When my friend Don Florwick first initiated TT/TO operations on his NYCS Pittsburgh & South Pennsylvania Railroad (P&SP), he needed cabooses. Models of NYCS’s 19000 series cabooses were the obvious choice. To that end, Don purchased 16 of the kits offered by Waterlevel Models for these cabooses. As building the Waterlevel kits would take time, in the interim, Don also purchased a pair of 19000 series NYC cabooses from Trix as well as a small fleet of bay window cabooses from Walthers.
The Walthers stand-in’s unfortunately were lettered for Conrail and consequently were bereft of end ladders and roof walks. They performed well, but the sight of a modern Conrail caboose bringing up the rear of a 1950’s era NYC consist had the effect of finger nails on a black board every time one passed me by during an operating session.
Learning of Don’s stash of Waterlevel kits, I offered to build them for him as he had enough on his plate maintaining a rather large layout to operational standards (which he does very well). I began by taking a single kit to examine with the intent of determining the best approach to gang building the fleet. I found however, that these kits were probably never intended as fleet equipment for operating sessions.
The Waterlevel NYC cabooses are high quality plastic craftsman style kits. The model company did their homework and the instructions are well written as well as informative, providing much background information on the NYC 19000 series wood cabooses. The kits themselves however, are a bear to assemble. As the picture (below) shows, the steps are constructed out of six tiny pieces that are nearly impossible to hold in proper relation to each other while applying glue. For sixteen cabooses this would require constructing a total of 64 step assemblies.
Since what Don needs are operational pieces, not contest pieces, we began looking for options. In the right hand corner of the pic is a set of steps from an Athearn “blue box” caboose kit. These steps, complete with end platform are a nearly perfect substitute for the steps in the kit. With the help of Jay Beckham we will be looking into having them 3D printed. The Waterlevel kits are therefore on hold for the time being.
As yard master for Somerset yard, switching the bay window Conrail cabooses when making or breaking up a coal extra was especially grating. To that end I offered to back date the cabooses. Don is in the process of realigning a section of mainline with the consequence of having to cancel Novembers operating session. This has allowed time to repaint and back date the Walthers bay window cabooses.
The prototype for these Walthers bay window cabooses is most similar to Conrail as class N21. They are very nearly correct for NYC’s Lot 782, built in 1949 by Despatch Shops Incorporated. They have the correct bay window but the other windows should be square double pane rather than have the rounded corners with riveted aluminum trim. In the interest of simplicity and the need to have them back in service within a limited time period, Don elected to invoke modelers license and say the cabooses were purchased directly by the P&SP due to a shortage of NYC hacks.
To that end, all I have to do is backdate them to a 1950’s appearance. Tichy Train Group came to the rescue with roof walks and friction bearing caboose trucks. Tichy has to be one of the best deals on the market for model railroaders. Their products are of the highest quality with some of the finest castings I’ve ever had the pleasure of working. Plus their prices can’t be beat. A box of 10 trucks goes for 15.50 albeit with plastic wheels. The wheels however, are of the correct tread profile. The roof walks come three to a package for 5.95.
The Walthers cabooses came with very nice metal wheels. As can be seen in the photo, the wheels have been exchanged on the trucks with the metal wheels being installed in the Tichy frames and the Tichy wheels being placed in the roller bearing frames ( the pile in front of the cabooses). The third pic shows the roof of one of the cabooses with the file marks where the ribs have been filed down to accommodate the metal roof walk. Supports will be added at the ends of the roof with bits of styrene bent to shape and filed flat. The ladder walks are supported the same way with bits of styrene cut to shape. The ladders are gleanings from the scrap drawer where fortunately, I had just enough for the six cabooses. However, scale ladder stock is available from several sources.
Once the roof details are completed the cars will be painted the standard NYC box car red with black roof. To avoid having to disassemble the car bodies, I decided to use Micro-Mark liquid masking film to cover the windows. This is a rubber like film that can be peeled off. Tedious to apply but much easier than disassembling a half dozen models that weren’t designed to be disassembled.
