Sunday, March 11, 2018


With my railroad operating and being fleshed out and the NMRA National Convention (PDX2015) behind me, I find I can take a bit of time to travel to regional operating events.  Such was the case this past weekend as I joined roughly eighty “Boomer” operators who converged on the Puget Sound area for the 2018 edition of SoundRail.  Based in Bellevue, just across Lake Washington from Seattle, we spread out to operate layouts from Whidbey Island on the north to Olympia in the south.  Two dozen layouts were offered up for operations over the three-day event. 

Kudos to the organizing committee for this event!  Having done their jobs for the PDX2015 NMRA Convention and then helping launch our own regional event last year, I have a fair idea what it takes, though they had a much larger event to work.  As a participant, this one seemed nearly glitch-free, though I well understand the anxiety and frustration likely concealed behind the smiling faces as the committee dealt with the inevitable changes and demands.

I was fortunate in my three layout assignments.  I drew Burr Stewart’s “Burrlington” Northern  operation on Thursday.  Burr models Puget Sound operations of the Burlington Northern in 1973.  At that time, the BN merger was still relatively new, so the motive power was a rainbow of color and most of the railroad infrastructure of the two primary Puget Sound area railroads of the BN (Great Northern and Northern Pacific) was in place yet.  Add to that mix the presence of both the Union Pacific and Milwaukee Road.  Burr has built a railroad with multiple yard operations and the movement of traffic among them and then off to the rest of the national rail network.

Boomer operators gather to operate on Burr Stewart’s BN railroad.  The social aspect is a big part of these operating events.  The Boomers shown here came from all over the country and even internationally.  Note the seawall along the tracks in the lower left of the photo.  The seawall and bluffs are a prominent feature of the former Great Northern line north of Settle along Puget Sound.

Balmer Yard was the principal GN yard in Seattle.  Lines radiated north and south from here.

The Dispatcher (Andy D.) at work with Former SP Dispatcher Rick K. looking over his shoulder.  Note the large number of yards on the track schematic panel in front of him.

Rick K. (right) leaves the Dispatcher's desk while Mark S. (center) is studying work at Stacey Yard.  Everett Bayside Yard is behind him in this aisle.  I held down that yard job for the morning half of the session.

Thursday evening, we had a number of layouts available for tour.  Given a late dinner, Seattle area traffic and a lingering storm, I was able to join a carpool that got off to only one, that of Bill Sornsin, who chaired SoundRail.  Bill is building a large layout featuring the Great Northern in the 1950’s, extending from Seattle north and then east through Cascade Tunnel to Wenatchee.  Bill and I have compared notes and techniques for large layouts in the past, so I really wanted to see his developing empire.

Bill Sornsin and Jim B. at Bill’s model of Seattle’s King Street Station.

On Friday, I joined a large carpool to trek up to Whidbey Island to operate Jack Tingstad’s Cloud City and Western.  As with several of the SoundRail layouts, Jack’s layout has been featured in magazines including a 2011 article in Model Rail Hobbyist.  Jack’s railroad features Colorado railroading in the 1910s.

Jack Tingstad explaining a layout feature to Tom S. around his Glenwood Springs scene.

Mines are a major feature of Jack’s layout.  Rob H. is checking out the scene which includes scenery that reaches nearly from the floor to the ceiling here.

Cloud City has the major locomotive facility on Jack’s railroad and is the entry and exit point from the main layout room.

We returned from Whidbey Island in time to grab some much-needed rest before the SoundRail banquet, held Friday night.  One spends most of a day operating on one’s feet.  Add in early hour departures, such as needed to get up to Whidbey Island, and rest becomes most welcome!

Saturday, I operated on Scott Buckley’s Tehama Valley Railroad in Olympia—the opposite end of the geographic spread of layouts for SoundRail.  This was a fortunate location for me, as I could launch easily to return home from Olympia.  I had escaped Puget Sound traffic at that point. 

Scott’s Tehama Valley represents a fictional shortline in the upper Sacramento Valley of Northern California.  Scott has captured well the look of towns in the area and the era before Interstate Highways.  Scott runs light steam locos and takes inspiration from the Sierra Railroad.

Colusa Junction on the Tehama Valley.  Though the scene is developing yet, it already captures major elements of the rural Sacramento Valley.

Butte Slough Trestle on the Tehama Valley.  Such trestle crossings of waterways were common in California’s Central Valley.

Walnut Grove on the Tehama Valley.  Scott has captured the look and layout of agricultural towns and their industries.

Opposite direction view of Walnut Grove.  This just screams “California Central Valley” to me from both pictures and my own memories of driving through this region when I was a kid.

Scott Buckley on the right, SoundRail Registrar Greg W. in the foreground.  One of the other crews made up of Adam P. and Bernie K. are in the background.  The Tehama Valley is very much still under construction, but the operation had four crews busy all day.

I very much enjoyed the SoundRail event.  It combined good model railroad operations with experienced Boomer crews (many of us were new to the specific layouts we operated on), and plenty of social interaction among model railroad operator peers.  I was able to connect faces with names of folk I have corresponded with over the internet for some time.  It was great to meet them in person!  Once again, kudos to the SoundRail crew and the layout owners.  They put on a great event!

