Operational changes coming….

With the new expansion of the layout, there will be quite a few operational changes on the way. The first change will be of course to rename the small yard on the original layout that was Dickinson yard to Spring Street yard, which was in Charleston on the prototype. This will be inline with it being now just a small support yard for the surrounding area.

Of course the enlarged yard is now the new Dickinson yard, and has already been labeled as such in the photo below. Instead of earlier posting there would be a rip track, there will just be the yard tracks including a caboose track. The fueling area will be assumed to be off the front edge of the layout. The original fueling track over in the old Dickinson yard will remain to fuel locomotives on that part of the layout. The new Dickinson yard will include a yard office.

With a small layout, everything is pretty well condensed, and you really have to imagine distances are longer than they are. With that being said, part of the new first module on the left side will be the west Charleston area, with the longer end module being the city of Nitro, where on the prototype there was an Allied Chemical plant.

With changes in the new layout of the railroad, other changes are coming as well, as far as train operations. I foresee these new or different trains:

1 mine run to Morris Fork mine, which will also switch out Morris Fork Hardware and Farm Supply, from Dickinson yard and return

2 mine runs to Hitop mine, one morning run and one afternoon turn, from Dickinson yard and return

1 daily turn from Dickinson yard to Spring St yard, switching out Kanawha Valley Feed and Seed plus Armitage Furniture. Turn will also return any loads or empties to Dickinson yard. This turn will also switch the grocery distributor warehouse in west Charleston

2 daily turns from Dickinson yard to Nitro, one morning and one late afternoon/early evening. This turn will leave cars for the dedicated Nitro switch job, return any loads or empties to Dickinson yard

Nitro switch job: will switch Allied Chemical, Sullivan Scrapyard, and the manufacturing plant

Dickinson yard switch job #1: this job will reclassify inbound trains and make up outbounds

Dickinson yard switch job #2: this job will switch the team track, Electro-Met, the freight terminal, fertilizer plant, and grain elevator

Photo below showing labeling of “new” Dickinson yard:




hoppers at morris forkA short operations update here. Well, maybe not so short. In running the mine runs to Hitop, I must either shove a cut of hoppers out of Dickinson yard through the tunnel to Hitop, which I have seen and have known to be done on some WVa branch lines, or I can take the train up the branch above Hitop between there and Morris Fork, where a passing track/siding exists. There of course I can run around my train, then head downhill to switch out the Hitop mine.

Therein lies the challenges. First, since the branch has very sharp curves and grades as does the prototype, longer, larger cars will not track well through these curves. Nor will six axle power, this is why six axles are banned from the branch. As for the larger cars, I’m speaking of 70 and 100 ton hoppers. Fifty ton hoppers are no problem. This is also why only fifty ton hoppers are allowed up to Morris Fork, due to track curvature once again, but also due to space limitations at the loadout.

These are ideas one can factor in, as I have, when planning or running operations. Longer, larger, heavier cars can also be banned from a branch due to weight restrictions on any light weight rail as well. Just another operations idea to think about….

Give it some time….

For modelers, one thing perhaps missed in home operating sessions is time. Replicating time it takes for example for the crew of that local or road freight to grab it’s orders, switchlist, manifest, etc., and climb on board. Then there’s the time it takes to get clearance to depart, whether by signal indication or by train order/authority. Trains just don’t get up and go like jack rabbits. Sometimes you sit on the prototype waiting on traffic to clear, or that broken down train ahead that has a broken knuckle, or whatever the situation.

Time can be taken as well in simply operating at prototypical speeds. Set that throttle to step 128, and momentum, and you’ll see what I mean. Trains don’t fly at a scale 100 mph either, unless you’re modeling Amtrak in the Northeast Corridor.