The cabooses should be back in service in time for Don’s December operating session. All he has to worry about now is having the mainline to Wheeling back in service by then.
As for the Waterline models, that’s another story for another time. Perhaps by the next installment of the Wheel Report I’ll managed to have the steps and end sills recreated via 3D printing and will be able to convey how I fared with that adventure.
I want to put in a good word about operating systems that have brought me many happy and informative moments. Before we condemn these informal operating systems, we should be aware of their advantages and of those situations where their use might be appropriate.
Introductory note – To my good friends Pete, Jane, Don, Bob, Steve, Ron, and Bill:I realize that some of the following ideas disagree with thoughts you have expressed to me about prototype-based operation.I thank you for graciously sharing your knowledge and for inviting me to your operating sessions.However, I feel that the current focus on prototype-based systems may not work for all layouts, their owners, and train crews.Less demanding operating systems may be the right approach for those intimidated by or stressed out by prototype-based systems.Consequently, I feel that informal systems, though not well regarded in our hobby at this time, deserve to be acknowledged, talked about, and evaluated on their own merits.The following is an attempt to do so.
Most model railroaders respect the more formal, prototype-based operating systems:timetable/train order (TT/TO), track warrants, and centralized traffic control (CTC) for instance.After all, those systems are modeled after the prototype procedures we attempt to replicate.But what do you do if those systems result in stressful operating sessions for you and your crews?There are less formal alternatives.Many sessions I have participated in have used the informal systems described here.I have enjoyed those sessions even though, among serious model railroaders, the procedures used do not enjoy the same level of respect as prototype-based systems.
Recently, the SMD had a clinic presentation that categorized operations as either prototype-based or “fun run.”While the latter term was certainly easy to understand, it was not particularly fair to anyone.Prototype-based systems are also “fun.”(If they were not, no one would want to participate in them.)On the other hand, “fun run” sessions are not totally frivolous.Categorizing informal systems negatively ignores their potential as stepping stones into the joys of operating and as opportunities to learn about the prototype.Before we consign informal operating procedures to the trash bin of toy trains, it seems to me more useful to think of operating systems as falling on a continuum between prototype-based and “fun run” instead of fitting into one category or the other.A system that starts out “fun run” can easily slide along the continuum towards more prototype-based when those involved feel better informed and more comfortable.
This essay will examine two of the better known informal systems for managing the flow of traffic across a model railroad: gentlemen’s agreement and mother, may I?
Gentlemen’s agreement occurs when two or more train crews agree about how to resolve a conflict, such as three trains arriving in a town with only the main track and one siding not counting spurs. (The layout owner or dispatcher is not usually involved with the negotiations.)If the crews are novices, they might decide to let the local finish switching before allowing the other two trains to come into town.However, more experienced crews would consider the fact that the other two trains are likely more important (passenger trains or through freights, for instance) and would figure out a way to get the local in the clear so the other two trains could execute a pass (before the local gets back to work).While the prototype would probably endeavor not to let this situation happen, it is a good example of how learning what the prototype does can result in a smoother operating session.(By the way, trying to resolve a three-way meet by gentlemen’s agreement can get stressful when you have only two tracks.Ballast conferences and brake clubs anyone?)
Using gentlemen’s agreement places responsibility for resolving conflicts in many hands and encourages creativity from all participants. Bob Proctor handled mainline operations on his Western Antietam and Layabout using gentlemen’s agreement.(His operators often accused him of sadism, but I think what he truly enjoyed was seeing the creative ways crews cooperated with each other.)Resolving conflicts creatively can be very satisfying.However, as seen by the three train example above, the solution dreamed up by the novices failed to take into account the priority of the trains involved. So, that solution, creative though it might have been, was the wrong solution.Consequently, that situation became a learning opportunity reminding us of the railroad’s primary mission of moving passengers and freight in an efficient and timely basis by prioritizing trains.