Tuesday, March 6, 2018


Having built a model railroad for operations, I find it useful to mark milestone sessions such as the just-completed twenty-fifth such session.  It has taken a little less than three years to reach this milestone.  My position in the Portland-based operating layout rotation (First Saturday of a month) results in a number of bye-months due to holidays and other interruptions.  Still, I have held a fairly steady pace of operating sessions on my railroad.  Each session prompts further improvement and motivates me to keep working toward fleshing out the railroad.

Over the past year, I introduced a train line-up scheme that attempts to model the twenty-four hour a day operation of a real railroad.  From my master daily line-up, I begin building the next session’s line-up where we left off from the previous session.  I always plan more trains than we typically run.  We usually stop with one or two trains out on the railroad yet.  That provides immediate work for crews when we resume—work that does not require yard activity to get rolling.

The RR-Westbound EUOAY (Eugene to Oakland mixed manifest) meets the RVEUE (Roseville to Eugene Empties—an “XMUG”) at Cruzatte.  The EUOAY began the session at Oakridge, ready to have its helper added.  The RVEUE was the first train RR-Eastbound out of Crescent Lake.

Moving to a twenty-four-hour line-up also spaced-out the local freights.  These locals need to be sequenced, particularly in the Springfield area, to keep the railroad fluid.  Three locals work around Springfield.  Two of them need the depot and drill tracks to do their work.  The third uses the siding on the other side of the mainline.  Spacing these out resolves the conflicting use of the depot and drill track and keeps at least one track available in addition to the mainline for meets.  My condensation of the actual Cascade Line removed the Judkins siding, located between Eugene (depot) and Springfield.  Keeping another track available at Springfield restores this vital safety valve for entry and exit from the Eugene terminal.  For further understanding of these tracks, take a look at the track schematics via the tab at the top of the blog page. 

Nineteen operators joined me for this session, a typical crew size.  Two operators were new to the railroad, so they were paired with experienced operators on trains.  The rest of the trains had single engineer-conductors plus the Eugene Yard crew and dispatching crew.  In addition to the session “Trick” Dispatcher, we use an Assistant Chief Dispatcher/Crew Caller (ACD).  The ACD calls the crews and manages the calling up and departures of trains.  This is a role often filled by a layout owner, but we have found my attention becomes focused on dealing with minor “crises” on the railroad, so the ACD keeps the railroad rolling.

John B-1. occupies “The Big Chair” as the session “Trick” Dispatcher.  Tools of his trade include a magnetic schematic of the railroad, a Train Sheet, a Block Authority Sheet, the clock, and a radio.  It is useful to have the Dispatcher located in a room that can be closed off from the noise and chaos of a railroad at work.

The primary Eugene Yard crew.  Jim M., in the far distance is departing with the Marcola Turn from one of the “City Yard” tracks in front of the depot.  Yardmaster Scott B. is tasking West Switcher John B-2. With classification work while East Switcher Craig L. is moving toward his end of the yard (right).

Santa Clara Tower Operator Vic N. is back in the hole for the Eugene Engine Facility while Road Engineer Rodger C. prepares to depart with the BROAT (Brooklyn—Portland to Oakland Trailers).  Crescent Lake, the RR-West end of my railroad is overhead.

A feature of this particular session was a fleet of three trailer trains which departed Eugene starting with the first around midnight on the fast clock.  The Dispatcher needed to clear the way for these high-priority trains.  This also provided me with some good “railfanning.”  The trailer trains have their helpers added on the point—the front of the train, per railroad rules for trains with 89-foot cars.  Other trains have their helpers added mid-train, about two-thirds of the way back for the current era on my railroad (1984). 

Rodger C. and his Conductor Craig P. have escaped Eugene and are rounding the turn-back curve with my Marcola Branch out of Springfield on the inside.  Those autoracks and trailer-on-flatcar at the front of the train will demand a point helper at Oakridge.

The BRLAT (Brooklyn to Los Angeles Trailers) is crossing Noisy Creek and headed into my Tunnel Nine and into Cruzatte as crew-members (David L., Pete H., and Dave C.) converse.  The BRLAT was the first of the RR-West fleet of priority trains.  Even a priority train has a slow grind up the Hill.

The BROAT has made it to McCredie Springs.  This was the second priority train headed RR-West.  Rodger C. and Mike B. are the Engineers (Mike has the point helpers).  Conductor Craig P. is copying orders from the Dispatcher.

The CZLAT (Crown Zellerbach to Los Angeles Trailers—a train focused on Crown-Zellerbach paper products) rounds the curve at Westfir, crosses the bridge over the North Fork of the Willamette River and is about to plunge into Tunnel 22 and into Oakridge.  Engineer Rick A. and Conductor Mark K. control this train.  Behind them is ACD Rick K. talking with the crew of a RR-East train held at Wicopee (Conductor Bill M. on the platform), awaiting passage of the RR-West parade of priority trains. 

The CZLAT now has a helper and is rounding the curve over Salt Creek Trestle—a prime railfan moment!

As I fill in my railroad with the trestles, tunnels and now terrain, it is feeling more and more like the Cascades.  My dream is becoming a reality.