Time can be replicated elsewhere on your layout as well. Take time to stop your train to let that head end brakeman, or rear brakeman for that matter, to throw those manual switches, and climb back aboard. All this takes time in real life railroading. Time can be taken as well for a simulated emergency application of air. Or time can be taken on those lonely branchlines to stop at the local deli or store by the tracks for that cold bottle of pop, and friendly chit-chat.

Finally, time can be taken to confer on those switching moves, a few seconds for that radio command or hand signal from the man on the ground to be acknowledged. All these factors can be taken into account on your home layout to add more time (and realism) to that ops session. These simple steps I use on my layout to replicate the prototype, and not only does it feel more prototypical, it also stretches out the ops session….

Operational Challenges….

Reading another blog post about the difficulties and challenges facing a local crew on a particular layout made me think of some on my own layout.

Per the previous post above about challenges on my branch concerning working my mines with different size hoppers, I’ve had to change out one operating procedure. Since to switch out my Hitop mine I would normally have to pull my train of 70 and 100 ton hoppers up the hill to the end of branch, then run around my train, I’ve changed this procedure.

As these larger hoppers don’t do well on the tight curves on the branch between Hitop and Morris Fork, they are in fact banned from the upper part, also on account of lighter rail and deferred maintenance. Headed into Hitop the mine lead and switches are facing point switches.

To accommodate this arrangement, a train of empty hoppers for Hitop is made up in Dickinson yard, the power is tied on the east end, and as there is a caboose on the west end, the train is shoved all the way to Hitop. This of course eliminates the move up past Hitop and running around the train.

Even working the end of branch at Morris Fork, care has to be exercised going around the tight curves on the branch, especially between Hitop and Morris Fork. The curve in particular starting at MP 33 has to be taken at 5 mph account the degree of curvature and the fact a passing siding starts right at the west end of the curve.

Speaking of the end of branch, as the Morris Fork hardware and farm supply is at the end of the same siding as the Morris Fork mine, cars for the hardware and farm supply have to be blocked in the right position in Dickinson yard, since at the end of branch the power must run around its train and shove any cars into the siding, as again, the siding and passing track both have facing point switches.

The same must be done for the day turn out of Dickinson going up the valley to switch, especially the Kanawha County feed and seed. In other words, these cars must be blocked in the correct position before leaving the yard. Just more operational challenges to add to the fun and realism of running the Hitop branch.


I thought I would do a short piece here on my waybills  that I use when operating. When building my layout I read many articles and books written on waybills, timetables, train orders, switchlists, etc. Having worked with both on the prototype, I wanted something I thought would add more realism to the layout. In other words, realistic looking waybills.

What I came across in the February Model Railroader was an article by Ted Pamperin on his system, which is illustrated above in my waybills. I liked this system, and it looked realistic, yet small enough to fit in the Micro-Mark bill boxes I had already ordered for the layout.

I use the system simply as a two-sided waybill. When the car is loaded at an industry, it faces outward with its printed side showing. The next operating session, the waybill is turned over on its blank side to signify an empty car ready to be picked up. When a loaded car is in Dickinson yard on a specific track (and I have specific tracks for specific cars), the cards and corresponding cars are pulled by the yard crew in the order they’ll be spotted down the line. Of course, the waybills in the yard are turned over accordingly, as to whether the car is loaded or empty.

Speaking of specific tracks, many railroads have specific tracks for either certain cars, or certain blocks that make up each train. The prototype Dickinson yard is no exception. It had certain tracks that were “leased” by the chemical companies up and down the valley to store or “hold” tankers until they were needed. My yard follows this practice.

Track 1 is the freight house and Armitage Furniture Co siding. Track 2 is for any overflow cars. Track 3 is the track designated for the chemical tanks. Track 4 and 5 are for coal hoppers, and track 6 is the loco and caboose service track.

When a road freight or local is about to depart, the crew takes the stack of waybills for their train and carries them along down the line, replacing each “load” and “empty” waybill as they go about their switching duties (local turns). The loaded waybills are then of course turned over at the start of the next session. Next time I’ll talk about the switchlist I use to tie in with these waybills….