Another opportunity to learn about the prototype arises when instructions are given to the train crews.(Of course, you must first get the crews to read the instructions.)I was party to a similar (four train) situation where the gentlemen’s agreement resulted in one local backing up to the previous town, one train holding on the main, one train moving forward, and the other local completing its work.We were so proud of ourselves, but we had completely overlooked the fact that the local, which completed its work (the afternoon local), was supposed to pick up a cut of cars from the other (morning) local.If we had read our train instructions, we could have avoided that unfortunate result.Even informal operating systems require following instructions to run the trains effectively.
Experiencing challenging situations similar to those described above is one of the ways informal operating systems give us opportunities to learn about the prototype.Experience is a powerful teacher.(Why did the prototype have this rule?Well, you have just experienced the chaos that can happen if they did not; that’s why.)
Use of gentlemen’s agreement with a common sense understanding of how a railroad operates and with knowledge of our train’s operating instructions can be an effective way to run a model railroad.(A good set of nine basic, common sense rules for operating can be found in Mat Thompson’s “Mark Me Up” column in the summer 2016 issue of the Potomac Flyer, the Potomac Division’s newsletter.)
Mother, may I? is a system of obtaining permission to move your train from one person, usually the layout owner or a designated “dispatcher.”Mother, may I? is not really a fair name for this system, since mothers (of crew members) are rarely the designated permission givers.The name might derive from a problem frequently encountered.With every crew wanting permission from a single person, mother, may I? can get quite hectic.Sessions can easily get out of hand and resemble a bunch of children squabbling for their mother’s attention – not what we want in a relaxed operating experience.Regardless, where train crews request permission to move from a single person, responsibility for resolving conflicts between trains rests in that person’s hands.
Mother, may I? is frequently spoken of with disdain.Before we condemn it, we should consider its similarities with both track warrant and CTC systems – prototype-based systems which also place sole responsibility for permission to move in the hands of a single person – the dispatcher.Clearly because of their wide use, these systems demonstrate that the prototype has had a great deal of experience making single person responsibility work.(Perhaps, a better, more railroady name for mother, may I? might be dispatcher, may I?)
Model railroaders have also used systems similar to mother, may I?For instance, in the past, DC block control often required calling the dispatcher for block assignments allowing a train to proceed.More recently, roving dispatcher systems using verbal authorization have been used successfully on simpler, more compact layouts.With this system, the roving dispatcher makes decisions based on his observations of the current situation from within the layout room.Dave Moltrup’s Beaver Falls and Shenango (aka Moltrup Steel) operates using a roving dispatcher system.
A mother, may I? system can serve as a stepping stone to more prototype-based systems like track warrants or fill-in the blank train order systems (such as the one Tony Koester used for a while on his Allegheny Midland).In fact, the problems encountered with it may encourage adopting one of the prototype-based systems.
Disadvantages of these informal operating systems:
Not prototypical – a common complaint.
Not suited for complex, high traffic layouts. (Consider TT/TO)
Requires creative thought and consideration from the layout owner to set up the operating system.Crews will need good, clear instructions.The challenge of coordinating crew efforts is still present whether the system is formal or informal.
Can get quite chaotic.
Advantages to these informal operating systems:
Low intimidation factor because there is much less to learn and put into practice.
Simplicity: less paperwork,fewer reporting requirements (minimal O.S.-ing), and less dependence on time.
Stepping stone to more prototypically based systems.
Less administrative oversight during the session. (Everyone, including the layout owner, gets to run a train.)
Operations come naturally to crews.(I’ve noted that when stressed, crews often fall into using informal procedures regardless of the operating system. Crews working at the same station agree to who gets to work first; calling for help from the owner or dispatcher when the rules in place don’t give enough direction to address a problem.)
Gives crew members (especially beginners) firsthand experience of the challenges encountered in coordinating the work of countless people needed to keep trains moving.
Conditions under which these informal operating systems might be appropriate:
Smaller and simpler layouts where it is easy to get an overall idea of the status of operations at any given time.
Layouts where only one or two trains run at a given time.
Layouts with crews who are well acquainted with the layout.
Layouts with good sets of instructions and crews willing to read those instructions (a script for their train, for instance).
Layouts where the owner wants to run trains also.
Layouts that feature switching (not much mainline traffic and few potential conflicts between trains).
