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.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Ops Session #15 March 3rd, 2018

Today's session went off pretty well with only a few minor glitches.
Towards the end of the session most of the throttles seemed to be losing contact with the command station, I think the culprit was my choice of using some cheap batteries in the hand helds since most of my good rechargeables were dead.  I was hoping that they would last for a few hours?  If it wasn't that, then there was some kind of interference with the radio signals.  So the guys wound up plugging their throttles into a port and kept going.

We had a decent crew this round but wound up not running all of the through freights since we had a couple of newbies who got doubled up with a seasoned crew to show them the ropes.  Other than that things went good.

Tony was the newest, he's never played with model railroading before but caught on just fine and had a blast.
Matt is fellow N scaler but it was his first time operating.  Like Tony, Matt caught on quick.
This was Coy's third time with us.  The first time he joined us he took on the Winnfield Turn and it got the best of him.  This time he decided to give it another whirl and did much better this time! Congrats Coy!

Quin, Jon and I rounded the rest of the crew.

I'm helping Tony as he brings one of the trains back into the yard. 

Coy is getting ready to run one of the Manifest down to El Dorado.

Quins cleaning up the yard after getting the Haskell Turn on it's way.

Jon teamed up with Matt who has the throttle and ran the Haskell Turn, seen
here as they're finishing up at Fordyce and heading back towards El Dorado.

Just about done, they're working Calion Lumber, the last stop for the Haskell Turn.

I think the smile on Matt's face tell the whole story?  

Myself, Quin and Tony taking a quick break before the Haskell Turn arrives back at El Dorado.

The Haskell Turn finally arrives as Quin keeps a wary eye on things. 

Quin is showing Matt the ropes as they break down the Haskell Turn.

The look of stress or relief after a long day working El Dorado, 
then he decides to have a go with his favorite support column.

By the smile on Tony's face, I don't think we worked him hard enough?

Late in the session I was able to catch a little action in El Dorado as Quin shoved the last of the cars away in the yard and tied down for the night.

With this session in the books and an abundance of smiles, it's time to start working on the layout again.  I'd like to get some ballast laid down but first I need to get a few buildings sized up in Haskell.