New waybills and switchlist…

As a collector, it comes in handy to have such a collection when also modeling. I have been a collector for about 30 years now, and have accumulated mostly paper related items, forms, rule books, timetables, track diagrams, photos, etc., with a few pieces of china and lanterns thrown in. Believe it or not, NYC, PRR, and PC have always been my favorites to collect items from, as for one, I grew up watching these roads at close hand, then worked on ex-NYC/PRR/PC trackage.

These items certainly come in handy when modeling the same road in miniature. My timetables for the PC Southern Region are a good example. It gave me valuable information on the area I decided to model, as did former NYC timetables for the area, being that this was all ex-NYC territory.

Such is the case here. In getting acquainted with PC employees working out of Sharon yard, even taking a few photos of the guys there, plus getting a cab ride across the yard in a GP-38, I was able to obtain some of these forms, which I have always treasured. In searching through my collection, I knew I had two forms which would come in handy for use on the Hitop branch, namely my car movement card, and switchlist.

These were scanned at home, then taken to a retail printer to be done. The switchlist however was reduced to 1 page, and a smaller size at the printer, then the car cards were color printed, also reduced in size by them to fit in the card holders from Micro-Mark.

So, I have replaced the previous switchlist I was using, along with my former waybills with these, to add that much more prototypical feel to the layout.


The Prototype used in Operations…

The use of prototype materials can go a long way to planning and carrying out operations on your model railroad. In fact, some prototype materials can be useful in even planning your scenery.

Take for example track charts. Track charts can give you detailed information such as where waterways are, where road crossings are, and where other railroads cross. They can also provide info on where and what type of signals were on the line. Other information detailed can pertain to sidings, curvature, and industrial tracks.

Another helpful tool are employee timetables. These of course can give special instructions on train handling, and station locations and call signs for example. These are just two of the tools useful for planning and operating a model railroad. Three such examples are below:





Per Request….

Here are two photos of the current switchlist that I use for the layout. This was copied by FedEx from an original PC switchlist revised in 1969, which is in my collection. Again, it helps run the layout using actual forms your prototype railroad used!


Car Cards, Switchlists, and Speed….

Even on a small layout you can use car cards and switch lists to add that prototypical feel and realism. The use of both of these will also add time to an operating session, as does running at prototypical speeds. Speaking of this, it almost sounds elsewhere like this is a brand new theory and concept. Heck, I’ve been doing this and operating this way on my layout for three years. Guess it helps having worked on the real thing.
In other words, take that time and run at a prototypical speed for your layout, prototype, topography, and situation. For example, when doing research before I built my PC branch, I looked at track charts and time tables I have in my possession of the Hitop branch proper, and of the West Virginia Secondary. Both these segments were actually kept in decent shape maintenance wise, as far as PC could, as coal for Union Carbide was a money maker, as was all the chemical traffic coming out of the Kanawha valley itself on the Secondary. That being said, speeds were low on the Hitop branch itself due to lighter rail, and the sharp curves, plus many bridges on the branch. Keep the prototype in mind when designing and operating your railroad. Run your layout at a prototypical speed for the terrain and circumstances. For example, I have all my locomotives set to creep along, which comes in handy on a switching layout. It also replicates the prototype if you’re modeling grades, sharp curves, and more poorly maintained track. A few times I’ve seen a beautiful layout run at speeds simulating the Northeast Corridor. Just not realistic!
Also as far as taking time, and mentioned in another post here on this webpage,  it takes time for switching in the yard. It takes time for a brakeman to walk to that switch and throw it. It takes time for those hand signals to get relayed, and time for the engineer to respond. It also takes time to start that locomotive and get it cranked up, especially an older veteran like those geeps I run. It takes time for that air test before the train moves. Then it takes time to get that clearance from a train order or dispatcher to move. You get the idea. See more in my blog about using time to enhance your operating experience.
Now for card cards and switch lists. I use both. Both are copies of actual ones used by PC, which I also have in my collection. I simply took mine to a FedEx office store, had them reduced to fit my use in their original colors, and I was all set. These documents I also have posted elsewhere on this page.