Potentially these informal operating systems offer not only an easy introduction to operating but also for the system to become more prototypical while continuing to offer relaxing, enjoyable operating experiences.Three things are necessary for that to happen. First, a commitment to learn more about how the prototype runs trains. Second, a willingness to set up a trial and error process. And third, a continuing effort to implement what is learned both from the prototype and by trial and error.
In conclusion, I want to put in a good word about operating systems that have brought me many happy and informative moments.Before we condemn these informal operating systems, we should be aware of their advantages and of those situations where their use might be appropriate.We also should be aware that informal systems do have some similarities to prototype practices.
While informal systems are not currently regarded highly in our hobby, I hope to foster tolerance for those modelers who prefer to operate that way.While they might not be doing what we prefer, they may be having just as much fun as we are.Furthermore, exposure to the joys of operations may lead them to learn more about prototype practices and to adopt more of those practices for their own operations (no encouragement from the model railroad police necessary).
Nonetheless I begged to see the activities down below. My uncle said, “You don’t want to go down there! There is nothing down there but hellfire, brimstone and damnation.” Yet this picture became etched indelibly on my mind thereafter.
Everyone’s layout is an expression of one’s experiences and association with railroads. I believe mine has taken a more circuitous path than others.For me it begins when I was a young boy of about seven. My mother and I went to visit an uncle, a retired steel worker who lived on the outskirts of McKeesport, PA.The single lane dirt road that led to his house offered an aerial view of the steel mills below. There was a steep embankment on one side with the old-fashioned post and cable guard rail to prevent cars from falling below. I could see the belching smoke of the steel mills with trains shuttling about here and there hauling odd looking freight cars.
When we arrived, I begged to see what was happening below but was scolded and refused.I felt trapped inside the house having to listen to my mother’s and uncle’s boring conversation.Fortunately, they were in the kitchen and ever so quietly I slipped into the living room and then out the door.I went across the road and sat on the cable watching the activities below.After about 20 minutes, my mother and uncle came out to find me and give me a scolding.Nonetheless I begged to see the activities down below.My uncle said, “You don’t want to go down there! There is nothing down there but hellfire, brimstone and damnation.”Yet this picture became etched indelibly on my mind thereafter.
Some 15 years later at college I met Betty, the girl who would become my wife.She also enjoyed trains.When we married we went to see the Cass Mountain Railroad.It was at this time that I became more fascinated with unusual steam locomotives.
Much later still, Betty decided she wanted to leave her career as a special education teacher and study to become an electric power engineer.Her first job was with Bechtel Power, which was then in Gaithersburg, MD, causing us to move from our home in upstate New York. As she prepared for her engineering licensing exam I ventured out so I wouldn’t disturb her. Curiosity took me to see the National Capital Trolley Museum.Meeting with the volunteer staff there, I told them that I had a previous business of restoring old houses.They encouraged me to work in the trolley shop and so I dedicated over three years part time to restoring an old New York City 3rd Avenue Trolley.
When Bechtel moved to Frederick, MD, so did we.We started investigating our surroundings and went to the B&O Museum where I got to see and climb around some camelback locomotives.This is a truly ludicrous locomotive.Because of the wide Wooten firebox, the engineer is consigned to a little compartment straddling the boiler.The fireman is left to the acrobatics of having to balance himself on two bouncing and shifting footplates while tending the fire. The cab is open to the elements more than other locomotives and for the engineer and fireman to communicate with each other, they must use a “speaking tube.”
We also went to see the Strasburg Railroad and the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania.There we not only encountered another camelback but also a GG1.I had seen a few pictures of these from time to time but knew little of them.I always admired the streamline appearance of the dark green and gold pinstripe livery. Betty quite naturally took to them as it was an electric locomotive.
When the Enron scandal struck, Bechtel lost most of its contracts for power plants.Betty, being a junior engineer, was soon laid off.In the recession that followed, she had some trouble finding work but at last landed a position with Con Edison in New York City.We were loth to give up our townhouse in Frederick, MD because I had done so much work on it and we also thought Frederick would be a good place to retire.With the willingness of our neighbors to look in on our place, we located an apartment right on the banks of the Hudson River in Jersey City, NJ that overlooked most of Manhattan.It also overlooked the old Erie Lackawanna ferry terminal which was actively being restored at the time.
