Way back in the last century when I was a child with a train set, I loved to run the locomotive flat out. It was a youngster’s foolish entertainment.
Today, I’m more interested in faithfully recreating the mass and motion of a machine that weighs many tons. To that end I enjoy watching videos of switching.
They remind me of watching the local work the siding as a child. I never tire of seeing a locomotive tiptoe down rough track, swaying back and forth to a symphony of metallic flange squeals and groaning wood under intense compression. All of it backed up by the low rumbling bass line of the prime mover at it eases along.
What fascinates me today is how the crew works together. Nothing moves until the engineer knows where the ground crew is in relation to the train. Everyone takes time to work safely, even as pedestrians and vehicle traffic create major headaches without concern for the consequences. All these factors taken together add up to a lot of time.
Watch this video at the end of the post. After the obligatory close-up of the old DL&W crossing tower, it’s five and a half minutes just to spot one car. Obviously it was edited in several places, so I suspect the actual time to position the car was much longer.
Take note of how deliberate the moves are. We didn’t see the train stop for the crewmember to unlock and throw the switch but notice the time spent waiting to enter the building, as the brakeman is either walking the siding to make certain it is clear, or to confirm where to spot the car. As the train enters the building, notice the speed. It’s nice and slow since the engineer is blind on that tight curve.
In the next sequence, watch the hand signal the crewman on the back porch of the GP40 gives to the engineer as they exit the building.
Notice how the locomotive stops to let the guy off to check for vehicle traffic before reentering the street. Look at the effort involved in throwing the switch and then locking it. Afterwards, notice how the engine pulls forward to wait for the crewman to reset and lock the derail and how he stopped to look for oncoming traffic on his way back. Finally, notice the engine doesn’t move an inch until he is back in the cab.
I checked out the location via Google Earth ( I searched for Schuyler Street, Utica, New York) and learned this siding curves through the first building as shown, then runs in the open for a short distance and appears to enter a second building where, I assume, the car is unloaded. It looks like quite an operation that obviously has a lot of moving pieces to consider.
All of these procedures take time and add to our visual impression of the work involved. I find simple, understandable moves like these compelling. I’ve spent years watching train movements like this and recreating an environment where I can watch it miniature while appreciating the surroundings is all I need for a satisfying one-person layout.
What’s The Hurry?
Operations. It’s one of those conceptual words we assume everyone understands. I suggest that there’s a great deal that we don’t understand. Watching videos of real switching operations, there is far more to it than what modelers are willing to consider.
While there are common procedures in the work, each location presents unique conditions that must be dealt with individually. A switch job like this brewery is highly nuanced in terms of local circumstances the crew has to work around every day.
There’s the street traffic, the sharp curve and tight clearances within the building. There are factors we don’t get to see behind the first building. There’s snow and ice that seizes up the ground throw for the switch and derail. Each of these is a challenge to safely and efficiently getting the job done. If we are going to sweat the details and accuracy of the rolling stock, track and scenery, then why do we gloss over factors that would add greater depth and flavor to our operating enjoyment?
I submit that our zeal for more in terms of “operating interest,” renders us blind to what’s right in front of our eyes all the time.
Mill Road is a lens that allows me to fully focus on the aspects of railroading I most enjoy. It isn’t for every taste and I would never suggest otherwise. However, a craft as mature as ours can present a stunning range of options for personal enjoyment. We just need a clear and compelling vision of what’s possible beyond the basement.