Now for the skinny on these. When I bring a train back into my Dickinson yard, I have in my pocket those car cards of cars I picked up along the way. Although I can’t yard an entire inbound train on one track, all these cards will go into one slot in my bill box (I use bill boxes from micro-mark). The cars from the inbound train are split into the appropriate or designated tracks. I have mine numbered from front to back. Track 1 is the freight house spur, track 2 is general merchandise, track 3 is for chemical, track 4 is for overflow and coal, track 5 is strictly for coal, and track 6 is the locomotive and caboose service track. This track setup is almost the same as the original posted previously.
The car cards all have listed what to do with the car next and where to route it. These I’ll pull out, then fill out a switch list accordingly. I’ll then take those cards I need for set outs with me, along with the switch list. The next inbound train will be handled the same way for whatever job or turn it’s going out on. Currently I have two road trains outbound that leave via what I guess for now you could call my fiddle track at DB Tower, one train going eastbound to the N&W via Elmore yard, and one going westbound to Columbus Ohio. I have a valley turn which switches several industries on the mainline, and handles any interchange cars. I also have a Morris Fork turn which switches the mine and farm supply at the end of the branch at Morris Fork. I also have a Hitop turn which only switches the mine at Hitop. Those cards for cars that are going off line are of course pulled completely until the next cycle or session. Just a side note here on this topic. For those outbound cars going off the layout, again, I’ll pull those cards completely off the layout when the car is pulled. As I have, like probably most modelers, an over abundance of rolling stock, I’ll shuffle this stack then before the next session to determine which cars are then inbound.
Again, even for a small switching layout, the use of these cards and switch lists combined can add both more fun and more realism to your sessions. Along with prototypical speeds, and taking that time mentioned above, all this combined can also add more time and stretch those sessions as well.

Updated Operating Plan….

As mentioned in the above post, I have an updated operating plan. As it is normally just one operator running the layout, I have condensed operations somewhat. I have two outbound trains currently, one that runs the mainline going west to Columbus, Ohio, and one that runs eastbound going to the N&W via Elmore yard. Both of these leave the layout on what you could call my current fiddle track at DB Tower. I have one valley turn that runs up the mainline switching Allied Chemical, the Kanawha County Feed and Seed,  handles any interchange cars at DB Tower, and switches the freight house and Armitage Furniture in Quincy. I have the Morris Fork turn, which runs to the end of branch at Morris Fork to serve the mine there and the Morris Fork Hardware and Farm Supply. I also run the Hitop turn, which only handles the largest customer, the Hitop Mine at Hitop. The yard crew handles shuffling cars in Dickinson yard.


Re-line that switch!

When operating on my layout, and running a road job or turn, I always stop my caboose at a switch and reline it for the proper direction, especially on the mainline. I guess this comes as habit from working on the prototype.

Although not quite as disastrous and deadly as the consequences of not doing so on the prototype as we’ve seen recently, it can be embarrassing and problematic to do so on your layout if a switch is misaligned. I’ve seen this happen even on a museum layout where inattentive operators ran through an open switch into the rear of another train, derailing one or the other. I’ve seen it as well on a home layout once.

You can imagine on the prototype this kind of inattentiveness can lead to deadly results. Again, not deadly on the layout, just embarrassing. This ties into a previous blog post about taking time which I believe is on my “operations “ page. Take that time as a real rear end brakeman would do, to reline that switch back to its normal position. This also leads to helping in the next operating session knowing that switch is lined properly. Of course, this leads to another must do, especially on the prototype, and that is, when you’re moving down that track, be aware of how that switch IS lined! But, that’s another story for another time…..