Every month or so we would drive back to Frederick to look in on our townhouse and take care of things, always passing the Roadside America attraction.Eventually we made time to drop in. This experience caused me to consider taking up model railroading.I knew little of the hobby even though I had my car serviced at a garage where the waiting area had a stack of old magazines that included Classic Trains and Model Railroader. Those magazines gave me some conception of what was possible.
I was also faced with a dilemma.As a young man I had suffered an injury to my hip.With hip implant surgery I recovered and was able to do most things, including restoring old Victorian houses.But with age, I started losing mobility.By the time we moved to New York City it was getting harder for me to get around. I often had to resort to a cane.We thought it would be best if I would take care of all the chores and shopping during the week so we could enjoy all the sights and entertainments of the city on weekends.Nonetheless, this left me with much time on my hands which I tried to fill by reading history books.Once I became bitten by the model railroad bug, I thought I could do the modeling in our apartment, box them up and then bring them back to our townhouse in Frederick to eventually put on a layout.This I did on a tiny dinning table we had at the apartment which every late afternoon I would clean off for dinner.
I went to a hobby shop and got a Walthers catalog, magazines, and some how-to books, including John Pryke’s Building City Scenery for Your Model Railroad. As soon as I saw this a modeling concept began to slowly develop in my mind: a steel mill town in Pennsylvania that would have an electrified portion of the Pennsylvania Railroad passing through a steel manufacturing city with an anthracite railroad servicing the mills not unlike Bethlehem, PA.My uncle’s comment about Hellfire, Brimstone and Damnation some 60 years prior was reborn as my model railroad.
Conceiving of a model railroad and delivering it now presented many challenges.A townhouse does not have much basement space and we had already turned it into a combination office, library and entertainment room. With some ingenuity we converted a guest bed room into an office for Betty.Bookcases were moved to create a wall.This then left me with an area of about 19 by 11 feet. Not a lot of space, but enough for a respectable layout.
Next came the challenge of how to work in all the catenary and cables required for GG1’s.I knew that modeling this would require a lot of work, possibly consuming too much time from getting the rest of the layout done.I came up with the idea of building the city on a platform above the catenary system which could serve as a staging for these trains to appear and reappear. Thus, only a simple loop of track would be necessary for the GG1’s to play their part. To protect the pantographs as they went through under the city, Betty came up with a solution to use fasten discarded engineering drawings that had been printed on large sheets of plastic under the platform,allowing the pantographs to slip underneath.
I also had only built a few models as a kid.All my life had been spent in building the macro not the micro. I decided to test my modeling skills by building the blast furnace kit first.I figured if I could build that, I could build anything.This was a challenge trying to build this on our tiny dining table at the New Jersey apartment.Nonetheless, the parts held together enough for me to be able to transfer the model each evening to a small cabinet top a few feet away.
I chose the Fall of 1937 for the setting of my layout for several reasons.First it was the “depression within the Great Depression.” This was so called because as the New Deal programs began to cause a recovery in the economy, Roosevelt desired to do some budget cutting.This resulted in a recessionary economy which did not recover until the Lend-Lease policy started in 1939.
I think that a layout should tell a story.The Great Depression opens a panorama of possible stories to be told in miniature scenes which I love to do: including hobo jungles, shanty towns, red light districts and tenement life. The New Deal programs hired photographers to go forth into the nation and record daily life in the 1930’s.This provided me with all sorts of prototypes to work from especially industrial scenes.It was also the point when the Pennsylvania Railroad was completing the electrification for the GG1. Dating a layout to a fairly specific date helps to eliminate anachronisms. I chose the fall season because it presents many interesting scenic possibilities and adds color to the depressing rust and grimy black of industry.
[This is the first part in a short series from Bob describing the history and construction of his layout. To read part 2 click HERE. -Ed.]