keep at least 6-8 through tracks to hold the two Turns and the two Mail trains, which would still leave 2-4 open tracks if more would be needed.  For the time being I'd leave the 8 rear tracks in the Green yard for now, but I'd like to use the rear most track as the run through so the loop at the far end would be a bit broader than running down the two By-pass tracks in the middle.

But this is all still in the planning stages.  Before any of this happens I want to try a couple of dry runs to see how things will play out first.

Monday, March 5, 2018

#1337 - The final GP18 - Finished

Last night I finally got the #1337 finished up and added it to the roster.

A week before the 15th Ops session I was in the process of wrapping it up and applying the number boards.  A buddy texted me asking what I was upto, so I snapped a couple of pics of the half applied number boards.  He replied "I hate to tell you this, but the proto pic has black numberboards and white number" 


So I stopped right there and ordered a new set of Shell Scale decals for black number boards.  They arrived Friday afternoon.  I didn't have enough time to get them on before the session, but I did get them on that night.

All in all I'm pretty happy the way it turned out.

And the group shot.

I do have one more GP18 that I was planning to do in the Blue and White, but after finding out that there were only two GP18's that wore the Blue (they were actually GP18M's) which looked more like GP9's, so I passed doing one up.  Since this last one is in the maroon with white stripes scheme, I may just weather it as it is because I did find a couple pics of this scheme that was dated in 1979.  So it will be close enough for me.  But that'll be for another time.

With this being the last Bench Project and the Ops session behind me, it's time to get back to the layout.